Tocqueville was particularly hard on the most democratic federal institution, the House of Representatives, in which “one is struck by the vulgar demeanor of that great assembly. Often there is not a distinguished man in the whole number.” The Senate, at that time still chosen by the state legislatures, was very different, a more distinguished and accomplished body, in Tocqueville’s view. The direct election of Senators established in 1913 by the 17th Amendment brought the Senate to the level of the House, as well as drawing the federal government farther from its republican origins and closer to the direct democracy that the Founders feared.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that the level of discourse in both houses is, with some exceptions, more on a par with that of the citizens. But in the end, that is not as important as maintaining the Constitutional mechanisms for protecting individual freedom from the encroaching power of a hypertrophied federal government. In this context, trying to moderate or police, based on some subjective notions of “civility” or decorum, the clashing expressions of passionate beliefs often is an attempt to limit the freedom to express those beliefs, and a way to benefit one faction at the expense of others.
As Craig Shirley, biographer of Ronald Reagan, said recently, “The last thing we need in American politics is more civility.” Civility is often the camouflage for hiding challenges to the big government faction and concealing the collusion of bipartisan elites that has created the redistributionist entitlement state. After all, the First Amendment does not protect merely decorous or genteel speech, but as the political rhetoric of American history shows, all manner of speech no matter how rude or uncivil. That’s because our political ancestors knew something we should never forget––that as the Athenian Sophocles said, “Free men have free tongues.”