Daily Beast — Congress has often been tense a tense place, but character attacks and biting language have increased on Ca itol Hill—and the uptick might be a reflection of the rest of us, report Daniel Stone and Miranda Green.
“[Eric] Cantor,” Senator Harry Reid told a group of journalists with their recorders in his face, “wants to not do a bill [in order] to make the economy worse, because he feels that’s better for them.” Cantor denied the charge, made over a disagreement on transportation spending, and Speaker John Boehner jumped to his colleague’s defense. Reid, one Boehner aide said, was becoming known for espousing “bulls–t.”
In every way it was a dispute that is common today, including how it ended. Unsubstantiated accusation, a character-attacking response, and further division on an important issue. After the episode, aides traded more barbs by email and on the phone about their respective bosses.
Much ink has been spilled on the state of congressional decorum. Tempers have never been higher, journalists report, only to be confronted with some examples when tempers were, indeed, higher, such as before the Civil War, or when Newt Gingrich’s majority in the House of Representatives routinely targeted individual Democrats rather than just their ideas.
But some congressional scholars say the incivility may be getting worse over time, reflecting changes in society and broader social decorum. The rise in ad hominem attacks, which malign someone’s character, has been the most striking. “Rather than object to insults, members of Congress are more likely to return them in kind, and then it escalates,” says congressional historian Ilona Nickels. “It’s probably an effect of society at large; we’re all more accepting of coarseness.”