This picture caught my attention in this morning’s New York Times Book Review. The review concerned a book about the battle between Presidents and Congress over the power to make war. That’s not what caught my attention about this picture, captioned only as “President Nixon delivering a State of the Union message to Congress.”`
What caught my attention was Barry Goldwater sitting on the far right (how appropriate) of the third row only one seat away from Edward Kennedy. Here they were, two icons of our political polarities, sitting almost cheek by jowl, listening intently to the President. I think that’s William Fulbright between them. When that picture was taken, Fulbright and Goldwater had even more political animus between them than Kennedy and Goldwater. Fulbright was a strong and effective critic of the Vietnam War in which Goldwater had advocated using nuclear weapons. Even before that Goldwater had traveled to Arkansas with the segregationist Strom Thurmond to campaign against Fulbright’s re-election. But here they were, sitting calmly next to each other.
The picture is undated in the paper and in the source from Getty Archives. It must have been 1971 or 1972. That’s Hubert Humphrey sitting behind Ted Kennedy, next to Edmund Muskie his running-mate in the 1968 campaign when Nixon was first elected. I’d forgotten that Humphrey returned to the Senate in January 1971. The general sitting in front of Ted Kennedy is William Westmoreland, who was Army Chief of Staff from 1968 until 1972. So, this picture is probably either 1971 or 1972.
Looking at this picture brought back the articles in recent years about how polarization in Congress has gotten so bad that members from different parties won’t even be seen having lunch with each other, as they used to do. I could not find any picture with such clear faces of the audience for one of President Obama’s recent State of the Union addresses. I did find an article about the 2016 State of the Union explaining that an effort to have members of different parties sit next to each other had begun in 2011 but had fizzled out by this year.
Now that one party controls both houses of Congress and the Presidency, there should be no excuse for the gridlock of recent years resulting from this polarization. Polarization may even decrease as politicians follow their usual instincts to embrace power over principle. Who knows?
I’m more worried about the effects of the 2016 election and its aftermath on personal relations, mine of course, but also throughout the country. I’m glad to have avoided the kind of conflicts on social media this year that led even siblings to unfriend each other. That’s why I was surprised this week to receive an email out of the blue from someone who’s been getting notice of these blog posts. It said: “Remove this email address from the contact list. The propaganda you send out is very annoying and unwanted!” When I checked on Facebook, I couldn’t find this person on my friend list any longer, and I was blocked even from searching for this person.
I would not have been surprised if one of my Republican FB friends had cut me off. I’m sure that some of my anti-Trump posts have irritated them, just as their anti-Hillary posts brought a scowl to my face. Though, those posts did not get under my skin the way some die-hard Bernie supporters did when they forwarded Breitbart bombs. But so far we’ve not unfriended each other. I hope we won’t.
I was taken by surprise by this unfriending and blocking. We had had no email communication since my remembrance last year of our spouses’ passing from brain cancer and few months apart. We hardly knew each other except for this shared experience so I’m feeling more puzzled than sad. I don’t want to repeat any mistakes with other closer friends. Given what she said at the time, Laura would probably not have been surprised at the abruptness of this message. Another situation where she could say “I told you so. The only mistake is to think that this is about you at all.”