Building on a discussion by Roger L. Simon, Robert Prather laments how hateful and irrational US politics has become in the last few years. His early commenters try to fix the starting point, arguing over Iran-Contra, Dan Quayle’s nomination, and the Bork hearings.

I’d put the beginning just a bit earlier like, say, the 1770s. The Patriots were routinely rounding Tories up for torture, including tarring and feathering. Absolutely brutal editorials in newspapers that didn’t even pretend to be non-partisan. In ensuing years, we had canings on the floor of the Senate. Duels between major politicians. The Alien and Sedition Acts. . .

Even in recent times, there has been quite a bit of vitriol. Things were pretty nasty in the 1960s, too, what with the reactions to the civil rights movement and Vietnam.

In the 1970s, there was Watergate and some pretty visceral reactions to Jimmy Carter’s idealism. People forget how apoplectic many were over his decision to pardon the Vietnam draft dodgers and cede control over the Panama Canal.

In the 1980s, there was Reagan. Democrats had almost exactly the same reaction to Reagan as they do to Bush today. The only differences were that the election itself was somewhat less controversial (although, even there, we had the “October surprise” nonsense) and Reagan was a harder target for attack because of his superior communication skills.

George H.W. Bush didn’t attract the same vitriol as the other presidents of the era, but that’s mainly because he was so bland. And, even there, we had all the “silver foot in has ma-ath” and “where was George” nonsense.

Honestly, I’m not sure there ever was a civil era in U.S. politics.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark-NC says:

    Never has been – never will be. Politics is a game played to command power and wealth. Both sides want to be in control, and the head-butting is part of that competition for control.

    But take it from me – this is different. I supported Reagan and H. W. Bush and considered both to be good presidents. Both had their share of controversy – Iran-Contra and “read my lips” for example, but I always felt these guys were in control.

    I consider this president to be wandering aimlessly without a clue. I can’t think of a single thing that has improved in the last three years. And the voices from Limbaugh, Fox and others has bled through the Teflon so that the propaganda is clear to see by nearly everyone.

    Times are different today – and I don’t see an improvement coming anytime soon.

  2. Anonymous says:

    > I consider this president to be wandering
    > aimlessly without a clue

    No YOU’RE clueless (and my Dad can beat up your dad).

    The problem with political dialog is it has digressed to things like Mark wrote, sounding like things from the local playground. He doesn’t lay out policy issues or facts, but how he “feels” about things and then resorts to ad hominem name calling. Since he “supported Reagan”, etc., this somhow gives his feelings more legitamacy.

    So how can one “debate” or have a reasonable policy discussion with Mark? He “feels” like things are aimless. He “feels” like things haven’t improved, but isn’t willing to discuss facts. Since you can’t debate feelings, things thus digress to schoolyard style fights, name calling, baiting and the like.

    So Mark, f(*k you, *I* think things are getting better!!

  3. Mark-NC says:

    To whomever didn’t bother to give a name:

    I would say – judging by your last statement with the “f” word – YOU MAKE MY POINT!!

  4. Paul says:

    I just find it kinda funny that half of Bush’s detractors say he is wandering aimlessly without a clue and the other half say he has a radical right wing agenda and is inflexible.

    I wish they would pick some spin and stay with it.