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. CubanMom

    I have always noticed that people who are guilty and know it, get very defensive and very combative when called out. There is a mountain of evidence in the form of video etc., about the hate speak coming from the Conservative side. Palin had to take down from her web site a few items that were questionable a few days ago. And today she is being criticized for using an offensive term in her very defensive video. All one has to do is listen to Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, etc., to hear the hate, fear, lies and division they spew. If you don't believe it, then what do you call it when Palin told America that there will be "Death panels" if healthcare passed? Or when Michelle Bachman said, "Minnesotans should be armed and dangerous." I am not making this up, its fact and there is video to prove it. I ask the Conservatives talking heads to tone down your rhetoric before worse happens.

    January 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Here are just SOME of the higlights:

      November 29, 2010—U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, circulates a PowerPoint presentation to his colleagues in which he compares the Obama administration to the Nazi regime in Germany and likens himself to Gen. George Patton, bragging, "Put anything in my scope and I will shoot it."

      November 4, 2010—On his radio show, conservative host Glenn Beck fantasizes about President Obama being decapitated during a trip to India, saying, "If anybody thinks he was a Muslim over here, well God forbid, they think he was a Muslim over there because he left his religion for Christianity, death sentence, behead him.” Beck then tells his listeners that "God forbid" this should happen, as there would be a "New World Order" overnight in the United States.

      August 14, 2010—Former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack—who gained fame in anti-government circles by joining a mid-1990s lawsuit against the federal government over the Brady Bill requirement that state law enforcement agencies conduct background checks on gun purchasers—tells those in attendance at the American Policy Center's 2010 Freedom Action Natonal Conference, "My dear friends, I pray for the day that the first sheriff in this country is the one to fire the shot heard 'round the world and take out some IRS agents!"

      March 21, 2010—As the U.S. House of Representatives enters a final round of debate over a controversial health care reform bill, Conservative blogger Solomon "Solly" Forrell calls for the assassination of President Barack Obama on his Twitter account. In two separate postings, Forrel writes, "AS.SAS.SINATION! America, we survived the #Assassinations of #Lincoln & #Kennedy. We'll surely get over a bullet 2 #BarackObama's head! ... The next #American with a #Clear #Shot should drop #Obama like a bad habit."

      "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and the people - we the people - are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country."
      ~Michele Bachmann

      "I hope that's not where we're going, but you know if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."
      ~Sharon Angle

      "Our nation was founded on violence. The option is on the table. I don't think that we should ever remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms."
      ~Tea Party-backed Texas GOP congressional candidate Stephen Broden

      "I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. ... No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out."
      ~Glenn Beck, May 17, 2005

      "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."
      ~Ann Coulter

      "Obama's got a health care logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook ... Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."
      ~Rush Limbaugh, Aug. 6, 2009

      "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
      ~Pat Robertson

      "We need to execute people like (John Walker Lindh) in order to physically intimidate liberals."
      ~Ann Coulter

      "I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country."
      ~Rep. Virginia Foxx

      "He has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity."
      ~Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), on President Obama

      January 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim970

    American politics? Americans have become too angry and hateful. Just read the comments to this article. Just look at road rage – it was so uncommon it didn't even have a name until recently. Just look at national TV – violent programming is the vast majority of what is available. Just look at the language in movies – the "f word" was rarely used in older movies but now is the predominate 4-letter word. Look at the Westboro Baptist Church – even "christians" are becoming hateful and abusive of others. A polite discourse is nearly impossible whether the subject is political or not. It is a sad state of affairs.

    January 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John

    Some may want to read up on history, todays politics is out of control? yet in 1804 2 of the founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr dueled to the death. That is anger and hate

    1804 when Hamilton thwarted Burr's attempt to gain re-nomination for Vice President as well as his bid to win the governorship of New York. Burr responded by challenging his antagonist to a duel, an invitation Hamilton felt compelled to accept.

    January 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      John, it's 21st century now. And I thought Taliban were backward.

      January 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. gmh

    We should learn from our past mistakes, not repeat them. I do not blame anyone for what happened in this situation but I am VERY surprised nothing has happened before now. It is not just the mentally ill to be concerned about, it could be someone with a short fuse at a town hall meeting. Words are POWERFUL tools to ignite or calm. They do matter.

    January 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nancy Counter

    yes. We are a nation of drugs and no morals and everyone is angry and have no apparent reason so they make one up.
    And for morals I don't mean these "holier than thou" that have some ridiculous god that runs around punishing people for all sorts of imagined crimes. Like having the audacity to suggest that a loving GOD would punish a child because someone else, that he created, is gay. My GOD loves all even with our screwed up minds.

    January 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tony

    So let me try to explain it in very simple terms. Politics in the US have become too hateful because the right wing parties – Republicans and Tea Party have amped up the hateful rhetoric in order to get the votes for the "November comeback". Republican leaders have ZERO responsibility, civility or morality left. They only pontificate, on one hand, as "supreme" Bible holding "truthers", while on the other hand support and encourage violent, anti-government, gun violence glorifying remarks, including sedition and incitement of shooting of our elected officials. They do this because the Republican Party runs on fear and hate. What makes their hypocrisy even worse is that they claim high moral ground and appeal to Bible and loving God, while praising second amendment remedies and violent overthrow of the government. If a child were to make popular Republican/Tea Party remarks in school, they would be immediately expelled and the police would be called in. Isn't this the perfect litmus test for hate rhetoric? We want to protect our children in schools, yet at home they are free to be exposed to Fox News, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh "hypothetical entertainment". I personally DO NOT BELIEVE anyone is saying Republicans or Tea Party bought bullets for Jarred Laughlin, or physically made him do the horrific killings. But the point here is MUCH MUCH larger, it transcends the Tucson Massacre and engulfs our entire Nation – hatred, demonization, calls to violence, gun glorification as "problem solver" ARE SIMPLY NOT ACCEPTABLE.
    Now, Republicans and Tea Party understand that. But they will fight tooth and nail any responsibility for their past words and actions. However, the truth cannot be denied – THAT the deeply irresponsible and misguided Republican "inspirational dream fantasy" about targeting political opponents (or any other people) and shooting them CAME TO REALITY and has become the American NIGHTMARE. At some point, it does not matter who did the actual killing. The main point is, the current atmosphere of gun ho "patriotism" via 2nd amendment remedies is plain wrong. Conservatives, Republicans, Tea Party members must denounce such vitriolic messages, disown those in their ranks spreading this hate, apologize to the families of innocent victims and pray to God for direction. If after all of this, you still "do not get it", you are simply beyond help. My sincere condolences, Tony FL

    January 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • truth2power

      “When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

      -Sinclair Lewis

      January 12, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Stephanie

    Here's the thing.. Yes there is free speech but at what point is is common sense?? I am a mother of 4 kids. I would NEVER let anyone of them go on facebook/myspace because they didnt like someone and put up cross hairs.. And quess what if my kid did that they would be kicked out of school.. I wouldn't be able to go in and say 'Free Speech' ... It is bullying.. I dont care how you put it!!!!!! I can not believe this woman is a Mom.. At what point is free speech just poor taste??? I am so sad by this behavior in adults.. I havent heard one bad thing about her but, she keeps defending herself & Fox spends an hour defending her instead of on the lives that were lost and what they gave to our country. As of today no one Fox News for me... Yes Sara please continue to talking so we can know just how ignorant you are...

    January 12, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Wow!

    IWow! If an unstable person were to sit down and read all the posts here, I'm afraid they might be driven to violence.

    Please settle down people! Let's debate ideas, not vilify people. We are so blessed in this country, so affluent, and have so much free time that we are able to sit down in front of computers and TVs and radios and spew all kinds of nasty things at each other. But maybe that's not the best use of our time.

    January 12, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MrCommonSense

    Here's the BEST written piece I've seen on the Tucson tragedy. It's neither partisan nor pretentious. More people need to see this guy's work. Just simply well-written and honest.

    Tucson Tragedy Demands Public Discourse Recall

    January 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bob

    The only one's who should be angry are the American people who vote these Fools into office only to be disappointed, Again... and again and again!

    January 12, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. elobogrande

    Poli-tick poison makes us too angry? Hell no! I would lose no sleep if Rummy, Cheyney, W, Hanity, Beck, O'Really, Newt, or Skooter all were given a one-way ticket to Hell from second amendment remedies....and my progressive friends call me "The Mellow One".

    January 12, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kay

    This thread is an example of the vitrol from the right and the left. There is enough blame to go around on both sides for the demise of civility. Time to turn the page and 'agree to disagree' without vitrol and all around nastiness. Hope I never meet some of you from either side. With the anger I read on here looks like some of you would be better off ignoring politics until you can calm down and post rationally.

    The shooter was a nutcase from his rantings, unafiliated with a party, and didn't listen to talk radio - he needed mental help more than anything.

    Things had pretty much quieted down and along comes Palin again with her remarks on the day of the memorial service using 'blood libel' in her comments which started the venom all over again. As a Republican wish she would just be quiet for awhile and resist the need to comment with her antagonistic way which we didn't need right now. She could have been the better person but no she kept up vitrol and raised the stakes so more people commented.

    Will someone tell her she is not helping her cause but hurting it with this latest you tube?

    January 12, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Johnson

    If anyone is interested in political hate speech, just take a look at comments made anytime Palin opens her mouth. Typically sick, unwarranted and highly personal attacks. Most couldn't rise above a middle school playground. The left in this country needs to look at itself in the mirror. The hate directed towards this woman is beyond disgusting and unparalleled.

    January 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Donio

    "Have politics in the U.S. become too angry, hateful?" Yes they have. The U.S. politics need this country to be divided into two parties. Now days the two parties can't stand each other. As the saying goes "Divided We Fall" and we are fall faster than a lead balloon. Lose the party affiliation and unite America. We need to elect officials who will work for the people and America as a whole, not divide us.

    January 12, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |

    My first thought was that the Tucson killings were inspired by hateful right-wing rhetoric. Why? Because I have a student who is an ardent admirer of Glenn Beck who declared in class that he wanted to "kill Obama." Because I lived in England for twenty years and finally came home to a country I do not recognize. Because my own sister has threatened violence against me for voting for Obama, and she has threatened to "take out" my English husband. Because I have seen Glenn Beck conflate Obama's image with those of Stalin and Hitler, and so on and so on.
    It turns out that the Tucson killer probably wasn't motivated by the right-wingers, but plenty of impressionable people believe that our president, legitimately elected by a majority of the American people, is a Muslim interloper who is a secret terrorist. Wake up rational people! Surely it isn't right to allow politicians and commentators to spread blatant, damaging lies about one another and threaten violence because of political views. This is not the America I remember.

    January 12, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      I most certainly agree. This is not the America that the world used to put on a pedestal. Politics of the present have driven our country away from everything that America used to stand for.

      January 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
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