A recent commentary began with a nice quote from poet Rumi and then continued, “Before the current era of ‘the politics of personal destruction.’” That stopped me cold. Which era was that? The writer went on to inform us that politicians once “regarded each other as friends with differing views, not enemies.” Even in a small congenial town like Coronado, there are factions who think slinging mud is more important than calmly, respectfully discussing important issues.
Friends, not enemies. Try explaining that to Alexander Hamilton as he lay mortally wounded from Aaron Burr’s gunshot. How quickly, or conveniently, we forget. Death surely must be the zenith of personal destruction in politics. Alexander Hamilton died in 1804, his son Philip died dueling at the same site in 1801. The issue was also politically motivated insults. United States President John Adams was long known for his derisive and vicious insults to virtually all of his fellow Founding Father friends.
Less commonly known is an infamous brawl that took place in the House of Representatives, February 6, 1858. A pro-slavery Democrat from Mississippi had his hairpiece ripped from his head by anti-slavery Wisconsin Republicans. It was reported over 30 Members joined the melee. No cameras recorded that event.
Some may foolishly believe the Senate, until recently, never (really, never?) put partisan politics or ideology before fairness. In 1987 the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joseph Biden and fellow Democrat Ted Kennedy gave us a new political term, “Borking.” These gentlemen Senators opposed the nomination of (POTUS Reagan Nominee) DC Circuit Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. With great vitriol they proceeded to viciously portray Bork as a “wild eyed Puritan prepared to break down bedroom doors,” and causing the death of thousands of women. The Washington Post, editorialized against Senator Biden when Biden pledged that, “he would lead the opposition to the confirmation.” As the Queen of Hearts said to Alice, “Sentence first-verdict afterward.”
Senators Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy had succeeded in politicizing the judiciary. Borking was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, defined as: to attack or defeat (a nominee or candidate for public office) through an organized campaign of harsh public criticism or vilification.” I am not giving an opinion, simply relaying a bit of documented history.
In fairness to Joe Biden, in 1987 he had again been found guilty of plagiarism and had to abandon his run for the presidency. This guilt may have contributed to his seeking redemption with his partisan colleagues in the Democrat majority Senate by so viciously opposing the Bork nomination.
We may want to believe the earlier years of American political history were more civil, more ethical, with more honest participants. Civil, as in Civil War?
Shortly after Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected POTUS in 1861, Southern Democrats led the movement to secede from the Union and established the Confederate States. They became the Southern States’ Democratic Party. Would that political movement be considered to have wreaked devastating political destruction? We well know the tragic events and Civil War that followed. President Lincoln was assassinated due to the evil politics of personal destruction. It is interesting to note that Lincoln’s second Administration, consisted of the Republican President Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Vice President Andrew Johnson who had joined to form the National Union Party.
To the myth that before 2017 there had never been tumult within presidential administrations; oh, where to begin? Let’s start with the Truman administration. Six months after becoming POTUS after President Roosevelt’s death, President Truman purged the administration he inherited of all but one FDR Cabinet Member. The Southern Democrats in Congress fought against their own President Truman’s proposed Civil Rights and Fair Deal Bills. These bills were defeated by the majority Democrat House. Not giving up in his belief that Civil Rights legislation was the right thing to do, President Truman resorted to Executive Orders. It was President Truman’s Executive Order #9981 that brought about the end of segregation in the United States Armed Forces. Southern state Democrats were so incensed over President Truman’s civil rights initiatives, they formed the segregationist faction, States’ Rights Democratic Party, known as the Dixiecrats. (Is this more than, “bickering within the ranks” of a political party?) Strom Thurmond, Sr. was the 1948 Dixiecrat’s nominee for president on a states’ rights segregationist platform. In 1948 Democrat candidate Harry Truman beat Republican Thomas Dewey and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. Eventually the segregationist Dixiecrats merged back into the Democrat party, which they continued to influence.