Four simple Latin words. Translated to English, they mean, “Throw plenty of dirt, and some of it will be sure to stick.”
Sometime in the early 1800s, one part water was added to the phrase, shaken to solution and applied to politics to spawn the term “mudslinging.”
Mud because, well, politicians seemingly like it extra dirty.
Nowhere is this more evident than in a recently released book whose title employs the moniker associated with negative campaigning: “Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time.”
Penned by Kerwin Swint, associate professor of political science at Kennesaw State University, the book explores the world of negative campaigning at its best — or rather, its worst.
Whether it be two candidates engaging in a screamfest on Howard Stern’s radio show, as former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli (D) and former New Jersey Rep. Richard Zimmer (R) did in 1996, or millionaire Texas gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams (R) saying in 1990 that he would take his opponent, then Texas Treasurer Ann Richards (D), and “rope her like a calf and drag her through the dirt,” politicians have unique and often insulting ways of trying to win their respective races.
Negative campaigns are nothing new to Swint, either. His first book, “Political Consultants and Negative Campaigning,” was published in 1998. A statistical analysis of mudslinging, the book was Swint’s first foray into the world of negative campaigning. Pretty soon, he got it in his head that he would like to make a top 25 list of the all-time dirtiest political campaigns.
So how exactly did Swint come up with his list? It was a combination of working off the groundwork laid by historians and having the blessing of writing his book in the middle of the most media-saturated political environment in American history.
“You hear so much about negative campaigns, and in history there have been all of these negative campaigns,” Swint said. “I thought it would be fun to rank them. I’ve always done a lot of reading from historians, and a lot of the same campaigns keep coming up. So it was fairly easy to come up with a list of 10 to 15 that all historians would put on this list.
“So I looked around for other ones that would fit and, at the same time, put a new twist on it.”
New twists included the 1964 presidential showdown between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater, which checked in at No. 22, chosen because it was the first campaign cycle to feature television ads.
Also fitting the bill of “new twists” was the 2004 presidential race (No. 25) and the 1998 New York Senatorial race between former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R) and current Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer (No. 23), described by Swint as “so vitriolic and hateful.”
Full of interesting tidbits and statistics about the lowlights of negative campaigning — for example, according to the chapter on the 2004 presidential election, almost 80 percent of the television ads run by sources other than the candidates were attack ads — “Mudslingers” is sure to occasionally surprise even the more jaded of the general electorate.