The bitterness evident in today's national politics is nothing new in the history of this country. It is tempting to say it's never been worse, but that's not true if you look back at the partisan rancor of early pamphleteers in the nascent days of this republic. Dueling opponents often picked up dueling pistols and had it out. Even Thomas Jefferson wasn't above it, this despite the fact that as the principal author of our Declaration of Independence, he chose succinct and timeless words that are beautiful to recall even today. In the pages of his Richmond Examiner, John Adams, who preceded Jefferson as president, was described as "a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man or the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."
That makes today's uncivil discourse seem tame in comparison, until you get to the inevitable charges that get thrown about to compare one candidate or another to Hitler, the most hated man in history. President Obama has suffered more than his fair share of such charges - he really doesn't look good in that mustache, but does anyone? Hank Williams Jr. got booted as the muse of Monday Night Football for making the comparison in a Fox News interview. In 1980's presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Walter Mondale released a letter written by Ronald Reagan some 20 years earlier to Richard Nixon in which Reagan compared John F. Kennedy to Hitler and Karl Marx. Reagan later explained the charge related to Kennedy's economic policies. In 2004, a G. W. Bush campaign video juxtaposed images of John Kerry and Al Gore, both Democrats, with that of Hitler. Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Scott Walker was himself likened to the German Fuhrer in his (ultimately successful) bid to end collective bargaining for public workers.
Come we now to the bid by baby-faced Wesley Dowdy for the Republican nomination for the District 5 Commission post. No, he's not called any of his three opponents Hitler, but at a minimum, he's crossed the line in local politics. Three times so far, I've opened the pages of The Covington News only to feel slapped as if by the sting of a cold, dead fish when his half-page ad appears.
One of the earliest principles most of us learned from our mothers and grandmothers is that if you can't say something nice about somebody, don't say anything at all. I guess a precocious Dowdy missed that lesson along the way.
In brutally bold typeface, Dowdy disparages and dismisses former commissioner Ronnie Dimsdale as a has-been, Levie Maddox as a tool of the local Republican Party hierarchy, and Jared Rutberg, a veteran and businessman, as - hold your breath - a Democrat in a Republican cloak. Hmmm. Maybe this young Republican has lobbed a charge that's worse than calling someone Hitler.
Maybe Dowdy is a student of early English literature. If so, he may have come across the writings of one John Lily, who in 1578 first posited the concept whose modern interpretation is repeated often when it's necessary to try to explain with a shrug someone's obnoxious act: "All's fair in love and war." That's an easy toss-off, but it still doesn't make Dowdy's advertising fair or acceptable. It's the tenor of the whole effort that's repugnant.
Nevertheless, I went to Dowdy's website to check further into his campaign. And maybe that's the point of his tasteless ad: to get you so irked that you want to see what else might be hanging out there. What I found was his one-sentence positions on 13 issues that he's defined for the county. They are simple, perhaps simplistic, inoffensive in contrast to his advertising, and put forth in a manner that resonates with our society's diminishing attention span. His website offered me the chance to sign up for a game of golf with the candidate, but his bio wouldn't open so I still don't know much about him. That's OK because I won't be voting in the Republican primary.
The bottom line for me is that the tenor of Dowdy's attacks on his opponents convinces me that his temperament is not what we need on the Board of Commissioners. We've had too much of that in the way of petty, partisan and personal politics. The citizens of Newton County are pretty much sick of the kind of antics that convinced a good mayor of Covington not to run again, although we got another good one. We need calm, consistent, collegial and collaborative policy-making, not more of the divisive and corrosive shenanigans practiced by some members of our current board and those they might have hand-picked as their successors.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.