7 Political Disagreements Settled With Fists and Hair-Pulling

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Anyone with even a fleeting relationship to political news these days has probably noticed that partisan bickering in the U.S. Congress has reached a bit of a crescendo of late. So we got to thinking: When do politicians just give up on the vitriolic rhetoric and throw a punch? The answer: more often than you’d think.

Here’s a list of our favorite instances—both historical and contemporary—when schoolyard tactics have made an appearance in the marbled halls of congresses, parliaments and legislatures worldwide.

1. A hairpiece saves the day

In February 1858, with the debate over slavery in full swing, pro-slavery Congressman Laurence Keitt called anti-slavery Congressman Galusha A. Grow a “black Republican puppy,” and then attempted to choke him. Grow’s and Keitt’s friends quickly piled on, until nearly fifty members of the U.S. House of Representatives were choking one another, throwing punches, kicking and pulling each other’s hair. The free-for-all ended after a wild punch from a Wisconsin representative sent a Mississippi representative’s hairpiece flying. When the Mississippian accidentally replaced the wig backward, both sides started laughing and tensions eased.

2. Who throws a shoe?

Former Taiwanese lawmaker Wang Shu-hui, that’s who. Shu-hui made a name for herself in 2007 when television cameras caught her throwing what appears to be a black slip-on at the speaker of Taiwan’s legislature during a heated debate. It got better when the speaker, eschewing the high road, threw the shoe back at her—at which point the entire legislature erupted into what can only be described as a mass tussle.

3. Crossfire

At a commercial break during a political talk show in Ukraine, Parliamentarian Nestor Shufrich walked right up to Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko and did what so many of us have wanted to do when we’ve seen politicians talking on TV: he punched him in the face. According to this clip, which captures the aftermath of that satisfying sucker punch, the congressmen continued to egg on the interior minister, who refused to punch him back. Congressman Shufrich must have gotten his cue from his fellow parliamentarians, who erupted into a brawl a year earlier.

4. Robert’s Rules of Judo

In 2009, parliamentarians in South Korea lost their cool during a debate over media reform. It’s unclear exactly who threw the first punch, but what is clear is that the ensuing brawl didn’t end until the Speaker of Parliament was physically barred from chambers and the deputy speaker passed the bill in question. A year later, during a debate on a totally unrelated topic, a couple of other Korean parliamentarians lost their cool, too, pulling some pretty sweet judo moves on one another until they were yanked apart.

5. Weapons Allowed?

In May 1856, pro-slavery congressman Preston Brooks got so fed up with anti-Slavery congressman Charles Sumner’s antics that he crept up behind Sumner in the U.S. Senate and beat him over the head with the metal ball on the top of his cane. When Sumner fell to the ground, Brooks ripped out a desk that had been bolted to the floor and continued to beat his rival until his cane broke. Other congressmen tried to step in to help Sumner, but were held at bay by Brooks’ friend and fellow pro-slavery congressman, who wielded a revolver, warning the other politicians to get back, or he’ll shoot. For several decades after this bloody incident, U.S. Congressmen carried walking canes and revolvers to sessions lest they meet a similar fate.

6. A Sword's Width Apart, Gentlemen

The aisle running through the center of the British House of Parliament measures, supposedly, two swords lengths and one inch across. That specification dates back to when members of parliament did their lawmaking fully armed, but evidently, not a lot has changed over the centuries. In 1976, Conservative parliamentarian Michael Heseltine got so enraged by his Labour colleagues’ rendition of a socialist anthem that he lunged for the chamber’s ceremonial mace, ripped it from its holder and began brandishing it over his head. He was restrained and dragged out by a fellow parliamentarian without further incident.

7. Ultimate Budget Fighting

In late 2010, during a heated debate about—what else?—the state budget, Argentinean lawmaker Graciela Camano got so fed up with her fellow lawmaker Carlos Kunkel that she walked up to him, punched him in the face, then stalked out of chambers. Later, explaining her behavior, she seemed unrepentant. All year long he “just kept shouting without making a single proposal,” she said.

July 7, 2012 - 7:35am
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