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Joe Biden presents McCain with the 2017 Liberty Medal. Years earlier, their caucus leaders had warned them not to sit together (© William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

The same spirit of personal comity despite political differences marked the administration of George H.W. Bush. Despite having fought what many thought was a vicious presidential campaign that highlighted his opponent’s release of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who was black, once in office, Bush maintained good ties across party lines.

Matters deteriorated significantly with the election of Bill Clinton, whose liberal inclinations and personal pecadillos Republicans bitterly resented. With the 1994 Republican takeover of the House under the leadership of Speaker Newt Gingrich, the majority party began a process of investigating Clinton’s financial and personal practices that led to his impeachment, only the second in American history. By now the political had become personal, and Congressmen and Senators reached across the aisle at their peril. As former Vice President and Senator Joe Biden opined at John McCain’s funeral service in Arizona,

I would go sit next to John [in the Senate chamber], next to his seat or he would come on  the Democratic side and sit next to me . . . It was ‘96, [we were] about to go to the caucus.

We both went into the caucus and coincidentally, we were approached by our caucus leaders with the same thing: “Joe, [it] doesn’t look good, you sitting next to John all the time.” I swear to God, same thing was said to John in your caucus.

The spirit of mutual respect became ever more tenuous during the administration of George W. Bush. Bush won widespread support for America’s retaliation against the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11; won a vote in the Congress when America attacked Iraq; and won Democratic support for an immigration bill that his own party torpedoed. Nevertheless, Democratic hostility both to the Iraq war in particular as well as to his domestic policies rose to fever pitch during his second administration.

The Republicans more than reciprocated in kind. But not all Republicans. Well before John McCain stood for president a second time, this time against Barack Obama in 2008 — he had been soundly defeated by George W.Bush in the race for the 2000 Republican nomination — he became the leader of what came to be called “the three Amigos” — after the movie of that name. The other two “amigos” were Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and, importantly, a Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman. After McCain won the 2008 Republican nomination for president, Lieberman was first choice for the vice presidential slot. As might have been expected, however, the right wing of the Republican Party pressured McCain to drop the idea, even though by then Lieberman was sitting in the Senate as an independent, rather than as a Democrat, having been shunned by his party for his hawkish views. Instead McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whose increasingly strident tone subsequently made her a heroine to the radical Republican right, especially those who adhered to the group that called itself the Tea Party.
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untenured
October 5th, 2018
10:10 AM
Let's pretend the U.S. political system is not a kleptocracy that values its gerontocracy above all. The stench of corruption pervades every process. Rotten to the core, but not a cause for concern.

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