What Happened to Civility in Politics?

14 Mar

One of the big news stories recently was the dinner that the Republicans had with President Obama.  It got me thinking, what happened to civility in politics?  I have asked this question (or something similar) of several people, including Chris Matthews and former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.  They both had a similar response.  While there is more than one reason, part of it came from Newt Gingrich’s style when he was in Congress.  I agree that it is part of the reason, but certainly not the only reason.  Despite the divisiveness that has existed in politics, there have still been some lasting friendships in government over the years.

I believe that the congress and government in general was less vitriolic then it is today.  There are several reasons for that.  Throughout the years there have been lasting friendships in our government.  During World War II, Daniel Inouye and Bob Dole met and became good friends.  Both men remained friends when they were in Congress despite their political differences.  Their friendship lasted until the day Senator Inouye passed away in December of last year.  John F. Kennedy and Nixon were another unlikely duo who were friends while they were in the Senate.  Although it was more common for political opposites to be friends in the past, there have been several instances of this recently.

John Kerry and John McCain are two political opposites, who have remained good friends throughout the years.  Both men served in Vietnam and both were ironically the targets of smear campaigns when each of them ran for president (Both against George W. Bush also ironically).  The vicious attacks against both of them are another symptom of this recent era of politics.  In previous years vicious attacks weren’t as common as they are now.  The main reason for that is that politicians from each side of the isle aren’t forming the same friendships they once did.  It is a lot easier to go after someone on an issue if you aren’t friends with them.   Another thing to consider is that even if they are able to form friendships, the current political atmosphere makes it difficult to do so.

Senator Lindsey Graham has worked with Democrats in the past, and is now facing a primary challenge because of it.  I mentioned in the previous blog that former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar was defeated in a Republican primary.  He was targeted from the right primarily because he worked with former Senator John Kerry to pass the START treaty (which was signed between the U.S. and Russia to reduce nuclear arms), but also because he didn’t agree with his party on every issue.  Today’s hyper- partisan politics is yet another reason we have had the worst gridlock in our government than we have ever had before.  This isn’t because we are dealing with more divisive issues then we have in the past, if anything there were even more divisive issues that we had to deal with in the past.

The Civil Rights bills of the 1960’s were some of the most controversial and divisive bills that we have ever dealt with in our nation’s history, as was the case for the 13th Amendment towards the end of the Civil War.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act was much more of a partisan issue then the Affordable Care Act which passed several years ago.  There had been filibusters every time a Civil Rights bill was introduced.  After it passed, congress did what they were supposed to do, continue legislating.  Instead of doing that now, congress has become more polarized after debating a controversial issue.

Another unlikely duo in governing was former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and former President Ronald Reagan.  They obviously disagreed on many political issues, yet they met for tea at the White House.  At the end of the day, they both tackled big issues like the budget and entitlement programs despite their differences.  I still think we can tackle the big issues, but things need to change in congress.  More friendships should be formed, and senators from both sides need to be willing to compromise to get things done.  I will close with a touching picture taken as Senator Daniel Inouye lay in state.  Former Senator Bob Dole has to get around in a wheelchair.  Even though it is difficult for him to stand, he was determined to honor his friend and wartime colleague.  The photo was posted by www.rollcall.com.

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