One of the things that REALLY irks me, is the idea that politics was never this bad back in the “good old days”.
They say it about nasty election-season ads. They say it anytime there’s a natural disaster (like the recent Hurricane Sandy). They say it wistfully, in support of a return to “civility” (whatever that means). Most importantly, they say it when they’re in the majority.
The trouble is, this “good old days” that people pine for never existed. This sentiment is raised by those who are utterly ignorant of history (which seems to be a requirement for political punditry nowadays).
1) The Election of 1800.
This video from Reason pretty much says it all (all of these lines were written by the partisans for each candidate):
2) Abraham Lincoln.
While Lincoln is widely regarded these days as being one of our greatest Presidents, contemporaries did not see it that way.
The event of his election -literally- tore the country apart. He had no support in the South. His re-election in 1864 was far from certain until the tide of the war changed shortly before the election. Many members of his own cabinet didn’t like him.
He was accused of waging a war for his own political gain (and for the financial gain of the monied industrial interests in the north) against the simple, agrarian South that wanted nothing but peace (or so they claimed). Even his refusal to “compromise” on the issue of slavery was trumpeted by his opponents. On top of that, he was apparently a terrible public speaker!
And as if you needed more evidence, he was assassinated because of his politics.
We think of FDR as being a super popular President (since he was elected to 4 terms – more than any other President), but his pinnacle really occurred in that second election (the election of 1936) when Roosevelt got almost 61% of the vote. His final 2 re-election campaigns saw steadily declining numbers.
Of course, the only thing you need to know about FDR is the history of the 22nd amendment.
FDR died April 12, 1945. On March 21, 1947 (less than 2 years later), Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution limiting the President to only 2 terms (it would officially become part of the Constitution in 1951 when Minnesota ratified it). Some may say this is purely coincidence. I’d argue that the country had just lived through the economic disaster that was FDR’s Presidency and collectively said, “Lets not do THAT again.”
The point is, we’ve NEVER been “civil”. We’ve never all agreed. We’ve never had an issue that had no dissenters. We’ve always been pricks to each other when it comes to politics.
That hasn’t changed – and I don’t think it ever will.