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10 Memorable Moments From Forgotten Campaigns

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As we approach the finish line of the presidential election, Joseph Cummins is here to share some of the underappreciated moments, dirty tricks and cheap shots that marked past campaigns. Mr. Cummins is the author of Anything for a Vote, available at Amazon.

1. John Quincy Adams: Pimp?

Election of 1828: Andrew Jackson defeats John Quincy Adams
When people really want to get dirty, they hit below the belt. During the 1828 campaign, Andrew Jackson supporters claimed with utter seriousness that the prudish Adams, when serving as minister to the Russian court of Czar Alexander I, had offered his wife's maid to the czar as a concubine. That there was a kernel of innocent truth here—Adams had introduced the young woman to the czar—made the lie easier to swallow.

2. The Advent of the Ad Man

Election of 1920: Warren Harding defeats James Cox
When Albert Lasker signed on as a Harding campaign consultant, the playbook for presidential elections was rewritten forever. Lasker was the head of a Chicago advertising and public relations firm and a true innovator; he coordinated a PR blitz for Harding that included movies, radio, photography, newspapers, and magazines. Some sample Lasker ad headlines:

Harding-prez.jpg"America First!"

"Independence means Independence, now as in 1776."

"Let's be done with wiggle and wobble!"

"This country will remain American. Its next President will remain in our own country."

These utterances may strike us as inane, but in 1920 they spoke to an American public that was becoming more insular in an uncertain world.

Then, as now, people liked their movie stars, and Lasker helped Harding populate his front porch in Marion with Hollywood names. Long before Al Gore got chummy with Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, newsreel cameras captured Harding at home, hamming it up with the likes of Al Jolson, Lillian Russell, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. The same cameras caught James Cox doggedly, grimly stumping away. People had no trouble deciding which candidate was more fun.

3. Hang It All!

Election of 1856: James Buchanan defeats John C. Fremont
James Buchanan suffered from congenital palsy that caused his head to tilt slightly to the left. John C. Fremont's supporters claimed the tilt was really the result of Buchanan's bungled attempt to hang himself—and a man who couldn't even do away with himself could not be president, could he?

4. The Dirty Tricks of LBJ

Election of 1964: Lyndon Johnson defeats Barry Goldwater
LBJ-Richard-Russell.jpg

It is amazing that Lyndon Johnson wasn't impeached for some of the dirty tricks he pulled on Barry Goldwater—they were as bad as the unethical tactics that got Richard Nixon thrown out of office ten years later.

In order to smear his opponent Johnson set up a top-secret sixteen-man committee, which was dubbed the "anti-campaign" or the "five o'clock club" because of its after-business-hours nature. Johnson directly controlled this committee through two of his aides, who chaired each meeting. Among their activities were:

• Developing books to smear Goldwater, with such titles as: Barry Goldwater: Extremist of the Right; The Case Against Barry Goldwater; a Goldwater joke book entitled You Can Die Laughing; and even a children's coloring book, in which the wee ones could color pictures of Goldwater dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes.

• Writing letters to columnist Ann Landers under the guise of ordinary people who were terrified of Goldwater becoming president.

• Sending CIA agent E. Howard Hunt (later infamous for his role in the Watergate break-in) to infiltrate Goldwater campaign headquarters. Hunt got access to advance texts of Goldwater speeches and fed the information to the White House staff, who undercut Goldwater initiatives on a number of occasions.

5. James Monroe Sails to Reelection

Election of 1820: James Monroe defeats, well, nobody
In 1820, Republicans re-nominated James Monroe for President. The Federalist Party, since it had ceased to exist, nominated no one. For the third—and last—time in history, a presidential candidate ran unopposed.

Monroe received all the electoral votes—well, all but one. A curmudgeon in New Hampshire gave his one vote to John Quincy Adams, Monroe's secretary of state, so George Washington would remain the only president ever elected unanimously.

6. Davy Crockett, Attack Dog

Election of 1836: Martin Van Buren defeats William Henry Harrison
davy.jpgWhen one reads about Davy Crockett's career in politics, one gets a very different picture than that of the honorable home-spun hero of 1950s TV coonskin cap fame. Crockett was a Whig attack dog, the Ann Coulter of his time. In his insanely spurious The Life of Martin Van Buren, Heir-Apparent to the 'Government,' and the Appointed Successor of General Andrew Jackson. Containing Every Authentic Particular by Which His Extraordinary Character Has Been Formed. With a Concise History of the Events That Have Occasioned His Unparalleled Elevation; Together with a Review of His Policy as a Statesman, Crockett (or his ghostwriter) claims that Martin Van Buren "is fifty-three years old; and notwithstanding his baldness, which reaches all round and over half down his head, like a white pitch plaster, leaving a few white floating locks, he is only three years older than I am. His face is a good deal shrivelled, and he looks sorry, not for any thing he has gained, but what he may lose."

Crockett goes on to administer the coup de grace thusly: "Martin Van Buren is laced up in corsets, such as women in a town wear, and if possible tighter than the best of them. It would be difficult to say from his personal appearance, whether he was a man or a woman, but for his large red and gray whiskers."

Davy, unfortunately, was skewered on a Mexican bayonet before he could observe whether his skewering of Van Buren hit home.

7. The Sultan of Spin

Election of 1928: Herbert Hoover defeats Al Smith
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Smith was lucky enough to have the endorsement of the country's biggest sports hero, Babe Ruth. After the Yankees' victory in the World Series of 1928, Babe Ruth stumped for Smith from the back of a train carrying the team home from St. Louis. Unfortunately, Ruth wasn't the most dependable spokesman. He would sometimes appear in his undershirt, holding a mug of beer in one hand and a spare rib in the other. Worse, if he met with any dissent while praising Smith, he would snarl, "If that's the way you feel, the hell with you!" and stagger back inside.

8. The North's Dirty Little Secret

Election of 1868: Ulysses S. Grant defeats Horatio Seymour
In 1868, even though an entire war had just been fought over slavery, black votes were counted in only sixteen of the thirty-seven states. Eight of these states were in the former Confederacy. (Blacks were registered to vote in Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia, but the electoral votes in these states did not count because they had not yet been readmitted to the union.) Connecticut did not allow blacks to vote, and New York made ownership of $250 worth of property a requirement before allowing a black citizen to cast his ballot.

9. The Original October Surprise

Election of 1880: James Garfield defeats Winfield Hancock
On October 20, 1880, James Garfield fell victim to what is probably the first October Surprise in U.S. presidential election history. A newspaper improbably named the New York Truth printed a letter purportedly written by Garfield to an H.L. Morey of the Employers Union of Lynn, Massachusetts. In it Garfield wrote that the "Chinese problem" (the fears of whites in the West that Chinese immigrants would take jobs from them) was not a problem at all, and that employers had the right "to buy labor where they can get it the cheapest."

This struck terror into those who had been trying to keep the Chinese out of America, particularly Californians. Garfield certainly did not write the Morey letter and was able to refute it. Investigation showed that there was no Morey and no Employers Union in Lynn, Massachusetts, either. The letter was traced to the hand of one Kenward Philp, a Truth journalist who was later arrested and indicted for fraud.

Despite the fact that Garfield was able to prove his innocence, the Morey letter hurt him. It caused him to lose California, which almost caused him to lose the close election of 1880.

10. The Madman in the White House

Election of 1896: William McKinley defeats William Jennings Bryan
In September, just as the election was heating up to a fever pitch, the McKinley-supporting New York Times published an interesting little article entitled "Is Mr. Bryan Crazy?" The story examined a number of the Democratic candidate's utterances and claimed that they were not the workings of a rational mind. The Times editors also included a letter from a distinguished alienist stating that if Bryan won the election, "there would be a madman in the White House."

Not content with this, the paper interviewed several more alienists and published the results two days later. These eminent medical geniuses said that Bryan suffered from megalomania (delusions of grandeur), paranoid querulent (complaining too much), and querulent logorrhea (talking about complaining too much). One other "expert" simply said, "I don't think Bryan is ordinarily crazy...But I should like to examine him as a degenerate."


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This article was excerpted from Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns, written by Joseph Cummins. You can order your copy from Amazon.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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