News » Citydesk

Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs: Politics, Prose and a Polarized Nation

by

Gary Wenske, executive director of Boise State University's Frank Church Institute, opened his organization's 33rd annual Frank Church Conference on public affairs on Oct. 28 by paraphrasing former President Gerald Ford: "Our long national nightmare is nearly over."

Ford was talking about the turmoil surrounding his being sworn into office in the wake of the President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974Wenske was making reference to this year's bruising election season, rife with political skulduggery

Most of the speakers at the Oct. 28 conference said they have never witnessed anything quite like the Clinton-Trump debacle, but the audience was reminded America's political history has been full of nastiness. The first speaker of the day, Dr. Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University, shared some particularly vitriolic examples:
  • "John Adams has a hideous hermaphroditical character," wrote the Richmond Examiner in 1800.
  • "Thomas Jefferson is a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow and the son of a half-breed Indian squaw," wrote the Connecticut Current  in 1800.
  • "Andrew Jackson is an ignorant dumb ass," wrote the Daily National Journal in 1828.
  • "Abraham Lincoln is fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry," wrote a Wisconsin newspaper editor in 1864.
Todd Cranney, a managing partner of Riverwood Strategies, was the deputy political director of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. - COURTESY RIVERWOOD STRATEGIES
  • Courtesy Riverwood Strategies
  • Todd Cranney, a managing partner of Riverwood Strategies, was the deputy political director of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.
"Are things less civil today? Certainly not," said Clayton. "That said, elected officials themselves are more polarized today than ever before. In the U.S. House today, there's isn't a Democrat that is more conservative than any other Republican, and there isn't any Republican House member that is more liberal than any Democrat. That was never the case before."

Later, a moderator asked Todd Cranney, who served as deputy political director of Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, what kind of political advice he would offer the Donald Trump campaign. Cranney didn't hesitate.

"I would run. Next question," said Cranney.

When the conference moderator pressed Cranney about advice for the Hillary Clinton campaign, he was equally droll.

"I would run. Next question."