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COMMENTARY: 'Wasted in the filth of fendings and provings?'

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| August 3, 2022 1:00 AM

Partisan politics as an unrestrained blood sport is at least as old as America itself. And yet, Americans, and Idahoans, are showing signs of exhaustion with political behavior they find antagonistic and, often, immoral.

While political extremism may be part of America’s past, it need not be a defining characteristic of its future.

As far back as the Election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, party infighting and accusations ran rampant. No insult was too low: sexual habits, personal anatomy, bigamous wives, illegitimate children, infanticide and prostitution were all fair game.

In 1828, surrogates for incumbent John Quincy Adams accused Andrew Jackson of everything from murder to pimping. Jackson’s wife, Rachel, was a divorcé so she was labeled a bigamist and a whore. The relentless publicity caused the deeply religious Rachel to sink into a deep depression. She never served as First Lady, dying of a heart attack just weeks before Inauguration Day. Jackson always blamed her death on the stress of that malicious campaign.

As students of history, what can we learn from historical examples of personal antagonism and ugly politics?

In the end, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams repaired their friendship. With age and wisdom, they allowed their shared interests in literature and family life to heal the rift between them. Andrew Jackson turned to his faith in God to cope with his wife’s death. At Rachel’s funeral, now president Andrew Jackson said, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them.”

Today, we see more and more Americans growing tired of political behavior that they find unethical and just plain mean. Encouragingly, many are taking principled stands against policies they believe are immoral and politicians who they believe are out of touch with their beliefs and needs.

In one example, the Executive Team of the Idaho Young Republicans (IYR) unanimously voted to condemn and expel two members for actions beneath their standards. Their July 22 announcement detailed the actions deemed unacceptable, including a plot to fraudulently take over the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee.

When these two men issued prank invitations to homeless people to a fictional free pizza party in the name of an opposing candidate, the IYR had seen enough. They expelled the men for an entire year and issued a statement that read, “We can be resolute in our policies. Yet we can do everything in love towards our fellow Idahoans.”

In a second encouraging development, Jim Jones, a retired Attorney General and distinguished Idaho Republican, has openly endorsed Boise attorney Tom Arkoosh, a Democrat, in the upcoming November election for Idaho Attorney General. Jones said that Arkoosh will give the state of Idaho sound legal advice that is not beholden to any ideology. For Idahoans who believe in good bipartisan government, Jones’ endorsement of Tom Arkoosh is a breath of fresh air.

Other conservatives are reassessing the benefits of bipartisanship as well. Last week in Congress, 47 Republicans (including Idaho Rep. Simpson) joined Democrats and voted “Yes” on the Respect for Marriage Act. That’s a big departure from the party line votes we are accustomed to seeing on social issues.

The Respect for Marriage Act codifies federal protections for same-sex marriages. Its passage in the House of Representatives is a hopeful step in the direction of human rights and bipartisan cooperation.

Eventually, politics as blood sport gets exhausting, and we all see how hollow it really is.

In his later years, Jefferson applauded Adams for discounting a public slander saying, “Were such things to be answered, our lives would be wasted in the filth of fendings and provings, instead of being employed in promoting the happiness and prosperity of our fellow citizens. The tenor of your life is the proper and sufficient answer.” (Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, Monticello, May 5, 1817)

The arc of history bends toward justice, and we hold out hope that in Idaho and beyond the balance is tipping toward moderation and cooperation, and away from wasting our lives in the filth.

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Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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