Political Discourse Hasn't Changed in 200 Years - Page 2
The years under Clinton were not that much better, particularly after the Impeachment began. Can we so easily forget Alec Baldwin's call to have Henry Hyde and his family "stoned to death"? Or the rhetoric coming from people angered by the Ruby Ridge and Waco fiascoes?
The truth is, divisive discourse--flavored with violent imagery--has been standard fare in U.S. politics since the nation was founded. Some periods are worse than others, that is true, but the general tenor is omnipresent. What's amazing is how infrequently such language has spilled over into action. The most famous case of this happening is undoubtedly the caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Representative Preston Brooks in 1856.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it began with Sumner taking the floor of the Senate to make a speech denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed those territories to determine--via popular vote--if they would be Slave or Free States. In the speech, he attacked Senator Andrew Butler--an author of the Act--going so far as to call his mistress an ugly harlot and to mock Butler's mannerisms and speech (Butler had recently suffered debilitating stroke). A few days later, Brooks--nephew of Butler--beat Sumner into unconsciousness with a cane in revenge for the verbal attacks on Butler and South Carolina.
The incident reflected the the rising tide of emotions that would sweep the United States into civil war. It was seized on by both sides for its propaganda value, the North seeing it as an unjustified assault, the South as a righteous and provoked response to personal attacks.
The tragedy of Giffords' shooting notwithstanding, nothing about the current state of affairs in politics is particularly unusual or particularly divisive. Even given the sometimes revolutionary flavor of comments from tea party types--and Occupy Wall Street types--nothing suggests a looming civil war. In fact, one could argue that the consistent harping on the divisiveness of current discourse is more divisive than the discourse, itself. And Wasserman-Schultz is doing her part to keep it going.