Denver Bar Association
May 2013
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Plus Ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose: A Presidential Quiz

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr coined the phrase in the headline. It is typically translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Such might be said of negative politics. Coming off of an election season that political pundits deemed the meanest, nastiest, most poisonous, and dirtiest campaign in history, the question remains, was it really? I mean really, really? You be the judge. Match presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama with the vitriol hurled in their direction. — Docket Committee



President A

During a speech, a New York governor said of the sitting president, "If the voters of the United States are content with the president’s slogan, ‘It might have been worse,’ they will give him the opportunity to pursue his present policy of merely preventing things from getting worse."


President B

A pastor warned, "Christian reader, the facts and reasonings which I have laid before you, produce in my mind an irresistible conviction, that [President B] is a confirmed infidel; and I cannot see how they should have a less effect on yours. But when to these you add his solicitude for wresting the bible from the hands of your children — his notoriously unchristian character — his disregard to all the ordinances of divine worship — his utter and open contempt of the Lord’s day, insomuch as to receive on it a public entertainment; every trace of doubt must vanish. … What is he, what can he be, but a decided, a hardened infidel?"


President C

An editorial cartoon warned, "There won’t be anything left of the Constitution when he gets through with it." The cartoon depicted the Constitution riddled with bullet holes as the country’s founding fathers look on.


President D

A former House speaker proclaimed, "[President D] and the values he represents and the amateurish incompetence he has proven are a direct threat to the survival of America as we know it — and defeating him is a national, patriotic duty."


President E

A political committee took to the press to share its distain for this president, saying, "If [President E] is elected, protection will be abandoned. American manufactures will be destroyed: the American people must then depend on foreigners for their needed goods."


President F

The Republican Publicity Committee ran an ad in the Sunday edition of a New York newspaper claiming, "[President F] began his administration by surrounding himself with incompetents. Men were selected for cabinet positions for political reasons and to pay pre-election bargains, although they were admittedly unfit for the national responsibilities imposed. American lives and national honor on land and sea have been unprotected. … He has sown international antagonism which will plague us for generations."


President G

A political activist wrote to this president, "A stranger might be led to suppose, from the egotism with which [President G] speaks, that himself, and himself only, had generated, conducted, completed, and established the revolution: In fine, that it was all his own doing. … If there is sense enough left in the heart to call a blush into the cheek, the [president’s] administration must be ashamed to appear. And as to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for so you have been to me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any."


President H

A presidential candidate running against President H told a crowd of supporters, "The president’s shifting explanations and excuses and attacks on me demonstrate once again that this president believes that the buck stops everywhere but with the president of the United States."


President I

A newspaper article alleging bribery in advance of the presidential election claimed, "Let no false promises or false boasts deter you from using every honorable effort to defeat the party in power. They rely upon money, corporate influences, and official patronage. They know the people desire a change.

1. Elect [President I] and we will have more debt, more drafts, more taxes, and more war.

2. If [President I] shares these opinions, he must be the most toad-spotted traitor that ever breathed the breath of life, for, in order to get [his opponent] out of the way of his re-election he has offered to use the whole power of his Administration to make him President.

3. If the policy which has been adopted and pursued by [President I] and his advisers throughout the last two years shall be pursued for four years more, we shall be irretrievably plunged into the fathomless abyss of disunion."


Answers to the Presidential Quiz

President A: Herbert Hoover (held office 1929 to 1933; 31st president). The governor making the comment in 1932 was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who succeeded him in office.

President B: Thomas Jefferson (held office 1801 to 1809; third president). The pastor whose sermon attacked Jefferson and his religion was by John Mitchell Mason of the Scotch Presbyterian Church in 1800.

President C: Theodore Roosevelt (held office 1901 to 1909; 26th president). The editorial cartoon appeared in the Hartford (Ky.) Herald on Nov. 2, 1904.

President D: Barack Obama (assumed office in 2009; 44th president). The former speaker was Newt Gingrich, who encouraged supporters to back Mitt Romney in the 2012 elections at an event on June 15, 2012.

President E: James K. Polk (held office 1845 to 1849; 11th president). The group was the “loco focos,” a radical wing of the Democratic Party, whose critque of Polk appearedin the Jeffersonian Republican Sept. 26, 1844.

President F: Woodrow Wilson (held office 1913 to 1921; 28th president). The ad ran in the New York Tribune on Oct. 26, 1916.

President G: George Washington (held office 1789 to 1797; first president). Political activist Thomas Paine wrote to Washington from Paris in 1795.

President H: George W. Bush (held office 2001 to 2009; 43rd president). The candidate attacking Bush was opponent John Kerry.

President I: Abraham Lincoln (held office 1861 to 1865; 16th president). The article appeared in the Columbia (Penn.) Democrat on Oct. 29, 1864.

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