How Did It Come To This?

Lately I’ve been brooding over this photograph:

In this May 28, 1988 file photo, Senate Minority leader Robert Dole (R-KS), left, and Senate Majority leader Robert Byrd (D-WV), call President Reagan in Helsinki from Capitol Hill. Behind them are, from left, Sens. William Cohen (R-ME), Claiborne Pell (D-RI), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Alan Simpson (R-WY), Alan Cranston (D-CA), Sam Nunn (D-GA), John Warner (R-VA), and Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) (Image from the Associated Press)

Isn’t it stunning? Less than 25 years ago, right here in America, but this image might as well be from another era on a different planet. Now, Americans and their politicians are more like people caught in the misery of a failed marriage, wondering how it came to this.

That’s the question I want us all to address: how did it come to this? How did American politics reach the point where there is no longer really a government—just two armed camps with no communication…and to be seen consorting with the “enemy” is the death knell for one’s reelection?

I miss the old coöperation, collegiality, teasing…and especially the lively debate in Congress. Now there is only hatred, animosity, mistrust, and deep bitterness. And the divide is not just between groups of politicians in Washington; it is everywhere. On my recent lengthy vacation I was struck by how warily Americans approach the issue of politics nowadays. Even at lovely dinner tables with elegant appointments, people know how quickly any political discussion can descend to unpleasantness and ugly emotions.

Incidentally, I think the pervasive lack of communication partially explains the amazing and growing success of this little blog of ours. It may be small and new, but it is truly one of the few places on the Internet where people from both sides of the political divide can discuss contentious issues while remaining civil. (Okay, most of the time…) Seriously, try to find another blog where this is the case…where it is possible to debate the ideas with great passion, while continuing to be generally friendly toward the person who holds them. Civil dispute is really becoming a lost art.

So again…how did it come to this? What has caused the coarsening and extreme polarization in American politics? When did political opponents become sworn enemies? How on earth has a term like “blood libel” actually become part of the political discourse…and why is nobody even astonished that we are hearing it? Let’s try to determine where this polarization began, and how it has grown so deep and pervasive. I have a theory of my own but I don’t want to present it up front; I’d like to hear your ideas first and see you all chew it over. (Because when you do, your combined thoughts are always fascinating and enlightening.)

One thing I do know for sure…America is the United States…and a house divided cannot stand. I think this is actually becoming a time of considerable peril. I believe the ugliness and division in its political fabric has been at least partly responsible for the economic weakening of the nation and the decline of America’s image on the world stage. The government of this great country must somehow return to sanity, comity and productivity. As per Bernard Meltzer’s old cliché, American politicians need to learn once again to disagree without being disagreeable. American lawmakers of all ideologies must respect each other again, and the public has to stop being fascinated by the violent ugliness of political steel cage matches.

Most of all, we must all cultivate the ability we once had to strongly oppose a political idea while continuing to like, respect and work with the person who holds that idea. When that happens, America will once again become a “shining city on a hill” and a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.


About filistro

Filistro is a Canadian writer and prairie dog who maintains burrows on both sides of the 49th parallel. Like all prairie dogs, she is keenly interested in politics and language. (Prairie dogs have been known to build organized towns the size of Maryland, and are the only furry mammal with a documented language.)
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75 Responses to How Did It Come To This?

  1. dcpetterson says:

    It’s an excellent and fascinating question. It will be a true testament to the comity of this bog if it can be discussed without animosity. I say that because looking for a “cause” may, almost unavoidably, lead to finger-pointing, since there may well be a sense (perhaps on all sides) that the other guy “caused” it and thus deserves the “blame”.

    It has, I think, been a long process. There were many steps along the way. I think some Republicans felt that Clinton’s impeachment was no more than deserved payback for Nixon’s forced resignation. But to Democrats, the impeachment was a simple nakedly partisan bit of political theater, taking an unimportant and petty sex scandal and amplifying it into epic nonsense. But then, even in that era, Clinton was able to work with the Republicans in Congress to balance the budget.

    I think FOX “News” has been a factor. I honestly don’t think FOX is partisan so much as having found a lucrative business model. I suspect they push the positions they do because it is profitable for them to do so. They are selling an entertainment product; and in that market, conflict breeds income. So they ratchet up the partisan blather because it sells; I don’t think Glenn Beck et al actually believe a fraction of what they say on air.

    I suppose it’s possible they could have created the same sort of business model with a left-leaning bias, had they started during the Clinton era (access to the corridors of power was part of what they sold, and the Bush Administration gave them that). But then, maybe not; there may be something in the paranoid conflict-hungry personality that gravitates to one end of the political spectrum.

    A recent study showed that people with different political outlook watch different TV shows; conservatives tend to prefer Dancing with the Stars, liberals watch Dexter. Maybe the FOX faux news format works better financially on one end. Liberals seem to like satire more than snake oil, hence the Stewart / Colbert form of faux news is popular on that end. There have been a few conservative attempts to create a Daily Show-style satire program. They’ve all failed miserably.

    Maybe there’s a key there. Liberals like to laugh, even if it’s at their own expense. They like fantasy and conflict, but they never forget it’s fantasy, because the world is a serious place, and has serious problems. Entertainment is an escape from that. For conservatives, perhaps they prefer more realistic drama; the sense of conflict has to be rooted in the Real World ™. Therefore, in order to care about their entertainment, they need to think it is actually happening. Dancing with the Stars depicts “real people”; liberals know Dexter is fiction. Glenn Beck promotes his fantasies as if they are real; Jon Stewart tells jokes.

  2. filistro says:

    Interesting thoughts, DC… especially regarding world views and taste in entertanment.

    But on reflection, I don’t blame the various partisan media. I think they are a symptom rather than a cause. FOX news didn’t create the divide… as you point out, it arose to exploit it financially.

    I’m not just asking a rhetorical question or wringing my hands in despair… I’m really interested in what caused this, and when you all think it started to happen. As I said, I have an over-arching theory about partisanship in American politics, but I do think it really turned bitter during Clinton’s presidency and particularly around the time of his re-election. It was shattering to the conservative world-view that this man was (in their eyes) so obviously loathsome and immoral, everything they found reprehensible, and yet they couldn’t ever seem to beat him.

    There was something about the way Clinton always drifted and skated just beyond their reach, taunting them like Wiley Coyote, that drove the GOP permanently around the bend.

  3. shortchain says:

    I doubt that there is a simple or even a single answer to your question, filistro. There are so many people involved it could hardly be any other way.

    Part of the answer to your question is that we have such a large number of people involved, today, in the public debate. In the sixties, the number of people who were speaking to a national audience was tiny. We had the three networks; we had a few nationally-syndicated columnists; and we had the President and, occasionally, a couple of other political folks. Beyond that, we simply didn’t have people talking, in public, about politics. Today we’ve got so many columnists I don’t even recognize half the names. We get to hear from people (Michele Bachmann and Dennis Kucinich come to mind) who would never have made it into the spotlight.

    With a greater number of voices comes greater variance and a larger chance of dissension. That’s simple statistics. (This is akin to DC’s explanation above — it’s kind of a statistical dynamics explanation of the evolution of society. You get greater dissension because the environment permits it.)

    Part of the answer is that we are a nation in flux. We’re transitioning from a white-male-dominated society into a true multi-gender-multi-ethnic one. At the same time, we’re transitioning to a post-manufacturing society (and some will say to a slower economic growth environment). That’s got the folks who like the old society very unhappy and prone to violent outbursts. You can’t really blame them. They see a bleak future, and they don’t like it.

  4. drfunguy says:

    My first response is to wonder if this is really a new phenomenon or a swinging of the pendulum.
    American politics has often been rancorous and occaisionally had violent interpersonal disputes. The pattern goes back at least (excluding the treatment of loyalists during the revolutionary war) to the Burr-Hamilton duel when the sitting Vice President shot the former Treasury Secretary leading to his premature expiration. Violent episodes were frequently visited upon the followers of Joseph Smith when they participated in electoral politics (see Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History or John D. Lee’s Mormonism Unveiled for excellant accounts) and Smith was martyred at the hands of a mob while in jail and was at the time a candidate for President of the United States. Then there was the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner on the Senate floor. And that little contretemps during the 1860’s.
    The civility of discourse and tolerance of dissent has ebbed and flowed through our history. Remember how the IWW was treated? Hint: they don’t call it the Centralia Massacre for nothing. Ever heard of the Palmer raids? Did they deport Emma Goldman to Russia in 1919 for a vacation?
    Eugene Debs received over 900,000 votes for President in the 1920 election while jailed for sedition…
    I mean, this stuff goes on and on (1930 labor ‘disputes’, civil rights, etc.).
    I suggest that we are seeing the end of an era relatively tolerant of political disagreement. I hope not, but it certainly appears that way to me.
    As an aside, I suggest (and this is hardly my own idea) that the lack of political will to enforce the rule of law on the Reagan adminstration over the Iran-Contra issue, and the ease with which criminals within that group got off (and even were appointed to positions of power in the Bush-Cheney government) has (and will) lead to abuses of executive power by the Presidency that will only be curbed after some extreme and probably violent episode.
    On reflection, it sure seems like a great time to immigrate to Canada. Oh, I already did!
    😉

  5. filistro says:

    Those are two more interesting theories, shortchain… a scary time of change and instability probably contributes. Fear is a very polarizing emotion, after all….

    I hadn’t thought about the sheer “critical mass” of the discussion thanks to all the new media. Musing over this leads me to think Pogo was probably right… “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Politicians are mirrors who reflect the electorate. They wouldn’t be so bitterly polarized if they didn’t repesent a bitterly fractured constituency. So maybe we need to look at ourselves for the answer..

    I ask all of you… would YOU, personally, be less likely to vote for your current representative or senator if that person regularly worked across the aisle with the other side? And if so .. why?

  6. shortchain says:

    filistro,

    I make my voting decisions based on their votes (or likely future votes), not on their working relationships.

    You’ll have to ask those on the GOP/teaper side of the spectrum why it is that simply working with the Democrats (or even, in some cases, talking about working with them) is enough to produce a primary battle.

  7. peged says:

    Longtime lurker here who is grateful for this forum for the reasons you’ve outlined, and who is also old enough to remember reasoned debate, political and otherwise. Shortchain makes good points above. I would also add that for whatever reason, issues are often presented as black or white or yes or no. This, in addition to the sound-byte nature of what passes for discourse, virtually forces people to “take sides”. The ability to get down to the point of possible agreement, or at least common ground, is lost in this process. Even our political “debates” are no longer true responsive dialogues but a collection of “talking points”. Some of the problem, I think, also arises from our marketing and image-making culture. The medium becomes the message. Polling and the attempt to be “popular” pushes folks to either say essentially nothing or to be outrageous to get attention. Remember when Al Gore was “made-over” when he was campaigning against GWB? It was so obvious that I questioned HIS sense in allowing himself to be manipulated so. This puts everyone in a position of distrust of how others present themselves in addition to what they have to say. I’d say trust is essential to constructive debate and dialogue. Having been in one once, I get the analogy to a bad marriage. When divisive patterns are set it’s really hard to get out of the mold.

  8. filistro says:

    Doc… I know the political history has been spotty and violent. But I’m particularly interested in how much things have changed just in the past quarter century, between the photo I posted and the way things are now.

    I do think your summary has specific relevance to the question, though.. We humans are a VERY violent and aggressive species. Our simmering hostility requires a regular outlet, and we’ll find it where we can… usually through warfare… failing that, through politics (and sports.) In the period since that photo we’ve had no wars (except for Dubya’s phony politically-motivated adventurism that nobody recognizes as actual war.)

    If Americans have no outside enemy to actively unite and fight against, they turn on each other. A good, lively, international shooting war would probably cure this outbreak of nasty partisanship in short order.

  9. Mainer says:

    Fili quite interestingly enough the one thing that could most likely derail Sen. Snowe is going to be that she did not cross the aisle often enough. I don’t know who is advising her but if they think cuddling up to the teapers is going to help her they have some serious issues.

    I just see this as the politics of division coming home to roost. Dr fun is right on many levels but we did not need to slide back into this morass except that we had people that saw a way to do it for power.

  10. dcpetterson says:

    @filistro
    I ask all of you… would YOU, personally, be less likely to vote for your current representative or senator if that person regularly worked across the aisle with the other side?

    Another excellent question.

    My representative is Keith Ellison. My senators are Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Both Ellison and Franken were proteges of Paul Wellstone, who was well-known for his ability to work across the aisle. Franken has recently struck up a close friendship with Rand Paul (!) and the two of them have 1) agreed to disagree amiably on most issues, while 2) working together on places where a libertarian philosophy fits with liberal ideas, things like cutting defense spending and scaling back the “Patriot” Act.

    I approve of these cross-aisle relationships. It’s good when our elected officials can put aside party rivalries and act together for the betterment of the nation. I actually approve of partisan debate when it is both reasoned and done for principled positions. But when it is done merely for the sake of seizing political power, when it is done for nothing more than the purpose of the game itself, then it becomes destructive to the health of our nation.

  11. GROG says:

    DC said: But to Democrats, the impeachment was a simple nakedly partisan bit of political theater, taking an unimportant and petty sex scandal and amplifying it into epic nonsense.

    Clearly, to Republicans is was not “an unimportant and petty sex scandal”. When a sitting president commits adultery in the White House, with a young intern, and then goes on national TV and lies to the American people about it, it becomes more than a petty sex scandal. I think the fact that the Clinton’s had a young daughter at the time made it even worse. Not only did he cheat on his wife, he also cheated on his daughter.

    There seemed to be such a partisan divide on the issue between Dems and Reps, that I think you’re right, it may have a great deal to with the divide we see today, among other things of course.

  12. filistro says:

    @peged… Some of the problem, I think, also arises from our marketing and image-making culture. The medium becomes the message. Polling and the attempt to be “popular” pushes folks to either say essentially nothing or to be outrageous to get attention.

    That’s VERY perceptive. Politics has in many instances degenerated to performance art, hasn’t it? No wonder the dialogue suffers, when everybody is elbowing other speakers out of the way to hog the cameras..

  13. drfunguy says:

    @Grog
    You seem to be forgetting that the sex ‘scandal’ only came to light as a result of a 60 million dollar taxpayer funded witchhunt regarding a real estate deal on which the Clinton’s lost about $10,000. Its hard to interpret the whole sorry episode as anything but the worst partisan abuse of power by Congress.
    As to it evidencing some moral code of the Repbulicans, see Newt Gingrich, Larry Craig, etc for exemplars of family values. It would be more convincing if conservative leaders actually walked their talk.

  14. dcpetterson says:

    @GROG
    Clearly, to Republicans is was not “an unimportant and petty sex scandal”.

    I think this may be a genuine difference in world-view. I’m going to generalize, but let me say first that I acknowledge there are exceptions to all generalizations (including this one).

    As a rule, I think people tend to prioritize their issues and concerns. Democrats / progressives tend to rate problems like pollution, war, poverty, the economy, the environment, civil rights and civil liberties, crime and violence — things like that, as being far more important than considerations about private personal behavior. As a rule, we don’t think that someone else’s private affairs should rise to the level of public attention — except, perhaps, as entertainment. The idea of grinding the business of government to a halt over a presidential affair seems ludicrous and distasteful and incomprehensible.

    I have heard Republicans / conservatives defend this idea as something basic to moral standing and ethical virtues and values, something that a President or other elected official should be expected to have. This argument would seem more convincing and honest if so many of the very Republicans making it had not been involved in sex scandals of their own. Further, the crime of having extra-marital sex — or even of lying about having extra-marital sex — seems to pale to insignificance next to the abuse of power exhibited by the Iran / Contra crimes or the excesses of the Bush administration.

    I say this all not as a “You too!” argument, but as an attempt to describe what I see as a difference in worldview. It seems to me that some conservatives are more concerned with private behavior than with public policy — or with creating scandals about private behavior as a means to distract attention away from discussions of public policy.

    Where this falls into the current thread, I think, is in the perception of the Clinton impeachment as a partisan power grab, rather than as a true dispute over values. Did the Republicans impeach Clinton because they were honestly offended by what they saw as his lack of morals? I find that hard to believe, given the crimes and immorality they had displayed themselves. Unless the definition of words like “crimes” and “morality” are so very different between progressives and conservatives that we are actually talking about different things.

    The alternative is that perhaps the impeachment was an example of filistro’s premise, that something happened to create a hyperpartisanship that puts the advancement of party above the good of the country — and even above considerations of honesty and ethics and morality.

  15. frk says:

    “But teacher, he did it first!”. . .Said the second-grader with tears in his eyes.

    Seeking a cause for a failed marriage, unable to find definitive evidence of responsibility, one usually runs up against the he said/she said wall.
    Historians will study the social,economic ,and political changes of this era (once they define its boundaries) and, after sorting through all the data, they’ll fill thick volumes with quasi-objective conclusions that will be hailed or damned by critics who can only aspire to objectivity.

    My theory: Gradual changes have been taking place since humans began to socialize. Problems such as ours have come and gone over the ages. But these changes are coming faster as we progress. Nothing new there. No blame to place. It’s evolution. Only it’s beginning to look like the changes we’re seeing most frequently are negative changes. Politically and socially we’re evolving into something ugly and mean. And, unfortunatelyl, I doubt that being a “shining city on a hill” will be enough to reverse the process.

  16. filistro says:

    DC.. filistro’s premise, that something happened to create a hyperpartisanship that puts the advancement of party above the good of the country

    YES!! That’s what I’m getting at. What was the triggering event(s) for this extreme partisanship?

    I don’t think it was the impeachment… I believe the impeachment was the first real EVIDENCE of the current partisanship, not its cause. So help me out, all you smart political historians… what happened in the early 90’s, after that photo was taken, that would make such an image impossible now?

    I’ve occasionally posted my own (admittedly incendiary) definition of “partisans” as people who hate the other party more than they love their country.

    I think nowadays it’s not far off. It certainly applies to the Freepers who would rather (I truly believe) see the country go up in smoke than see the Dems prevail politically. So… what gave rise to this extreme partisanship… and then moved it from the fringe to center stage?

  17. Brian says:

    I ask all of you… would YOU, personally, be less likely to vote for your current representative or senator if that person regularly worked across the aisle with the other side? And if so .. why?

    Absolutely not. It warms my heart when I see Orrin Hatch and Chuck Schumer working together on immigration or when Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and John Kerry are discussing environmental policies.

    But it seems like its only the older folk who’ve had a few terms to develop a base who have the guts to reach across the aisle. And with the volatility of the past few elections, I’m not sure our elected representatives are there long enough to develop that. The only exception I can think of is Scott Brown, and it’s pretty clear why he’s the exception.

  18. filistro says:

    @frk… Politically and socially we’re evolving into something ugly and mean.

    Hmmm.

    Why would that be? (I hate to beleive it’s true, being one of those annoyingly cheerful optimists who sees the best in people and likes to believe evolution tends toward growth and harmony…)

    But you could be right. And if so, I think it’s probably a function of overcrowding and diminished opportunty. Too many people competing fiercely for too few resources.

    (Just gotta add… I LOVE discussions like this. You all are such a brilliant and thoughtful bunch. 🙂 I’m very grateful for your input.)

  19. shortchain says:

    On the Clinton scandal issue, I would like to add to DC’s analysis, lest we forget, the “investigation” of William Jefferson Clinton was driven largely by money from an extremely wealthy individual, one Richard Mellon Scaife, who was not driven by any moral issue with Clinton, but by a simple desire to destroy a popular politician. It was Scaife money that paid for the Paula Jones lawsuit and that resulted in the bizarre and unprecedented spectacle of a sitting president being deposed for something that, in the end, turned out unfounded.

    I remember very clearly the videos put out by the right wing, the whisper campaigns, the suborned testimony which was later proven to be simply bought-and-paid-for lies. Apparently, for some of us on the right, that’s a perfectly acceptable strategy in order to achieve political power.

    So one of the factors that is driving the divisiveness is the increasing imbalance in wealth. Quite a few of the extremely wealthy appear to prefer it, based on their funding of various foundations and causes, if the vast majority of the country are divided into warring camps.

  20. peged says:

    I do think “we the people” need to take some responsibility in what we get from our political critters. If politics HAS become mainly performance art, then the response of the audience is paramount. That photo at the top of the post was staged after all. It may tell us more about the culture that valued working together and compromise than the actual willingness to get along of the congressmen pictured. If a picture like this wasn’t politically expedient for them do you think it would have been taken?

  21. mclever says:

    @filistro

    In a country of 300,000,000 people or so, it’s going to be difficult to point to a single cause, but I can offer forth a hypothesis for everyone else to dismantle…

    For better or worse, the baby boomers (and slightly older WWII babies) have been the most prominent political demographic for the past twenty-five years or so. For many of those folks, the most salient events of their relatively young political development seem to have been the Vietnam War and the 60’s counter-culture. (And the Kennedy assassination and the walk on the moon and disco…) Therefore, in today’s political debate, many issues are still framed in terms of the lingering scars from that very turbulent era. Things are cast in very stark terms: Are you a dove or a hawk, for example? The language of the Vietnam era continues to pervade our public discourse, much to the confusion and consternation of younger voters who don’t quite get some of the “dog whistle” terms used by both parties.

    So, what happened to bring things to a head in the 90s? Bill Clinton became a lightning rod. His very existence on the political stage exacerbated all of those biases that had been seeded in the 60s and 70s. (Remember the push for a flag-burning amendment during Clinton’s term? Why would that suddenly be so important then?) To those who daily cursed Jane Fonda’s name, Billy Boy was a military-hating liberal scum who actively advocated against the Vietnam War, while on foreign soil no less! For some conservative-minded folks, those were unforgivable “sins” that reinforced their perception of all liberals as [fill in the blank with hateful stereotype]. In contrast, for many liberal Boomers, Clinton represented a victory over the corrupt Iran Contra conspirators and hawkish Republican [fill in the blank with hateful stereotype] who were trying to kill our children by starting another Vietnam. Bill Clinton was emblematic, but joining him on the national stage were a whole host of newer, younger representatives who also had formed their political ideology in the fires of Vietnam. Kindling meet spark.

    Side note: When someone in the “in” group does something reprehensible, it’s seen as an aberration or mistake, a minor glitch. (Clinton’s infidelities as seen by liberal women’s groups, Bush’s avoidance of service as seen by conservative military groups, etc.) When someone in the “out” group does something reprehensible, it serves to reinforce and reiterate any negative attitudes that may already exist. So, while personal foibles (or even gross errors) of someone on your “side” are minimized and dismissed, the same or similar actions by someone on the other “side” are exaggerated and magnified to extremes. So, it didn’t really matter what Bill Clinton did–any mistakes he made would be seen as horrific by Republicans and minor by Democrats. That’s human nature. That’s why liberals harping on GWB’s service record make zero traction. Nobody on his “team” cares. Moving on…

    So, if I think the start of this really took root during the Vietnam Era, then why wasn’t this a problem B.C. (before Clinton)? First, I think there were signs of trouble, but it was like the pot that’s simmering just before it starts to really boil. The brewing trouble was masked largely because the political attitudes of the prior generation were formed either from enduring the Great Depression or from fighting in a “just” war that ended with us as victors and heroes on the world stage. Most of our senior political figures prior to the 90s were of that older generation. Both liberals and conservatives were children of the New Deal, who devoutly and sincerely believed that the government has a role in protecting its citizens from poverty (among other things). People united by great hardship can find common ground even if they disagree at the periphery, and the politicians of a generation ago understood that because of their own life history. Bill Clinton was the first Boomer President, hence he represented a real change of the guard.

    So, in the 90s we get Newt’s Contract and Impeachment, the rise of Talk Radio and the birth of Fox News. And you we also had a soaring stock market based on the Tech Boom and the real estate bubble beginning to rise. And a whole generation of Gen Xers starting to pay attention…

    Perhaps the Vietnam imagery only seems so prominent to me because so many of the discussions about Iraq continue to dredge up the same arguments and debate. Perhaps it’s because whenever I hear a partisan say what they think the other side wants, it’s almost always cast in terms that I can recognizably tie back to Vietnam or the 60s. And maybe those folks whose opinions were formed during that era honestly don’t recognize how much they sound like they’re still fighting the same fights between hippie war protesters and good soldiers…

    Now, I’m much to young to actually remember any of these events, so my case is built entirely on anecdotal observations of my elders. Let me also admit that every history class I ever took stopped before WWI, so I naturally have some fuzziness on the details of 20th century history. But, that’s kind of the point that I can describe present events in the terms of Vietnam without any direct knowledge or study because that’s how all of my political elders continue to describe things ad infinitum.

    So, all you smart boomers in here… Feel free to tell me how wrong I am! 😉

  22. mclever says:

    @peged

    If a picture like this wasn’t politically expedient for them do you think it would have been taken?

    Excellent observation! You’re right, that some of the blame for the current environment should be laid at the feed of the constituents. If it wasn’t politically expedient (or lucrative) to be divisive and hateful, politicians wouldn’t be doing it (nor would Fox). It does say something about the values of the prior generations as compared to the current ones.

  23. filistro says:

    @mac… terrific analyis,as always. (if you aren’t currently writing a book, you should be! ;-))

    @peged… That photo at the top of the post was staged after all. It may tell us more about the culture that valued working together and compromise than the actual willingness to get along of the congressmen pictured. If a picture like this wasn’t politically expedient for them do you think it would have been taken?

    So… here’s another thing that puzzles me. Polls show without a doubt that a politician’s numbers will rise among indepenedent voters when he/she is seen engaging in bipartisan activity. And the Indies are the group everybody is trying to court, right? In such a closely divided country, they hold the balance of power in every election. Yet the partisan base (on both sides) makes it impossible for pols to reach out and try to capture those key voters.

    It seems like a very odd and conflicted political dynamic. I wonder if this is the kind of climate that presages the appearance of a genuine third party… and that must be present in order for one to emerge.

  24. dcpetterson says:

    mclever, as one of the boomers myself — born in the 50’s, coming to political awareness in the heat of the 60’s — I can say that your summary of the late 20th century seems spot on to me. Well done.

    To add to all that –and to piggyback on some of filistro’s comments — I think Clinton ticked off the Republicans in another way. When the Republicans won control of Congress in the ’94 midterms, they thought they’d have a free hand, and be able to force their agenda on a weakened Clinton — then clean his clock in the ’96 presidential election, and have a free hand with a Republican president. But Clinton pivoted brilliantly. He stole all the Republican talking points, and turned them to his own ends.

    “The era of big government is over”; “We will end welfare as we know it”; these were Clinton’s catch phrases, not the Republicans’. The economy boomed — the Republicans are supposed to be good for business, not the Democrats. Everything the Republicans did to weaken him just made Bill more popular, and made his influence grow. He is one of the very few presidents who left office far more popular than when he was first elected. Not even Reagan had managed that.

    So after Clinton trounced Dole in ’96, perhaps the Republicans were feeling desperate. I don’t know if this desperation was a contributing factor to the nascent hyperpartisanship, or if it was a symptom of what already had manifested. I can’t recall when Ken Starr began his Starr Chamber hearings into the manufactured scandals du jour, whether that was before or after the ’96 election. It certainly was after the Republicans took control of Congress in ’94, and Clinton had shown that not even losing Congress would stop the Democratic agenda or weaken the Clinton presidency.

    So perhaps the partisanship was a reaction to the realization that progressives are flexible, not hidebound — and, given a brilliant strategist like Clinton, can even turn a setback into further progress. Just a guess.

  25. frk says:

    filistro:
    I apologize for my pessimism. I agree that that growth and harmony are evolution’s tendency. And I probably should not be so hasty to equate biological evolution with societal evolution. But, that said, in biological evolution, many species evolve their way to extinction. I’m simply proposing that our society/world/ perhaps species may be evolving in that direction. You say potato, I say potahto, glass-half-full and all that. There’s not much more to it.

    If the causes are indeed overcrowding and diminished opportunity, barring worldwide devastation the overcrowding will only increase, and diminished opportunity will, due to ever-increasing overcrowding, continue diminishing.

    Alternatives? We could socially engineer a new path. But requiring smaller families and forcing increased opportunity (by income distribution, for example) seem a bit too , uh, communistic. Or, we could just sit back and wait for technological progress to save our sorry souls.

  26. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    1) 1968 – Nixon/Thurmond’s “Southern Strategy”

    2) Early 1980’s – Reagan’s acceptance and inclusion of the Christian Right into the GOP.

    The South, with it’s mainly Scot-Irish culture of resentment of authority and willingness to fight, was the seed. The addition of the fervent belief that “God is on OUR side” by the Christian Right, which by definition makes any other viewpoint not just wrong, but inherently evil.

    These two events permeated the heart an soul of the Republican Party, eliminating the moderate and liberal Republicans as Ev Dirksen, Edward Brooke, John Lindsay, Jacob Javits and Howard Baker, and in about a generation (early- to mid-90’s) action begat reaction.

  27. Monotreme says:

    I’m dealing with some personal/family issues today, so I’m not participating in the discussion as much as I want to.

    However, I want to respond to fili’s question: What was the triggering event(s) for this extreme partisanship?

    A lot of questions in our lives can’t be answered, because we frame them like this. I would submit that you need to re-frame the question, looking for a series of triggering events that together “racheted up” the political heat.

    It’s like my lifelong search for the cause of WW I, which is still a mystery to me. As far as I can tell, there was no tinder/spark relationship, but just a slow, steady accumulation of heat, more like a pile of oily rags than the Chicago Fire.

    Maclever’s answer begins to move in that direction, with its focus on glacial rather than cataclysmic forces.

  28. filistro says:

    @Max.. The South, with it’s mainly Scot-Irish culture of resentment of authority and willingness to fight, was the seed. The addition of the fervent belief that “God is on OUR side” by the Christian Right, which by definition makes any other viewpoint not just wrong, but inherently evil.

    Aha! “Not-So-Mad-Max” has co-opted my thesis!

    That’s exactly what I think, too. The real division began when religion became part of politics.

    Politics + Religion = Complete Deadlock.

    Because we can all compromise on political principles if it’s provably expedient to do so… but it’s really, really hard for folks to compromise on their religious convictions.

  29. filistro says:

    frk… I don’t disagree with you at all. In fact, I think you’re probably right.

    I just wish you weren’t… 😦

  30. peged says:

    Another Boomer Grandma here. And a Southern one to boot! And I believe Mclever is on to something. I also believe the Clinton presidency was pivotal. I know at the time I thought the crazy train had come off the tracks. Nothing made sense except maybe the strength of the desire to break this presidency and the machinations the right was willing to go through to do so. The “moral” posturing was incredible and yet brilliant in its appeal to the evangelical base. The irony of Karl Rove being the mastermind of this is stunning. I cut Clinton no slack for his sleazy behavior but I was amazed at the hijacking of government to try to bring him down. It almost seems battle lines were drawn at this point in time like never before.

  31. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    fili,

    I never like to disagree with you, but this time I think you have it backwards.

    Religion has always been a part of politics, even here in the US.

    But now, politics has become part of religion.

    Thus to an even greater degree, things, which as Christ would say: “belong to Caesar”, such as the civil contract of marriage and the determination of “when human life begins” are amplified. When you see: pastors telling members that if they vote Democrat they should find another church; the way far out Westboro Baptist folks; the questioning, unconstitutionally(Art. VI, Sec 3), of the President’s religion, all occurring from the pulpit, the latter may well be more correct.

  32. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    peged,

    Perhaps a better explanation than “pivotal” concerning the Clinton issue, would be that it was the first real “exemplification” of that divide.

  33. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Remember too, that in the mid-90’s, the President and the first three constitutional successors were all southern, Southern Baptists!

    These sense of betrayal and apostasy against Clinton-Gore added fuel to the fire.

  34. Mr. Universe says:

    I’m holding out on a comprehensive response because, as Shortchain pointed out, it’s likely a complex answer. Plus I’m writing something similar with my own angle. Though by all means, filistro, ladies first.

    But on the Clinton issue, it had nothing to do with any moral issue. It was about removing the last barrier to complete control of the legislative branch of our nation. Given that the witch hunt was funded by an avowed Clinton hater and spearheaded by a guy who was in the middle of his own affair cheating on his ill wife (for the second time, making John Edwards look like a rank amateur *), I don’t think the country at large bought into the morality argument.

    And it really wasn’t any of our business. Plus we got to waste a lot of uncomfortable time and taxpayer money defining whether or not a blow job consisted of “sexual relations”. I think most Americans thought that was an unnecessary circus.

    Rarely do I agree with George Will but he’s right about this; Republicans shouldn’t allow Gingrich to manage a 7-11 much less a political office.

    * (Someone remind me again why Gingrich is still considered a legitimate politician and Edwards’ career is over? And why, exactly is an act of fellatio more reprehensible than a full blown affair on an ailing wife? Another time, perhaps)

  35. Mr. Universe says:

    Now, had Clinton been caught in flagrante delicto prior to the 1996 election, we all might be living in an Orwellian hell about now.

  36. peged says:

    Max, technically you’re probably correct, but for me it WAS pivotal in that I have become much more partisan myself since that time in that I found the Right frankly scary for the first time in my lifetime. The ugliness of the civil rights era was so obviously wrong that I felt any rational person could see that, and I was too young for the McCarthy era paranoia to make my radar. This was different somehow on a visceral level for me.

  37. frk says:

    Mr. U
    Gingrich? Why is he still considered legit? It’s the Republican Party, dude, And Newt’s got a party hat with little valentine candies glued to it. Party on!
    And why is fellatio so wrong, wrong, wrong? . . . .Stains on the Oval Office carpet,perhaps?

  38. frk says:

    Sorry. I forgot Edwards. Simple. Like Newt he’s scum—but he’s a Democrat. We Democrats recognize scum when we see it.

  39. Armchair Warlord says:

    Mclever,

    I think you’re correct. This all goes back to Vietnam, not only in that the post-World War Two confidence people had in America was destroyed at the time, but in that the Vietnam War marked the beginning of when putting your own interests above those of the country as a whole became acceptable. People were called on to serve and refused, exploiting every possible loophole in the service laws, and if that failed, breaking the law entirely or fleeing the country – and people were applauded for this and later pardoned. It became so pervasive that politicians who served honorably in Vietnam are quite rare – and people who did serve honorably at the time were hated by those who refused to.

    Is it really any surprise that people who dodged the draft and saw their peers as scum at the time would go on to become politicians who would put parochial interests ahead of the greater good and who would continue to see their peers as scum?

  40. Bartbuster says:

    AC, people who went to Nam didn’t “put their country first”, they were suckers. They got conned into fighting a pointless war that our leaders refused to admit was a mistake.

  41. Armchair,
    It’s most interesting to read between the lines of your comment, as it makes very clear where you stand on the issue. What I find intriguing is that you seem to believe that those who avoided the draft put themselves above their nation, but apparently those who were responsible for that draft in the first place were not putting themselves above the nation.

  42. Bartbuster,
    Thus you illustrate Armchair’s point regarding the way people who did go are viewed.

  43. mclever says:

    Armchair Warlord and Bartbuster have just collectively demonstrated exactly what I meant about folks today still fighting a war that ended before I was born…

  44. dcpetterson says:

    The problem with Vietnam is that the common folk on both sides of that issue were patriots — the ones who wanted to serve their country by fighting in a war when called to do so, AND the ones who refused to fight an unjust war simply because it was in the best interests of some politicians and of DOW Chemical.

    Both of these sorts of people put their lives on the line — for the betterment of the nation. The ones who fled to Canada had no way to know they would not end up rotting in prison for the rest of their lives, simply to live up to a principle — and many of the ones who went to Nam never came home, or did return with horrendous wounds.

    And both sides were hated by half of the nation — because both sides stood on principle.

    And that even goes for those who acted simply out of fear — the ones who fled because they were afraid to die, and the ones who obeyed because they were afraid of jail. They were all victimized and broken by a war that should never have been fought.

  45. shortchain says:

    As one of the few who was eligible for (and ultimately fell subject to) the draft, let me just state, for the record, what was common knowledge among those of my age-group at the time:

    1. It was obvious to everybody by 1969 with the exception, perhaps, of Westmoreland, the country of Vietnam was never going to be a stable, self-governing country. We all knew that our fellows were being sacrificed in order to to prop up a corrupt, venal, and doomed regime.

    2. The name of the game was to get out of going, by whatever means were available. If you were rich, you got a deferment by going to work for a defense company (until 1970, when they closed that door) or knocked up a girl and were married with a child while you were still in school. Or, as in my rural county, you had your wealthy farmer daddy swear you were necessary for running the farm — while playing around in town with all the young women.

    3. I never met anyone who despised those who went — and I was in the thick of the protest movement. The idea that such feelings were rife among the anti-war movement is a creation of the right, based on the psychological phenomenon known as “projection”. I’m sure there were people who felt such feelings, of course, people being people, it’s just that it was very, very rare. Of the people who did serve (and I know a lot of them) we overwhelmingly did not and still don’t despise those who went to Canada or got out for the kind of medical reasons people managed to find. Our derision and disgust was reserved for those who used their family connections to weasel out of service (by going into the NT, like “W”) or went to work for a defense contractor and were all for war while avoiding service.

    I’m sure, again, there were some guys who got all wound up over the draft-dodgers — but based on all the people I know I suspect a lot of those guys are the kind of people who avoided the draft and then pretended to have been in combat. There’s our friend projection again.

  46. shortchain says:

    Ooops. That should have been “of the few around here”, not “of the few”. Also, I don’t know what NT is. I meant “NG”.

  47. mclever says:

    @shortchain

    Or contrast your experiences with those of my dad, also a college-bound kid from a rural community where his father could have argued that he was “necessary” for running the family farm, but instead my dad volunteered to serve in the Air Force. Ironically perhaps, his friends who tried to evade action by joining the National Guard got shipped to Nam while his Air Force unit never went.

    One of those many idiosyncrasies of that era…

  48. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Warlord, for the record, how old are you, sir?

    Thanks

  49. shortchain says:

    mac,

    In my case, nobody in my family, including me, would go along with any attempt to evade the draft. We’ve always been a stern, Calvinistic bunch. So I went in. I did have orders for Vietnam, but they were canceled (long story), and I spent my brief but brilliant military career stateside.

  50. Bartbuster says:

    Thus you illustrate Armchair’s point regarding the way people who did go are viewed.

    I did nothing of the sort. I don’t “hate” the people who were suckered into the idea that fighting in a pointless war is patriotic. I don’t hate suckers, I feel bad for them.

  51. peged says:

    Shortchain, your experiences regarding Vietnam in the late 60’s are exactly as I remember them. I knew NO ONE who wanted to go to Vietnam. Everyone I knew who had other options exercised them. Many who knew being drafted was inevitable tried to enlist in a branch of service that was likely to not involve a tour in Southeast Asia. I also knew NO ONE who “hated” servicemen or veterans. These are my personal observations at the time being a university student in the American south. I will say, as a nursing student, I did know nurses who enlisted because they felt they were needed. Those of you who are younger have no idea what it was like for young men then. Nor can you appreciate the extent that a bloody and merciless war dominated the nightly news at the time. It was very different then.

  52. Armchair Warlord says:

    Just for the record, I’m from the younger generation – I was born well after the war in Vietnam was over. I volunteered for service during the darkest days of the war in Iraq, which should give you an idea as to where I stand on these kind of issues.

    For all of you who did serve at the time – thank you for your service. I get told that all the time and the soldiers of your generation rarely did.

  53. Bartbuster says:

    I get told that all the time and the soldiers of your generation rarely did..

    How do you know what they were told? You weren’t born yet.

  54. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Then, sir, with respect, you don’t know firsthand what you wrote above. You are dependent on others, who may have a false view, or are repeating anecdotal stories.

    Did such things happen? Yes they did. A number of people forgot who the makers of policy were and confused them with those who were duty bound to implement that policy.

    Was it prevalent? Absolutely not. NONE of my veteran friends, nor myself nor anyone I know personally ON EITHER SIDE of the issue of Vietnam can relate a firsthand account of such.

    So please don’t speak as though something was a general occurrence, or even happened with any frequency, since you simply don’t know. And, please, I don’t mean that with any disrespect to you and your service to this country.

    It IS the duty of a free society to oppose their leaders when those leaders demonstrate wrong decisions, not simply fall in line. One who takes the Oath has a different duty and gives up that right and responsibility upon doing so.

    Please don’t you, in your patriotic fervor, confuse those two things, else you will be no better than those confused people I spoke of above.

  55. Bartbuster says:

    AW, I’m curious how you think the conversation between someone who opposed the war (aka almost everyone) and a Vietnam vet would go…


    Anti: Hey, I see that you’re missing a leg. Did you lose it in Vietnam?

    Vet: Yes.

    Anti: Well, thanks for serving in that pointless mess. I hope your leg grows back.

    Vet: Actually, I was drafted. Do you really think I would have gone there if they hadn’t threatened to throw me in jail.

    Anti: Well, hopefully we’ll learn from this and not do something this stupid ever again.

    Vet: Hopefully…

    oops…

  56. dcpetterson says:

    I was about 3 years too young for the draft. I knew people who were drafted. I knew people who never came back from Vietnam. I knew people who went to Canada instead.

    I agree with peged and shortchain. It was a horrible time.

  57. Mr. Universe says:

    I was too young to be affected by the Vietnam War but I remember the effect it had on the adults around me. The grim looks on their faces as Walter Kronkite told them of how crappy everything was. My parents and their friends were sort of middle aged hippies. They’d throw some pretty wild parties whenever my Godfather would bring a couple of cases of Coors back from Colorado. You couldn’t get it east of the Mississippi back then and everybody thought Coors was an ‘exotic’ beer. They’d paint up the garage with peace signs and flowers in fluorescent paint, hit the black lights, and dance to 3 Dog Night (Joy to the World everybody).

    I particularly remember as the precocious young lad that I was (Sunday school teachers hated me) when I asked my third grade teacher, Mrs. Bell, why we were at war. I was delighted that she took the entire period to try to answer that question because we didn’t have to take that quiz. She seemed to make a cogent explanation but I could see in the way she struggled for words and by her furrowed brow that it pained her to have to address this. Mrs. Bell, a patriot to the core, knew this was a pointless war; knew someone who was sent to fight it, and perhaps knew someone who never returned from it.

    Save for the absence of the draft, the parallels to Afghanistan could not be more appropriate.

  58. Mr. Universe says:

    Oh yeah, Erin Go Braugh!

    Happy Saint Patty’s everybody.

  59. teevagirl says:

    Does anyone remember the Draft Lottery. We lived in fear of the numbers. I agree the disparity between the partys is religious. Some believe rigid. Some believe fluid. When we fought the abortion wars of the 70’s We thought we had achieved victory that no woman would ever die for lack of that option. Do not think it is not a culture war it is. One of my senators voted for the Bush tax cuts, I have not supported her since, the other won reelection last year. I supported her with my money and time.

  60. Justsayin' says:

    I was ages 8 thru 12 for the escalation of the Vietnam War. My dad who was a WWII vet never said much about the Vietnam war, but he had alot to say about George Bush’s Iraq war, he didn’t know “how the man could sleep at night”. My dad also didn’t like Clinton, he was “the draft dodger, nogoodnk adulterer”. I also have dear friends who absolutly don’t have any idea why I call myself a feminist, liberal democrat. If only I would change my politics I would be more popular.

  61. Number Seven says:

    It’s easy to see how we came to this.

    We believed that the two partys were actually in opposition.

  62. Armchair Warlord says:

    BB,

    I rest my case.

    Max,

    Was it prevalent? Absolutely not. NONE of my veteran friends, nor myself nor anyone I know personally ON EITHER SIDE of the issue of Vietnam can relate a firsthand account of such.

    I can relate a firsthand account of such, from just a few months ago. While that kind of hate was doubtless rare among liberals at the time, it was certainly prevalent enough to set up a pervasive meme – after all, I only know one birther and I don’t think his convictions are very strong but that doesn’t mean birthers do not exist.

    To elaborate on my earlier point, because I think I phrased it poorly…

    The kind of people who ended up in positions of power in later years were not the kind of people who would have evaded the draft by out-and-out breaking the law. I would presume that was a last resort at the time and their being pardoned was really only fair given the number of people who evaded service through educational deferments or other legal methods – and the list of people who used those methods includes a veritable who’s who of modern American politics. Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, John Bolton, and Bill Clinton (to name a few) all received educational deferments, while George W. Bush served in an ANG interceptor squadron that would never deploy.

    I think the combination of the hyper-polarization of the Vietnam era, which contributed to future American leaders holding half the country in contempt (some of Bolton’s statements during university debates make this particularly clear) combined with the fact that all these men actively evaded service and in doing so placed themselves above the national need, has contributed substantially to the modern and abrupt breakdown in American politics as the guard changed from the WWII generation (which had a very different formative environment) to the Baby Boomers.

  63. Armchair,

    While that kind of hate was doubtless rare among liberals at the time, it was certainly prevalent enough to set up a pervasive meme

    This one went through a pretty thorough investigation starting about a decade ago at Slate. Check out the articles here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

    The kind of people who ended up in positions of power in later years were not the kind of people who would have evaded the draft by out-and-out breaking the law.

    Absolutely untrue. Typically, the kind of people who ended up in positions of power in later years were either well-connected in their early years or were bright enough to find paths to education deferrals and managed to get the stars to line up just right. Either way, that’s how they were able to avoid the draft without breaking the law. This means you have no way of determining whether or not they would have broken the law to avoid the draft, had the other methods failed. You’re projecting.

  64. Bartbuster says:

    I rest my case.

    I accept your surrender.

  65. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    AR,

    “While that kind of hate was doubtless rare among liberals at the time, it was certainly prevalent enough to set up a pervasive meme. . .”

    There are thousands and thousands of people who “know” that Oswald could not have acted alone and thus perpetuate a meme that there was a 2nd gunman.

    Still doesn’t make it true.

  66. Mainer says:

    Michael, Armchair oddly I find my self at least sort of in agreement with both of you. The Vietnam era veteran mostly just came home to nothing. They were ignored they were not honored and all too often they were ignored by the same government that had sent them or worse ignored by the very agency and programs that were supposed to have eased them back into society and treated their wounds. They simply became the forgotten people that had been an oh so small cog in a geopolitical strategy to contain communism that had started in ernest by 1948 and that had been codified under Ike and that lasted in some forms to this day.

    The urban legend parts of this may have happened I have no way of knowing but there is no way to take it out of the minds of a generation. To the forgotten they were as real as if they had happened to them and for many of them they exist to this day. Most that went there didn’t want to go, they went because it was expected of them and they were then caught up in the same set of circumstances that have forever followed the grunts tht do the killing and dieing. They fought for those around them ad to try and stay alive. This was not to them some grand effort to contain communism it was an effort to survive for a year and go home. Now addmittedly there were those that went more than once, twice even three times but they were the exception and a very small exception.

    How did they see those that didn’t go? It varries. My friends that served have friends that didn’t for a whole range of reasons. The only ones I now see being very bitter are the ones that see people like say a Cheney who ducked and ducked and then turned into a hawk sending their children off on another grand military adventure that those same leaders had shown they had not the guts to do when it was their turn. I didn’t go. My lottery number kept me just barely out. My Vietnam combat friends still say it was the only lottery I ever won (don’t have much luck gambling so comments on casinos is beyond me) but they don’t hold it against me but then I did end up with 32 years as a citizen soldier so maybe that plays a part.

  67. Armchair Warlord says:

    Mike,

    This one went through a pretty thorough investigation starting about a decade ago at Slate. Check out the articles here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

    That’s not a particularly thorough investigation (in fact, it’s amazingly narrow in scope) and it does nothing to disprove the assertion that the extreme left widely hated the military and held servicemembers in contempt at the time. ROTC buildings were getting burned down for chrissakes – that isn’t exactly polite disagreement.

    Absolutely untrue. Typically, the kind of people who ended up in positions of power in later years were either well-connected in their early years or were bright enough to find paths to education deferrals and managed to get the stars to line up just right. Either way, that’s how they were able to avoid the draft without breaking the law. This means you have no way of determining whether or not they would have broken the law to avoid the draft, had the other methods failed. You’re projecting.

    And you’re quite badly misreading me. Allow me to put some explanatory text in to show what I’m actually getting at.

    The kind of people who ended up in positions of power in later years were not the kind of people who would have evaded the draft by out-and-out breaking the law. BECAUSE, “Typically, the kind of people who ended up in positions of power in later years were either well-connected in their early years or were bright enough to find paths to education deferrals…” THEREFORE, they had no need to actually break the law.

    Also – that you can claim that I’m projecting the Right’s feelings about the Left onto the Left, while reading BartBuster’s posts, is ridiculous. At this point all I need to do to prove your assertion wrong is point at him.

  68. shortchain says:

    AW,

    You say “the extreme left widely hated the military and held servicemembers in contempt at the time.”

    Do remember that it’s quite possible to “hate the military” without holding servicemen in contempt — and vice versa. Personally, I despised Westmoreland, before, during, and after my term of service. And I hated being in the army (before I was drafted I had lost a brother and had another go MIA before they found him in a hospital, so my experience with the military hadn’t been rosy to begin with). But I had good friends in the army and I truly respected a few of the officers I worked with.

    ” ROTC buildings were getting burned down” — yes, at Kent State. Here’s a question for you: how many people do you suppose it took to light that fire? Oh, and do you think the military’s response alleviated any hatred?

    Until you have had to suffer through 2 years of mandatory ROTC classes, you don’t have any standing to talk about the relationship between ROTC and the students.

    You may sneer at the investigations all you like, but you cannot escape the reality that they found no basis to the stories. And some of those investigations were conducted by people who wanted to establish the basis for the stories and were unable to find any.

    So you reject the only real evidence that there was no basis to stories of veteran abuse in favor of — what? If you cannot offer any evidence for what you believe, why do you believe it?

    Oh, and on the subject of who got ahead and who got behind in the era of the Vietnam War, consider this: those who were drafted and spent time in the military came back into a difficult economy. Much like today. They found all the good jobs taken — by people who hadn’t had to serve in many cases — and watched as those who had entered the workforce got farther and farther ahead while they had to contend with a job market that sputtered, then crashed. In my field, when I managed to get through school, about 2 years late (thanks a lot, draft!), the NSF had stopped funding new research efforts (Nixon had pulled the plug), companies weren’t hiring — and there were jobs in our field for about 1/3 of the people being turned out that year.

    Only a few years before, there had been jobs for most of the graduates, and in the late sixties, the schools hadn’t been able to meet demand.

    I fear that the cohort that goes into the military today may learn, to their sorrow, about this phenomenon.

  69. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    AW,

    I don’t wish to pile on. I value your contributions and respect our previous battles.

    I do hope you picked up on a couple MAJOR sentences in Mainer’s comment. “The Vietnam era veteran mostly just came home to nothing. They were ignored they were not honored and all too often they were ignored by the same government that had sent them or worse ignored by the very agency and programs that were supposed to have eased them back into society and treated their wounds. They simply became the forgotten people

    After seeing the return of the veterans of WWII, it was particularly galling for most Vietnam veterans for that to have happened. Some just wanted to forget about it and get back to the world they left behind, but MOST returning vets HATED the lack of recognition.

    The biggest difference was HOW the war itself was conducted. In WWII (and previous wars) service was for the duration. There were specific end points. At the end, there was V-E Day and V-J day (Armistice Day for WWI) and parades on return. The GI Bill provided educational and homebuying opportunities that recognized the service. The policy of “rotation” in Vietnam precluded that whole cathartic process.

    When that is added with the few examples that you speak of, it is easy to understand why the prevailing notion of widespread hatred of the average grunt is there, particularly among those in the military. As most Vietnam veteran’s are 60 and above, I doubt you have much direct interaction with either enlisted or officers who actually served in-country as those men have already retired. So much of your “direct” info is second- or even third-hand. (I would be interested to hear of your “first-hand account of a few months ago”. )

    It’s happening again. Even worse because of a lack of a draft! Less than 2% of Americans have ANY involvement in the current operations. They are not even asked to PAY for the fucking war with any tax because those same people who are sending our best off to fight, tell them they are taxed enough already! (Hint! “Those same people” ARE NOT on the Left!)

    But one thing is for sure. The American PEOPLE did learn from Vietnam that we cannot damn the serviceperson for the sins of the policymakers. That’s why you see people applaud the uniform in airports and train stations; why you see more flags on fenceposts, etc.

    You can’t change the past, regardless of how you view it, you can only go forward.

  70. Bartbuster says:

    Also – that you can claim that I’m projecting the Right’s feelings about the Left onto the Left, while reading BartBuster’s posts, is ridiculous

    I hate to bring bad news, but my posts don’t support your views at all. I don’t hate the military at all. I’m actually pro military. I hate people like Bush and Cheney who think military power is the solution to every problem.

  71. Armchair Warlord says:

    Folks,

    I don’t feel any real need to disagree with you two at this point regarding how veterans were viewed and treated at the time. As the saying goes, “you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know.”

    If you’re wondering about my own experiences there, soldiers in my unit overheard a civilian referring to us as “baby killers” and I heard about it immediately afterwards. While we were in an airport, in fact! People thought it was kind of funny (and I’ve never, before or since, seen anything else like that), but it sent a chill up my back thinking what the environment must have been like in the past.

  72. Bartbuster says:

    As the saying goes, “you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know.”

    Indeed. I lived through Vietnam. You didn’t.

  73. Monotreme says:

    I got into an interesting discussion this weekend that I wanted to share with all y’all.

    Maybe what went wrong was the end of the “smoke-filled rooms” choosing the Republican and Democratic Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates at the conventions. When it became about running to the far right or far left in the primaries, then polarization inevitably followed.

    I would mark the change at 1968, when riots disrupted the Democratic convention and the Republicans steered away from what they perceived as a mistake nominating Goldwater.

    Maybe this doesn’t explain the polarization in other levels, particularly in Congress, but it all changed about that time, as we’ve discussed above.

  74. msgkings says:

    Nice post, Mono. Probably a factor for sure.

  75. Everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. was truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing.

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