Have politics in U.S. become too angry, hateful?
Columnist Jesse Mathewson sits outside his Sierra Vista, Arizona home. The town is one of the closest to the Mexican border.
January 12th, 2011
10:13 AM ET

Have politics in U.S. become too angry, hateful?

The question is echoing this week, after Tucson area Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told reporters that words used in political debate have gone too far and can lead to unbalanced individuals erupting in violence.

But how can you honestly answer such a subjective question?

In a three-part series, CNN Radio's Lisa Desjardins speaks to people from the right and the left who use strong and sometimes extreme words against each other, including Jesse Mathewson, a columnist in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Mathewson calls himself a pacifist but has used some extreme words in his opposition to border protection groups, including the Minuteman Civil Defense Project. He has called their founder, Chris Simcox, a "racist bigot."

Desjardins also talks to an expert in extreme speech to find out more about how, and to measure, the way society and individuals talk.

Listen to the first piece in the series here:

You can also listen to the CNN Radio Reports podcast on itunes or subscribe to the podcast here.

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Filed under: Politics • U.S.
soundoff (545 Responses)
  1. Gary

    The Republicans are imploding in 2 months time. In another 22 months they'll be shooting each other. The baggers got what they wanted, a total chaotic country. This happens with grass root groups because the is little intelligence to lead the ignorant base

    January 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gerry

    "punish your enemies. Bring a gun to a knife fight" Yeah, the tone could use some work.

    BTW, those quotes were courtesy of our own President. Way to lead President O.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Angel

    As someone who dislikes the two party system and finds extreme faults with both democrats and republicans alike, I find that the responses from both sides on this board to be hypocritical. One side touts how hateful the other side is, then spouts hateful (and even in some cases, violent) rhetoric in the same breath. Is that productive? No. It just shows the ignorance of those supporting both parties. I honestly believe some hold on to their political beliefs more strongly than any religion. I find that sad. If you really want to stop hateful and violent rhetoric, then start within yourselves. Spiteful remarks and responses are not compelling, nor are they attractive.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff

    Politics are angry because of the sheer size, scope and power of our government. $14+ trillion in debt, almost $4 trillion budget, the power to make and break entire industries, the ability to reward (or punish) your supporters (or opponents). Of course politics is angry. You have to go to the mattresses to survive.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kris

    Have you guys at CNN missed the memo? The shooter was not, repeat not, political, and if anything was described as a "left-wing pothead" (by a friend) who was a fan of the Communist Manifesto (as said by himself). Any attempt to tie this killing to the patriot movement at this point is just plain dishonest. I note, by the way, that comments on an earlier CNN story included open calls for violence against Tea Party members, and no corresponding hateful, violent remarks from conservatives.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • palintwit

      Check out You Tube: ' Twitter Users Wish Death on Sarah Palin ' A compilation of death threats against the queen of twits. Four minutes of absolute hilarity.

      January 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • jsdyson

      One thing that really bothered me about the early CNN reporting - immediately after the travesty, was the apparent attempt to connect the murders with right wing speech. This was obviously way before there was any valid information that would characterize the murderer. In fact, it appears that he was much more influenced by the left wing. It is NOT time to blame the left winger's misbehavior on the left itself, but perhaps the most narrow minded of the left (NOT LIBERALS - there are few liberals in the American left anymore) need to look at themselves in the same way that they look at the right.

      January 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Even though it was at a political gathering by a US Congresswoman. Loughner held onto a letter by her for 3 years and noted I planned ahead. Now try to stay this wasn't political.

      January 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. KT

    I think there are a lot of hypocracies on both ends of the political spectrum, that's right people......on the right side, left side, and in the middle. But it's wrong to morally convict people who are in public service of a horrific crime committed by one mentally unbalanced individual.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Going John Galt

      Sorry KT, this is the Left's "Reichstag Burning" moment and they don't want logic and common sense to get in the way.

      January 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. duke

    Professor Brieske!!
    How does one carry on a continuous conversation with a group of people who are far less intelligent than yourself??
    I mean in 98% of your posts,you repeat how stupid we are??
    So how do you do it??
    Because I can't talk to a 2year for 9hours straight!!
    And that fishing pole bit,I had tears in my eye laughing!!
    Just like rush,a comedian!

    January 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Brieske

      duke. The fishing pole story was meant to be funny. Tony thinks everyone who does not support President Obama owns a gun. Like we are all waiting for his motorcade car to break down in some white picket fence Christian neighborhood, so everyone can start shooting at him from their kitchens. That's not true. Although it would be funny.
      The fact is I think logically. You democrat liberal people think with feelings. If we are to survive, there is no room for feelings now.
      You must sacrifice your children. They go to Heaven. It doesn't matter if you want to or not because if you don't... millions and millions and millions of people will die.
      Unless God decides to kill everyone and start over. Clean slate.
      Now I know that sounds crazy. And I wish it were but it's true. We have reached a crossroad. Oppenheimer warned of this happening. And God has decided to get involved. Actually, he decided 49 years ago.
      So this is why I call you people stupid. Because you are. You haven't even been able to figure out what is going on. No one dies in an event for no reason during this period. And you people have feelings and in the end that could get us all killed.
      But do not fear, I will not allow that. Because although you are flawed for this time period, I still love people who have feelings.
      jim

      January 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Karen

    First of all, use proper English. It's "has" not "have". And we've been screaming to stop the violent talk in politics since 2008!!!!!! But it takes shootings to get the media to respond? Too little too late. Damage done.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Going John Galt

      Actually Karen, the violent talk has been going on for some time and really started picking up around January of 2001.

      January 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BUTCH

    There is definitely too much angry hatred in todays politics at all levels. BUT, the press over-sensationalizes every little issue as if the sky were falling. We have had way too much influence in new laws by the "bleeding hearts" and the pendelum isn't swinging back to normalicy any time soon. And why don't we crush the rediculous church protests at our fallen soldier's funerals and now at these sad burials?? I thought that went to the Supreme court, but I never heard any outcome??

    January 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ash

    Not angry just hateful and discriminatory.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mark L.

    Ughh...I must be getting old...I wonder whatever happened to the good ol' days when politlcal quarrels were settled diplomatically, when our kids would stand up to & fight off a bully with their clenched fists vs. guns / knives, and when people knew how to respect one another for their views / opinions without spewing so much hate-filled political rhetoric and satire.

    Part of the problem is, in today's society, there is no more discipline. When I was a child back in the 1960's, growing up in a big city environment, if I ever got out of line with friends, neighbors, parents or strangers, I got one heckuva whipping for it. Today, either parents refrain or are literally afraid of disciplining their kids all because society portrays discipline as abuse vs. teaching your child right from wrong. And then these undisciplined kids grow up to be monsters like Jared Lee Loughner, or big-mouths like Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin.

    Bottom line – This nation needs to return to the respectable slogan, "United we stand, divided we fall..." Until that day comes, absolutely nothing is going to get accomplished – Not in Congress, not in the White House, not in your State and not in your Local governments. Personally, I don't even think voting is worth the effort any longer. Regardless of whomever wins, nothing gets accomplished today and society has no one else to blame but itself.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JasonNY

    Sarah SPEAKS.
    Satan SMILES.
    Christina Green DIES.
    Jesus CRIES.

    Bye Bye Tea Party Klan

    January 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Going John Galt

      Jason Types
      God Cries
      Liberals “Act”
      1st Amendment Dies

      January 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Going John Galt

      I really hope you didn't put too much thought into that t-shirt slogan.

      January 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • GrrBehr

      Going: you should read more, and write less.

      January 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Going John Galt

      And here I thought I was being as clever as JasonNY. Perhaps if I worked in some insults against the Tea Party I could find favor in your eyes. What a joyous day that would be!!

      January 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. GrrBehr

    Why do crazy, angry rightwingers keep thinking that their opinions are manna from heaven, and keep sharing them? Asking the tea baggers whether politics is angry, is like asking a diabetic whether the candy is too sweet.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Going John Galt

      ...says GrrBehr with aggravation and venom.

      January 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth2power

      The TeaParty is but an angry mob.
      And to those of you who consider yourselves TeaParty members, remember what Ben Franklin, one of the founding fathers of this great nation said.
      "Anything that is begun in anger, ends in shame."

      January 12, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Thomas

    So if politic caused this AZ mess then what was the reason for Lincoln, Kenndy's, Walace, King, and Reagan shootings. Nothings changes there have been and continue to be crazy people.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joseph

    I have yet to see evidence that the Mr. Loughner was inspired by extremist political rhetoric. Until such evidence is shown, I am skeptical of any direct connection between this incident and political anger.

    Having said that, the question of whether US politics have become too angry still stands. I tend to think the answer is yes. At the moment, the Republicans are particularly guilty of this, but that has more to do with the fact that the president is a Democrat. Indeed, during the Bush administration, I would have said the opposite. Perhaps the problem is threefold.

    First, neither side seems willing to admit that the other side can be correct about anything. Consider, for example, the Republican leadership's opposition to New Start, which was endorsed by the military chiefs, foreign policy officials of both parties, and contained nothing that would constrain America's ability to develop missile defense or a new bomber. On the other side, the Democrats essentially ignored legitimate concerns by Republicans and business (and even some unions) about the Employee Free Choice Act, necessitating a filibuster. Until we can agree that neither side has a monopoly on truth, I don't see how we can progress.

    Second, both parties seem to feel that their goal is not to work to the benefit of the nation, but rather to the destruction of the opposing party. Mitch McConnell actually said this explicitly - that his top priority to was to ensure President Obama's defeat in 2012. Similarly, the efforts to impeach President Bush served no purpose but to create further division. Similarly, showing either Bush or Obama as equivalent to Hitler, calling them fascist and/or communist/socialist, etc. not only are offensive and pointlessly divisive, deadening political dialogue, but also diminish the magnitude of Hitler's evil. This all creates an us-versus-them, good-versus-evil mentality that makes it impossible to work together. This has become such a problem that now a cross-party vote is a liability. Witness what has happened to Dick Lugar (R-IN), a highly respected Senator and thoroughly decent man. Now they are talking about serious primary challenges to him because he dared to vote with President Obama on certain issues.

    Third, dogma is replacing common sense. Having a set of guidelines and principles is fine, but when one become so rigidly doctrinaire about them that it inhibits progress is not. Consider, for example, the Republican opposition to the work of the deficit commission proposal on the grounds that, although it was mostly based on spending cuts, it includes some tax increases. Never mind that even cutting all non-defense discretionary spending to zero would not fix the deficit. Similarly, their repeated statements that tax cuts increase revenue are not only demonstrably false in practice, but also false under the economic theory they cite. And the Democrats are obsessed with protecting social security and medicare in their current forms. Never mind that they are a quasi-ponzi scheme that will first drive the nation to bankruptcy and then go belly-up anyway. (That is the reason they opposed the deficit commissions proposal.)

    This shooting may not have been the result of political vitriol, but that does not change the fact that politics are too angry, to a point where this is no longer constructive criticism, but an inability to communicate between the parties. Until we can agree that neither liberalism nor conservatism is invariably the answer, our ability to find solutions for the real problems facing our country will be seriously damaged.

    January 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • jsdyson

      I agree with you that the politics are too angry, but I have also seen far too much dishonesty in the attempted characterization that the murderer is somehow connected with the right. If you look at his history, his behavior and actions/behavior and apparent beliefs would be better correlated with being a leftie. This makes me wonder that the attempts to connect the murderer with the right and right wing speech are an attempt by the left to avoid admitting that it is their own rheteoric and belief systems that are quite close to the murderer. Unlike the lefties, I do not blame the murders on the original use of 'targets' by democrat operatives, or the overly vehement comments by Obama with his implication that he'd conditionally use a gun against his opponents. Perhaps there is too much angry speech on both sides, but lets not even imply that we should try to regulate speech any more than it already is.

      January 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Going John Galt

      jsdyson, I believe this is more insidious than just not wanting to admit that a Leftie went crazy. I believe that this is the Left's "Reichstag Burning" moment and they don't want to waste the opportunity to silence the one media platform that they have never had success breaking; Talk Radio. If they can get Fox News in the process, that is fine and they are willing to trade MSNBC to achieve that. The rhetoric, false accusations and talking points all point to this end. I pray that I am wrong.

      January 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      He was holding onto stationary by Congresswoman Gifford. He went to a Political gathering and shot Giffords and noted he planned ahead, What more do you need?

      January 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
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