Thomas Friedman penned a column in the New York Times today (see here) that waxes nostalgic for a by-gone era of American politics, one before Al Gore gave birth to the internet and unleashed the scourge of the “blogosphere” upon us all. An era in which there were no fringe elements in American society; no lunatics, fundamentalists or dissident groups. An era in which political speech was moderated by temperance and attention to the issues and, at worst, issues of character, rather than the legitimacy of the President of the United States. Mr. Friedman harkens back to this time out of concern for the well-being of our political system and the very safety of our sitting, duly-elected president, Barack Obama.

It is my unhappy duty to report, Mr. Friedman, that your idyllic Eden of American politics never existed, and sadly never will. Politics in this nation has never been civil, though the attempt to make it so has been an expedient for politicians from both parties to score cheap points. It has been ugly, deceitful, replete with the basest of character attacks. It has destroyed lives. Since the election of 1800, when Federalist newspapers charged that Jefferson’s election to the presidency would lead to the “teaching of murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest,” to the election of 1964 when President Johnson suggested in a none too subtle fashion that Barry Goldwater would get countless Americans killed by starting a nuclear war, American presidential politics has been a gruesome, amoral sport.

I too despise the elements of our society that cross the line from ugly sport to treason. I am ashamed of them. I would see those who voice their intent to harm our president prosecuted and imprisoned. But do not delude yourself, Mr. Friedman, for the sake of your own political sympathies, into believing that the concept of an American “we” has ever been a mainstay in our politics, barring exceptional times of great national distress. All Americans would like to see a more civil tone in politics, but the cacophony of vitriol is the price of a free republic that allows fools from all persuasions to speak freely. To propose the imposition of a remedy to it is to trample the Constitution and the system of government you would seek to protect.
We've been down that road before, if you'll recall.

As Jefferson himself said in his Inaugural Address, after suffering some of the most despicable attacks one could conceive, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cincinnatus - great post, I particularly enjoyed the historical comparisons and quotes. Good to see that some people retain an interest in history (of the non-Marxist variant).