HILL: The role of the boogeyman in American politics

A tired ex-President Herbert Hoover walks with his eyes on the ground as he leaves ceremonies dedicating the new Herbert Hoover Elementary School at Iowa City, Iowa, Aug. 10, 1943, at the end of a very busy day. The former chief executive had been feted with a continuous round of ceremonies at his birthplace in West Branch. (AP Photo/William P. Straeter)

Anyone who has watched the “Halloween” movie series knows exactly what a boogeyman is. He is a scary character with a mask who scares the heck out of everyone via death and destruction until he is shot to death — only to resurrect back to life soon after to wreak more murder and mayhem in the neighborhood.

American politics specializes in making “boogeymen” of high-profile elected politicians. It is part of our historical DNA. Mostly because it works.

James Callender was the first great “boogeyman-maker” in the new republic. He was the dirty-tricks operator on the payroll of first Thomas Jefferson and then later James Madison who made a career out of blasting Alexander Hamilton and John Adams to smithereens.

In 1800, Callender published a screed in a pamphlet about then-President John Adams:

“Men of Virginia!  pause and ponder upon those instructive cyphers, and these incontestible facts.  Ye will judge without regard to the prattle of a president, the prattle of that strange compound of ignorance and ferocity, of deceit and weakness; without regard to that hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Callender wrote much worse things about Hamilton. Adams and Hamilton became two boogeymen the Anti-Federalists and soon-to-be named Democratic Republicans loved to hate as they crowded out the Federalist Party into extinction by 1835.

Herbert Hoover gets “credit” — really “the blame” — for causing the entire Great Depression all by himself as president. The only problem is that he was elected in November 1928, and sworn in on March 4, 1929, and the stock market crashed on Oct. 24, 1929, seven months later. No president has time to destroy an economy all by himself like that in just seven months, although our current president, Joe Biden, sure is making a run for it.

Hoover became the boogeyman for causing the Great Depression in the 1932 elections as FDR and the Democrats roasted him and the Republicans then in control of Congress. The House went from a razor-thin 218-216 Republican majority to an astounding 313-117 Democratic majority in the blink of an eye. Republican lost 28 of the contested 34 U.S. Senate seats and went from another razor-thin 48-47 majority to a 37-58 minority. Republicans were so gelded by the 1932 elections, they remained a weak minority party for most of the next 62 years in Washington.

From the moment Donald Trump descended the escalator to announce his candidacy in 2015, left-wing groups, the media and many in the Republican Party sought to make him out to be the “Big Orange Boogeyman,” which only fueled his outsider appeal to the majority of Republicans, who nominated him for President in 2016, and the majority of electoral college states, which elected him president.

Before even being inaugurated in 2017, false claims of “Russian collusion,” among other things, were fanned in the press by his opponents, who hated him viscerally. By the time 2020 rolled around, half of the people who voted for Joe Biden did so not because they loved Joe Biden but because they hated the Big Orange Boogeyman for his mean tweets and other personal features.  They never considered the possibility that Joe Biden would morph into Bernie Sanders as he has and try to turn America into a European socialist state.

The problem for adrenaline- and hate-based politics is what to do when the boogeyman is gone. Without Trump as a foil on the daily news, Biden’s domestic and foreign policy failures and lack of effective leadership are on full display for Americans to see all the time without distraction or interruption. His approval ratings are tanking with each passing day.

Tough as nails political advisor Lee Atwater used to say: ‘When your opponent is in the process of destroying themselves, let them.” Perhaps former President Trump should heed that sage advice and stay under the radar screen until after the mid-term elections in 2022.

There is no need for a boogeyman to rise up from anywhere on the Republican side to scare people into voting to continue Democratic control of Congress after next November.