Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Myth of Increasing In-Civility

I'm always amazed by the conventional wisdom that today's politics are more polarized than ever. Anyone thinking that must not have been watching during Vietnam and Watergate. And the polls don't support increased polarization. But, liberals like Chris Matthews respond, wasn't everything better back in the days when a Republican President Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill could share lunch and a beer?

Reagan biographer Steven Hayward sets the record straight in the October 2011 Commentary:
The evocation of the supposedly reasonable Reagan who governed in relative harmony with liberals requires the opening of a memory hole the size of the Grand Canyon.

Liberals hated Reagan in the 1980s. Pure and simple. They used language that would make the most fervid anti-Obama rhetoric of the Tea Party seem like, well, a tea party. Democratic Rep. William Clay of Missouri charged that Reagan was "trying to replace the Bill of Rights with fascist precepts lifted verbatim from Mein Kampf." The Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad drew a panel depicting Reagan plotting a fascist putsch in a darkened Munich beer hall. Harry Stein (later a conservative convert) wrote in Esquire that the voters who supported Reagan were like the "good Germans" in "Hitler’s Germany."

There was ample academic support for this theme. John Roth, a Holocaust scholar at Claremont College, wrote:
I could not help remembering how 40 years ago economic turmoil had conspired with Nazi nationalism and militarism--all intensified by Germany’s defeat in World War I​--to send the world reeling into catastrophe. . . . It is not entirely mistaken to contemplate our postelection state with fear and trembling.
As for the supposed sweetness and light between Reagan and Tip O’Neill, it was mostly blarney. The two had numerous tense phone calls and meetings. In private they called each other’s views "crap" on more than one occasion; as the budget talks in 1982 headed to a climax, Reagan told O’Neill, "you can get me to crap a pineapple, but you can’t get me to crap a cactus." O’Neill publicly called Reagan "callous . . . a real Ebenezer Scrooge," whose program was "for the selfish, the greedy, and the affluent." In his diary, Reagan wrote: "Tip O’Neil [sic] is getting rough; saw him on TV telling the United Steelworkers U. that I am going to destroy the nation." He also told his diary that "Tip is a true pol. He can really like you personally & be a friend while politically trying to beat your head in." That was Reagan at his most charitable. He noted once that in a White House meeting where O’Neill "sounded off in a very partisan manner," "I almost let go the controls but I didn’t," and on another occasion he described one of O’Neill’s public claims as "the most vicious pack of lies I’ve ever seen."

Reagan had in mind such O’Neill gems as his remarks in 1981 on ABC that Reagan "has no concern, no regard, no care for the little man in America. And I understand that. Because of his lifestyle, he never meets those people." This was a mere warm-up for O’Neill’s blast at Reagan during the 1984 campaign:
The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.
Geraldine Ferraro, Mondale’s running mate, felt free to challenge Reagan’s religious bona fides: "The President walks around calling himself a good Christian, but I don’t for one minute believe it because the policies are so terribly unfair." Jesse Jackson, who routinely referred to Reagan’s administration as a "repressive regime," said, "Reagan is closer to Herod than he would be to the family of Jesus." . . .

That was Reagan’s Washington. Obama’s is tame by comparison

1 comment:

OBloodyHell said...

I think the chief difference is that the MSmedia is much, much more ideologically driven than in the past. Their agreement with the acid rhetoric is the factor that makes it seem so loud.

Not claiming they are more partisan, only that the shrillness and the volume of their cries is much more serious and fiery.

Prior to the 2000 election, they felt somewhat more of a need to maintain at least the appearance of equanimity.