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December 23, 2009 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Is political infighting/divisiveness worse now than ever or was it just as bad or worse previously - back when FDR was pushing through the New Deal, for example?
posted by wsg to Law & Government (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think things are more civilized now -- for example, there were stick fights among delegates in the Continental Congress. And on a state level, nobody's resorting to private armies to take over the state capitol these days.
posted by JanetLand at 9:38 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the internet just makes it seem worse, because everyone is able to be more vocal

/non-evidence based assumption
posted by Think_Long at 9:54 AM on December 23, 2009

When FDR was pushing through the New Deal, there was arguably more resistance.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:55 AM on December 23, 2009

My mom grew up in the Great Depression. She remembers the New Deal, the McCarthy era, the Civil Rights struggle, the Vietnam protests. When I start complaining about how bitter political rhetoric is nowadays, she just rolls her eyes and says, "They always talk like that."

Yeah, it's bad. One of our main political parties is in the middle of a major shake-up. But it's been a lot worse, even in her memory. The tea parties don't really compare to the Vietnam protests or the fight over desegregation, and the "real America" rhetoric of the last few years doesn't go as far as the McCarthy era black-lists.
posted by nangar at 10:14 AM on December 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure it was worse just before the Civil War—and I don't just mean the ultimate escalation to open warfare, either. The fact that in both the 1852 and 1856 presidential elections, the incumbent failed to secure his own party's nomination for a second term is a pretty strong indicator.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:15 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From a Brown University prof in the NYTimes - here's an op-ed on the (lack of) history of bipartisanship.
posted by quodlibet at 10:36 AM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing ricochet biscuit. Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder and one of the founders of the libertarian movement, spent most of her later life writing about and opposing the New Deal. (Among other things, she deliberately kept her income below taxable levels because that was too much government interference.)
posted by Melismata at 10:52 AM on December 23, 2009

Best answer: This guy has apparently done some research on congressional partisanship and polarization. There are, at least, many graphs and charts.
posted by mhum at 11:11 AM on December 23, 2009

Speaking of 1856, another instructive episode that year was when Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina, beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts within an inch of his life, using a metal-headed cane, at Sumner's desk in the Senate chamber. Other Senators tried to intervene, but another South Carolina congressman stood them off with a pistol.

A Richmond newspaper praised the beating as "...good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequences. These vulgar abolitionists in the Senate must be lashed into submission."
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:16 AM on December 23, 2009

I think the internet just makes it seem worse, because everyone is able to be more vocal

I agree, and would like to add "the media" in there as well.
posted by puritycontrol at 11:48 AM on December 23, 2009

Writing a novel about the US Civil War has taught me that it was so much worse in the past. New York newspapers published literally dozens of editorials that both subtly and openly advocated the assassination of President Lincoln. I mean, real newspapers whose editors have schools named after them today.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:16 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a book compiling Honest Abe's correspondence. Some of it makes Glenn Beck sound downright sociable.
posted by minimii at 6:23 PM on December 23, 2009

The mid-20th century comparisons seem more valid, since Civil War life was a lot different than it is now, never mind the late 18th century. As much as we all might like to see it, we're not likely to see Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell face off in a duel.

The internet and exponentially-expanded media probably has a lot to do with the perception of modern politics. Back when there were three networks, you didn't have nearly as many outspoken pundits, let alone "news analysis/opinion" shows, which are encouraged to be controversial and polarizing.

On the flip side, I think that with expanded media, politicians themselves try to be more civil, since anything they say or do could instantly end up on YouTube along with CNN, Fox News, etc and ruin their career. And I'm under the impression that in general they're a lot more chummy than they used to be.

And since we're a much more transient society than we used to be, wouldn't that result in one's constituents not being nearly as partisan overall as they might have been a few decades ago? Thus a politician has to show more ideological restraint?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:21 AM on December 25, 2009

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