Politics may divide, but the cartoon of Attorney Paul Gosar has crossed the line

Politics may divide, but the cartoon of Attorney Paul Gosar has crossed the line

What touched things off was the very speech that Sumner was about to send back home: a rejoinder to two Democrat senators who had tried to make the case that Kansas should be admitted as a slave state. Sumner included an insulting little reprimand aimed at one of Brooks’ relatives, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler. According to the US Senate, Sumner “Mock[ed] the South Carolina senator’s stance as a man of chivalry, [and] charged him with taking “a mistress … who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

The incident became a “cause celebre” for both sides of the issue – the Republicans crying “violence in the Senate” by Brooks (which there certainly was), and the Democrats accusing the Republican, Sumner, of impugning the honor of Butler and Douglas (a case could certainly be made, here, as well).

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The whole savage business could probably have been avoided had any of the participants bothered to think before they acted (spoke rashly, in one case; beat folks up, in the other) but of course they didn’t. We might have forgotten the thing, as an odd (if thoroughly unpleasant) anomaly of Congressional history, if it wasn’t so often repeated, in one way or another – and we have our attention drawn to the none-too-gentle reminder that the people we send to Washington, often, represent us is ways unbecoming to our better features.

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  • On May 22, 1856, Republican abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was energetically sealing up some copies of a speech to send off to his constituents back in Massachusetts, when Preston Brooks, a Democrat from South Carolina, waltzed into the Senate chamber, whipped out a dog cane, cracked Sumner in the head from behind with its metal handle, and beat him to a bloody pulp. Sumner survived, barely, and went on to serve in the Senate for another 18 years.

  • He’d also addressed Stephen Douglas (D-IL), the other “culprit”; a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal …” Brooks (D-SC) hadn’t been there (neither had Butler, apparently) – but he’d heard the thing, grabbed his dogwhip and trundled down to make his point.

I don’t think anyone has been beaten unconscious in either House since the Sumner incident – the assaults of January 6th were the revolting stupidities of “those represented,” not the “representatives” themselves, as far as we can currently tell – but idiocy in one form or another has become a thread that runs through the thin fabric of both chambers these days.

Paul A. Gosar, a Republican representative from Arizona, was censured last week on the House floor, and booted off his committees by the House. He’s man with a reputation for malevolence towards his political foes, among whom are, apparently, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and President Joe Biden.

According to the Washington Post, “Gosar shared on his social media accounts an anime-style cartoon. In it, he is shown wielding a sword, coming up on Ocasio-Cortez from behind and killing her. Then he approaches President Biden with a sword. ‘The creativity of my team is off the hook,’ he said as he posted the video.” Was what he did wrong? Of course, it was. The thing is, we’re used to it – or things like it. We tend to treat these kinds of things with a shrug and deflect them.

Rep. Gosar did not stroll down to the Senate and bash someone over the head with a stick, true. But to pretend like such behavior should be acceptable in our institution of national deliberation, however heated the political realm may be, is insulting to the thousands who have served there – and everyone they represent. The language of politics can be divisive, heated, even crass – but we have to find that line again, and draw it firmly in the dirt, so that even a nearsighted jackass can see it.

R. Bruce Anderson is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay, Jr. Endowed Chair in American History, Government, and Civics and Miller Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Florida Southern College. He is also a columnist for The Ledger and political consultant and on-air commentator for WLKF Radio. This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Politics can be divisive, but Rep. Paul Gosar’s cartoon crossed the line