Why you should care
Because honest hate might be more politically effective than dishonest love.
It was May 22. The year was 1856. Preston Brooks, a Democratic representative from South Carolina, was slightly irked. An antislavery speech delivered by Republican senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts had delivered a broadside at his uncle Andrew Butler, a senator from South Carolina, calling him a pimp for slavery.
Brooks made his way onto the Senate floor and in the spirit of congressional comity proceeded to beat Sumner with a cane up to, but not over, the threshold of death. Brooks, who was only casually punished for the assault, was dead three years later; Sumner survived the beating; but the Civil War it presaged was not over until 1865. Additional fun fact: Representative Anson Burlingame from Massachusetts called Brooks out for being a coward and challenged him to a duel. Brooks declined.
Just to be clear: This is not being lauded as a model of healthy governance, but in parliaments all over the world, legislators are voting with their fists. Bolivia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Venezuela have all seen fantastical scenes of wild, bare-knuckled fighting on the floor of their various legislative chambers.
Hot-button items, well-defined policy lines and high stakes are pressure-cooked into a combustible mixture alleviated only by superior negotiating skills or … fisticuffs.
“Say what you want about the examples this might set,” says former Internet communications go-to-dude for Mark Warner and John Kerry (and now MMA reporter) Nathan Lee Wilcox. “But the political stasis we’ve seen in America for the last six years needs a reset, and a good donnybrook might be it.”
Potential government shutdown — we’re looking at you.
Say what you want about the examples this might set. But the political stasis we’ve seen in America for the last six years needs a reset, and a good donnybrook might be it.
Not like it hasn’t been tried in the last six years: Independent U.S. Senate candidate from Louisiana Mike Spears challenged Senator David Vitter to a cage match in their 2010 race (Vitter won — the race, not the side-stepped cage match). And other pols have the skills, should they care to use them. Harry Reid had been a boxer of some minor note. And women are in the mix as well with first-term House Democrat for Hawaii’s Second District Tulsi Gabbard being a longtime Brazilian capoeira player. On the international stage, Putin (judo), Nelson Mandela (boxing) and Ramzan Kadyrov (boxing) are just the tip of a much more muscled-up iceberg.
And lest there be those who claim that the spirited debate of the House of Parliament is a more civil and effective way of doing business, remember that in 1972 the firebrand Independent Socialist MP Bernadette Devlin coldcocked Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling when he claimed that British soldiers had fired in self-defense on Bloody Sunday. Devlin, an eyewitness, felt she wasn’t being allowed to respond and brought the hammer down. This doesn’t even begin to address those arrested outside of Parliament for knuckling up (see Labour MP Eric Joyce).
Might it be time for our political leaders who are negotiation-challenged to try settling things by “taking it outside”? With the Pay-Per-View receipts being credited to their respective districts? While the results globally have been mixed, this more direct approach to conflict resolution might, in fact, be the “change” needed to effect some real change in D.C.
Well, it’s a thought anyway.