The problem with the Congress today is that its members are unwilling to take a punch for a cause in which they believe, much less throw one themselves.

On one level, this problem is actually a very good thing. We should celebrate the fact that we no longer decide our disagreements violently in America. Today, we instead define the common good and determine public policy by participating in politics. We bargain and negotiate with one another. We persuade. We compromise. And we rightly condemn violence as being incompatible with these activities.

Yet on another level, an unwillingness to fight is a problem for successful democratic governance when it reflects a broader apathy on the part of politicians to participate in politics. Unfortunately, such sentiment is prevalent in the Congress today. Its members are less interested in participating in politics because they fear the consequences of doing so. They are gripped by an unstated conviction that unchecked political conflict leads to violence. That is, they see violence as what happens when there is too much conflict (i.e., disagreement) in politics. To the extent that politics is a contact sport, members no longer have an interest in playing the game.

Cycles of Violence?

The assumption that conflict broke Congress is implicit in a new book by Joanne B. Freeman, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War. In the book, Freeman, a Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University and author of Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the Early Republic, presents a vivid account capturing the deterioration of comity in Congress between 1830 and 1860, as well as the outbreak of war in 1861.

Continue reading here.

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Topics: Parties, Campaigns, & Elections

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