Thought the level of civil discourse in Congress could not get any worse? Guess what, it has! It now appears America’s top legislative body has become the political equivalent of the WWE.
Earlier this week, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin nearly got into a fistfight with labor union leader Sean O’Brien in the middle of a Senate committee hearing.
“Sir, this is a time, this is a place. You want to run your mouth, we can be two consenting adults, we can finish it here,” Mullin said during the hearing.
“OK, that’s fine. Perfect,” O’Brien shot back.
“You want to do it now?” Mullin asked. “Stand your butt up then.”
“You stand your butt up,” O’Brien responded, prompting Mullin to stand up from his chair.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the committee, was forced to step in, admonishing Mullin, telling him, “You’re a United States senator!”
The message was clear: Sanders was telling his senate colleague that due to his position, he needed to rise above such behavior.
Sad to say, this was not the only juvenile behavior that occurred that day. California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the former Speaker of the House, got into an absurd spat by apparently elbowing his colleague, Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett, in the back.
“Why’d you elbow me in the back, Kevin?” Burchett yelled at the former speaker, according to audio of the exchange. “Hey Kevin, you got any guts!? Jerk.”
Burchett then chased after the 58-year-old McCarthy, who denied he’d done anything untoward.
“I didn’t elbow you in the back,” McCarthy said, according to NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales.
“You got no guts, you did so … the reporter said it right there, what kind of chicken move is that?” Burchett said before adding: “You’re pathetic, man, you are so pathetic.”
“What a jerk,” Burchett repeated before telling McCarthy in a parting shot: “You need security, Kevin.”
Grisales, who was talking with Burchett at the time, tweeted that the impact almost knocked Burchett directly into her.
Oh, by the way, did I mention Republican Rep. James Comer, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, referred Florida Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz as a “Smurf?!” Talk about men behaving badly, madly, and sadly.
It wasn’t just the boys who were showing their behinds that day, so to speak. Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, never one to forgo engaging in the lowest levels of rancid, regressive civility, called fellow Republican Rep. Darrell Issa a “p‑‑‑‑,” after he attacked her for lacking the “maturity and experience” to understand the proper way to bring an impeachment vote against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. This is hardly surprising given her dismal track record on this issue.
While neither party can claim total innocence as far as behavioral perfection is concerned, at the moment, the vast majority of unhinged, retrograde antics are coming from Republicans. But such dysfunctional rancor isn’t solely the province of the 21st century politicans.
Violence was routinely commonplace in the pre-Civil War era, when, the nation was bitterly divided over the issue of slavery. Multiple institutions were struggling — and failing — to stay united. The telegraph was the major media of the era. Large segments of the media, as is the case today, sensationalized the struggle to promote their cause and increase their profits.
Congressional bullying was useful in those fraught decades, and the proponents of slavery, the majority of them being Southerners, engaged in such aggressive actions eagerly and shamelessly. They tended to be armed and ready to fight. Every Congress was composed of its fair share of goonish bullies who defended the institution of slavery with threats and violence. Some of these thugs brashly garnished weapons in plain view as a warning to those who would consider challenging them. Not surprisingly, their constituents preferred that they took such confrontational positions. To them, they were unyielding efforts to maintain Southern dominance.
We are centuries away from such semi-primitiveness. It is downright shameful to see members of Congress denigrating themselves in such a manner. Politicians, or any of us who are supposedly adults, cannot allow juvenile instincts to overtake more rational judgments. Although, I guess the operative word here is adults.
Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.