Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Partisan man

While reading the Kansas City Star this morning I noticed that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito managed to make it to President Bush's state of the Union. I read that it was the most hotly contested vote since Clarence Thomas (52-48), but even during the Justice Thomas vote, there was less partisanship (11 Democrats voted for Thomas, but only 4 Democrats voted for Alito). Are our political institutions becoming more partisan than ever before? The past five years would have yielded a strong "no" vote from me, but several issues have changed this to a gray area for me.

First, the catch-all argument: the Civil War. When someone mentions partisanship being worse than at anytime in our nation's history I point out the time that Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina used his cane to physically beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusettes to a bloody pulp in the Senate chamber. Nothing (I used to argue) would happen like that today, therefore politics couldn't nearly be as partisan. Unfortunately, this very incident occured (sans cane) in a Jackson County legislative meeting. Legislator Bob Stringfield rushed fellow legislator Dan Tarwater after the meeting and attacked him on public access television for nearly two minutes.

The second argument usually used: Presidential campaigns have been run with smear tactics from the very beginning of our countries existence. John Adams was painted as a loyalist to King George III by Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike, even though he almost single-handedly brought about recognition of the United States on a diplomatic level throughout Europe (according to noted historian David McCullough). In addition, the growing power of PACs and lobbyists has helped to keep the actual politicians from personally making attacks (as the PACs can now create their own messages of varying credibility), thereby decreasing the partisan tension between lawmakers. Is this happening though, or is malevolence on the rise due to PAC intervention?

I ask you for comments and evidence where possible.