Has Partisanship Really Gotten So Bad On Hill? Yes

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[I]s the D.C. dysfunction really so unusual? In a word, yes.

Historians and politicos alike say the current rancor on the Hill is, indeed, historic, and has been building over recent decades to a level unlike any in modern times. Some had to reach back to the late 1800s and the progressive movement to find comparable Capitol Hill acrimony. It exceeds that of the 1940s, when Harry Truman ran against a "do-nothing" Congress to win the White House, and the sharp partisanship of the more recent administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

"People who remember the period of the mid-20th century likely remember a time of a lot of cross-party coalitions in Congress," says Morris Fiorina, a senior fellow at Stanford University's conservative Hoover Institution. Those long-ago memories may include a coming together under President Reagan to shore up Social Security.

"But," says Fiorina, "it's been terrible for a long time."...

The current polarization began in the 1960s, with the Democrats' internal divisions over Vietnam, says historian Buck Melton. Later, he says, it grew as the Nixon-era Watergate scandal divided Republicans. And it has accelerated with new media and parties shrunk to accommodate a narrowing menu of special interests.

But earlier, from the 1940s into the early 1960s, there existed something of a national consensus on issues, he says, and the two main parties "tended to meet somewhere in the middle."

"The Eisenhower administration, for example, simply slowed down FDR's New Deal and didn't try to end it," says Melton, distinguished writer in residence at Mercer University....

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