Politics Doesn't Have to Be This Way

That respect that people had for each other's office, Chris Matthews says, is completely missing today. It doesn't have to be that way. 

The political cartoon above depicts an incident in 1856 in which the South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks nearly killed the Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane a few days after Sumner delivered a fiery anti-slavery speech.  


After this incident, Senators were accustomed to carrying canes and revolvers with them at the Capitol in order to protect themselves.

We have since abolished slavery, but you wouldn't know it if you listened to some of the crazy charges and overheated rhetoric coming out of Washington these days. Some conservatives have compared Obamacare to slavery. Some liberals have compared Republicans to Civil War Confederates

It hasn't always been this way. 

In a speech at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA, MCNBC host and former political operative Chris Matthews describes what it was like to work as a top aide to Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill at a time when Democrats held the House of Representatives and Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Matthews says he has a nostalgia for "those two big Irish guys" - Tip and the Gipper - who used to fight with each other every day. Their dispute at the time was "the pure question of the role of government in our lives," a debate that Matthews says American democracy will always be renegotiating, along with the question of what our role in the world should be. 

For six years Matthews worked behind the scenes with O'Neill as the two plotted their moves in the media war between Reagan and O'Neill that Matthews has recounted in his book Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked

What Matthews feels nostalgia for, more than anything, was a time when politics had rules, or simple constraints that he says both men followed. When they crossed the line, they tried to correct the mistake. For instance, in 1981, Reagan called O'Neill a demagogue. O'Neill said "Don't call me a demagogue, I'm the Speaker of the House." The next day, Matthews says, Reagan was on the phone apologizing. 

That respect that people had for each other's office, Matthews says, is completely missing today. 

Watch the video here

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice
popular

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less