David Broder had an interesting article in Sunday's Washington Post that recounted Tip O'Neill's visit to Ronald Reagan's hospital room after he was shot by John Hinckley.
When I reached [Max] Friedersdorf [, Reagan White House congressional liaison,] last week at his retirement home in Florida, I asked him how it happened that Reagan's first guest was the leading Democrat on Capitol Hill. "Well," he said, "Tip was third in line of succession [after the vice president] and the fact he was a Democrat didn't bother anybody. We didn't even think about it. Tip had been calling constantly to see how the president was doing. And there was a bond there.
"I remember," Friedersdorf continued, "the first dinner the Reagans had in the private residence was for Tip and his wife, and my wife and I were there. Tip and the president had a drink or two and started swapping Irish stories.
"Often, after that, Tip would say pretty harsh things about some of our legislative proposals, and the staff would want Reagan to answer him. But they trusted each other, and the president would say, 'That's just Tip,' and let it go."
I concur with Broder and Friedersdorf's analysis that the sort of relationship political opponents like O'Neill and Reagan had is probably not possible in today's hyperpartisan climate. But the question that Broder doesn't really get to answering is: How did this come to be?
One person I talked to suggested that it was the rise of talk radio that fed the animosity, but I'm not so sure that's true. I would often listen to Rush Limbaugh in the mornings when I was in college working at the San Luis Obispo Hertz washing cars. Limbaugh certainly wasn't lauding the Clintons, but I don't think the animosity coming from Limbaugh poisoned the wells in Washington. The Supreme Court nominations provide perhaps the best evidence of that.
Judge Samuel Alito will be confirmed to the Supreme Court tomorrow. He is undoubtedly
the most well-qualified Supreme Court nominee in decades. He has spent 15 years on the federal appellate bench, graduated from top law schools and is universally praised by those who know him and work with him.
And he'll be lucky to get 60 votes.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg got 96 votes. Stephen Breyer got 87 votes.
Is it right-wing talk radio that started the animosity? The kind of vicious, personal politics we see today didn't start with Limbaugh.
If I had to guess, I'd place the tipping point somewhere between the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the Al Gore loss of Florida in the 2000 election. I don't think talk radio had much to do with it.
Is there a way to lower the tone? I don't know.