I generally greet complaints about a "decline in civility" in American politics with eye-rolling skepticism. Civility doesn't mean much when you're ignoring state-sponsored terrorism in your own country. More to the point, I'd be really shocked if Barack Obama were the first president to be heckled from the floor. I haven't looked, but given the history of Congress, I would be really surprised. Joe Wilson may be a gas-bag, he really doesn't measure up to the giants of South Carolina. Preston Brooks, for instance, was caning fools, back in the day:
At first intending to challenge Sumner to a duel, Brooks consulted with fellow South Carolina Rep. Laurence M. Keitt on dueling etiquette. Keitt instructed him that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing, and suggested that Sumner occupied a lower social status comparable to a drunkard due to the supposedly coarse language he had used during his speech. Brooks thus decided to attack Sumner with a cane...Brooks survived an expulsion vote in the House but resigned his seat, claiming both that he "meant no disrespect to the Senate of the United States" by attacking Sumner and that he did not intend to kill him, for he would have used a different weapon if he had. His constituents thought of him as a hero and returned him to Congress. However, Brooks's attack on Sumner was regarded in the north as the act of a cowardly barbarian. One of the bitterest critics of the attack was Sumner's fellow New Englander, Congressman Anson Burlingame.
When Burlingame denounced Brooks as a coward on the floor of the House, Brooks challenged him to a duel, and Burlingame accepted the challenge. Burlingame, as the challenged party, specified rifles as the weapons, and to get around American anti-dueling laws he named the Navy Yard on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls as the site. Brooks backed out of the challenge, claiming that he would be murdered on his way north. Burlingame's reputation as a deer hunter and a deadly shot with a rifle could also have been a factor.
Now, Sumner wasn't president, but this was time when the phrase "partisan politics" could have been taken literally. I can't believe Obama's the first president to catch a few choice words from the peanut gallery.
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