Barbara Bush said the other day that the 2012 presidential race has been “the worst campaign I’ve ever seen in my life.”

I disagree. My vote would be for 1988, when her husband, George H.W. Bush, built a repulsive campaign against Michael Dukakis based on state prison furlough policy, obscure judicial rulings about reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the need for laws against burning the American flag.

Bush the Elder took the aristocratic view that games (like tennis, or politics) should be played to the death, but animosity should be suspended when the drinks cart arrives. He never understood why some people keep bringing up Willie Horton.

Among the three remaining serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are old hands at dirty campaigning. Mitt Romney has a bit of the old Bush attitude (except that the drinks cart is alcohol-free). Add in his experience in the darker corners of free-market capitalism, where you do what’s necessary to win, and Mrs. Bush may turn out to be right in the end.

Dukakis was knocked sideways by the Bush torrent of crap that poured over him during the 1988 campaign, and he never recovered. John Kerry was equally surprised in 2004, when the Republicans managed to turn his military service in Vietnam against him in the “swift boats” campaign.

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