The Best of Times
Tuesday, June 13, 2006 :::
It's all too easy and way too popular to believe that these are the very worst of all possible times and things just can't get any worse. Ever. Particularly in politics...the name-calling...the hate...the petty partisanship...Calgon, take me away!
Fortunately, there are those who understand that, even with the parade of nitwits, hacks and rent seekers braying for television time these days, we've got it pretty easy. One of those wise souls is Robert Remini, who's written a new book on the history of the House of Representatives. It was reviewed today in the Wall Street Journal. And there are many would be well-served by picking up a copy and actually reading it to see just how far our native criminal class has come in the last couple of centuries. Snip:
One day in 1858, members of Congress set a record that still stands: the largest brawl ever on the floor of the House of Representatives. The issue, of course, was slavery. Petty insults led to an all-out melee with more than 50 congressmen shoving, punching and wrestling each other as the hapless sergeant at arms swung a large mace over his head and yelled at them to get back to their seats. The reporters in the press galleries got into the act, hurling spit balls at each other. The madness crescendoed when John "Bowie Knife" Potter of Wisconsin pulled off the wig of a Mississippi congressman and declared, "I've scalped him."
Ah, the good old days...when men were men (even while wearing wigs) and congressional brawls were the real thing -- not rhetorical catfights dressed up as the Greatest Threats to Bipartisanship in Our Lifetimes. What would the hand-wringing masses who cringe in disappointment over a word uttered in haste think of a golden-oldie like this:
Legislative violence of the period famously reached its zenith when a young congressman from South Carolina named Preston Brooks ran over to the Senate floor and repeatedly beat Sen. Charles Sumner over the head with a large cane, knocking him unconscious and bloodying the carpet.
I'll tell you what would happen -- an epidemic of the vapors. Massive, nationwide appeals for fainting couches, smelling salts and "grief counselors."
A made-for-Oprah event if there ever was one.
That's not to say those were the best of times. Certainly not. Those swinging fists turned were a prelude to the bloodiest war in our nation's history.
But it shows once more that whenever someone bemoans the sad, sad state of political discourse today, they really have no idea how far we've come.
Or how far we could fall.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 6/13/2006