Recently, I’ve been seeing a large number of articles claiming that things are “less civil” in society than in the past. It’s to the point where comedians John Stewart and Stephen Colbert actually held a rally in support of polite discourse.
Some people writing columns or discussing matters point to recent epithets like “rethuglican”, “demoncrat”, “teabaggers”, and on and on. They discuss whether the “decline of civility” leads to bad behavior and the occasional “off-camera, off-microphone” remark that nevertheless gets recorded and magnified since it can be played as a moment of “the candidate being honest” in a bad way. Instances and occasions that are more the result of one or two hotheads in a crowd of thousands or millions are claimed, by the other side, to be “representative” of everyone present.
A number of them from one side make the claim that Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States, is getting “more than his fair share” because of the color of his skin. Of course, many of these same article writers laughed and enjoyed and said nothing about things like this.
The idea of political discourse being un-heated and non-insulting at some mythological point in the past… well, it’s just not true. Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, was derided by his opponents as the “Negro President”. One guy’s done a great job translating the words of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams into modern-day attack ads. Jefferson’s opponents also circulated scurrilous verses regarding his alleged relationship with a slave by the name of Sally Hemings.
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr settled their political differences by a duel to the death. Preston Brooks beat a fellow senator with his cane; Stephen Douglas had said of the beaten man, “this damn fool [Sumner] is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool.” Lyndon Baines Johnson ran this ad. Spiro Agnew was skewered with a mere laugh track.
In 1986, comedian Robin Williams was already making Alzheimer’s/senility jokes about Ronald Reagan. When 1994 came around and Reagan was actually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, there were certain very incivil people who thought that they were being inventive or unique by asking “does he even remember being president?”
It is a mark of some hilarity, actually, that for the man often derided in recent memory as the “worst president ever”, the worst nickname that could be brought up (at least until, post-presidency, he revealed a very nasty anti-semitic streak) was “Jimmah Cardigan”, and that the worst portrayal of him was that of a bumbling milquetoast. Carter is definitely an outlier.
So, to sum up: is Obama on the receiving end of insults? Undoubtedly. Are they any worse than those received by previous Presidents? I think “Chimpy McBushitler”, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, as well as most of the others who were at all notable, have a definite case to make that they’re not.
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