Oct. 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
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Going Along, Getting Along and Falling Apart

When it all came crashing down, they could hardly believe it.

The current nostalgia — or fauxstalgia, a nostalgia for things one never personally experienced or that never really happened — for the halcyon days of Tip and the Gipper or Dirksen and LBJ cutting deals, ignores two salient realities.

One is obvious, if too often ignored: Those days weren’t nearly as halcyon as today’s dreamers would have us believe.

The other reality is that the parts that were halcyon — the legislative horse trading and back scratching — led to $17 trillion in debt, with no end to the red ink in sight. Yes, they got along. All too well.

Like Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Stephens, William Seward and Jefferson Davis, many modern politicians and pundits prize cooperation above confrontation. But all that antebellum cooperation sowed the wind and, eventually, reaped the whirlwind.

That’s the thing about irrepressible conflicts, to use Seward’s most famous phrase. They’re hard to repress, even with the best intentions.

John Bicknell is a former editor at CQ Roll Call and author of the forthcoming “America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion and the Election That Transformed the Nation,” to be published in fall 2014 by Chicago Review Press.

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