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. RMBS

    All Lisa Desjardins has to do is read some of the posts on CNN and she will get her answer. Lately every thread winds up being a forum for people to start calling each other names because they are to liberal or too conservative. I have seen the posts go from being intelligent and respectful to outright mudslinging. Maybe I've had my head in the sand for 30 years because I don't remember hearing people being down right disgusting with each other cause we differ in political views. What has happened to us as citizens of the USA to cause us to get so ugly and so selfish that we all feel its our way or the highway. Its so pathetic.

    January 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MIster Earl

    Meh. "Politics". Politics is the practice of attempting ti achieve a majority in order to benefit yourself at the expense of the minority.

    Nothing good comes from politics.

    January 12, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tony

    And as long as we continue to play this foolish game of "both sides are just as bad," and rely on trusty old ablism to dismiss Jared Lee Loughner as a crackpot—dutifully ignoring that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators; carefully pretending that the existence of people with mental illness who are potentially dangerous somehow absolves us of responsibility for violent rhetoric, as opposed to serving to underline precisely why it's irresponsible—it will be inevitable again.

    Let's get this straight: This DISASTER didn't happen in a void. It happens in a culture rife with violent political rhetoric, and it's time for conservatives to pull up their god.d.a.m.n bootstraps and get to work doing the hard business of self-reflection.

    This is one problem the invisible hand of the market can't fix for them—unless, perhaps, it's holding a mirror.

    January 12, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jo

    This is exactly what this article is referring to! Everyone on here is blaming or calling out someone else. Just because you have differing opinions with someone doesn't give you the right to attack them, especially take their life. Politics has become so corrupt. I can only hope that the future generation puts its head on straight and saves this country before we end up destroying ourselves.

    January 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. anti-pope

    The owners of the United States have one half of the country fighting the other half on purpose. They want a one world government. A new world order. This recession/ depression is no accident.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. micook

    This country is becoming more and more radical. America claims to be more middleground than extreme but it's the extremists who have been making things happen. Democrats are weak and pathetic while Replubicans are bullies and pathetic. Not sure who I'd rather support since there's nobody in the middle.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Very well said

      "Democrats are weak and pathetic while Replubicans are bullies and pathetic."

      January 13, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • David Snell

      micook, I agree with you except for one thing. I believe there are those in politics who adhere to the middle ground but they're voices are drowned out by the extremists (who make the news). Also, there are middle of the road thinkers (like myself) whom you've never heard of and sometimes we even run for President (as write in candidates), as I did last time around. I have a very small following, but I was heard by those few. My friend... try to keep the faith. david

      January 13, 2011 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      I am a naturalize united states born states. I will say this: I don't like our government and I don't trust our government. Democrat or Rebublic, it don't matter neither are good nor honest. We don't need a middlemen, we need a trustworthy person. There is none at this day and age. This country is going down the tubes and either the dems or the rebup are not going to save us, they are saving themselves. That is all they are about is: ME. Narcissitic peice of bunch!!!!

      January 13, 2011 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Amy

      I mean Im a natuaralize United States born citizen.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba

      I'm a Democrat, and I'd gut-shoot you and laugh while you kicked on the ground. I might skin you afterwards. Don't make sweeping generalizations based on stuff you heard some nut say on tv. Plenty of Repubs are still good people, even if they do think it should be against the law to think for yourself, and many of them aren't bigots. But I'll give ya some cheap advice: never call deerhunters 'weak.'

      January 13, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • BRod

      YES politics have become too hateful and angry! What is amusing about this is that the SAME corportate lobbyists control BOTH the Republican and Democrat parties in this country! It's all one party! Our only shot at true democracy in this country is to vote for independents and put the Republocrats out of operation.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Sunshine

      It's time in America to vote out the current Democrats and Republicans and get new faces in our Congress. They are nothing more than crooks and money hungry idiots. Obama is more concerned with letting Mexican trucks pass through the US and developing the North American continent,, open borders between Canada and Mexico than he is deporting illegals, and helping Americans get back to work. He is more concerned for American companies who transfer their jobs to Mexico, India, etc., than he is to get Americans back to work and increase salaries of the middle class. He is more concerned in taxing the so-called rich (where I don't consider $250,000 a year, rich. The problem I have with Democrats, they support the people who don't want to work hard, who don't want to make something of theirselves, but rather take it away from those who are proud, who work hard to get where they are at. It's time to forget the lazy people in this country and give credit to the ones who studied to get straight A's, to get a good job and work hard to make the money they do, and to stop taking from the so-called rich to give to those who rather have fun than increase their talents to do more and earn more. Then and only then by getting rid of the Congress who believes we should rob the rich and take care of the poor and recognize that $250000 is not a millionare, will we have a Congress working to get this country back on track

      January 13, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. cf

    As a long-time news reporter, I have watched politics from near and far for many years., Never has there been a time of vitriolic hatred as in the past decade. As an observer, I can say that as long as there are people like Boehner, McConnell, Cheney, etc., in the public eye there will be deep hatred. The Democrat side does not seem to be as open with its hatred of Repubs but, I think, rest assured that it is there. There has never been a White House team like Bush and Cheney when it came to downgrading society and the public except for the days of Nixon.

    I am a firm believer, after four decades of watching and writing about politics, that every officeholder should serve one time and then go home. I don't care who he is. Go home. Get out of Washington before large companies and lobbyists take full charge of them. I am convinced that Cheney hates every Democrat or anyone who remotely disagrees with him and Bush was only one step below Cheney. Bush's daddy, the elder Bush, was a decent man from all indications. Clinton was smarter than any of the last 10 presidents (excluding Kennedy if you go back that far) but he was also the most stupid when it came to nuzzling the women.

    My point is Washington is full of hatemongers who go to war for personal gain. The Repubs hate Obama more than any person alive, for sure, and he isn;t much good, I will admit, but on his worst day so far he has not fallen to the degraded levels of Bush and Cheney. The GOP hates him because he was not as bad as Bush and Cheney. The Dems hate the GOP because it seems to be the kosher thing to do.

    As I said, send the idiots home after one term and spread around the wealth a little more. Go ahead. Pay attention. Watch! This upcoming session of Congress will be like nothing ever seen in the history of our country and Boehner will be at the helm leading charge of hatred and bigotry regardless how many crocodile tears he sheds along the way.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      cf ----- Obama gave a great, much needed speech tonight. But, it didn't take very long to start pointing fingers again did it? Bush isnt the president anymore. Get over it. Your hatred of republicans and conservatives is unbelievable. Its so bad that you dont even notice how your comment sounds to other people. You pointed out how hateful politics has become........... and then blamed Bush and Cheney for everything........ all in the same sentence. You even threw Boehner in there and he has been house speaker for like only a week now. This is pathetic. You said you are a news reporter. Well, the path to more civil discourse starts with more honest, unbiased journalism, on both sides. If you want things to get better in this country then do everyone a favor and stay out of politics.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Mike, deaf ears, why can't you people take a criticism? Are you Republicans above it all and holly? It seems, according to your claims, the whole world is attacking you and poiting fingers. There MUST be a reason. I myself voted for Bush jr.. Twice. But only because I did not see a better candidate at the time (admittedly, what a sorry reflection on the Democratic leadership!), so I had to go with the "lesser evil", both times. Let us not forget that Bush jr. started TWO unpaid for wars and completely trashed American leadership amongst its allies. You just can't deny it. Whatever good will America had immediately after the events of 9-11 was sold down the river, degraded and destroyed by greed and corruption of the Bush jr, Cheney and their inner circle. The "Iraq intel" was bogus, and now seems like it could have been yet another coverup. Subsequently, America lost focus on its own economy (Enron, Greenspan's easy money policies) and its mission overseas became a never ending cycle of foreign nation bulding excercise without any clear purpose or articulated exit strategy. This also reflected poorly on American allies around the world, and our friends suffered as well. All these are truths, and constructive criticism. A such, they must be accepted by Republican leadership and reflected upon, not shugged off in disdain and empty pride. YOUR WARS are costing real American LIVES, while you two seem to be concerned with sophmoric and degrading Obama name calling, and "spreading the wealth". But thanks for so clearly articulating for the readers of this blog what it is you stand for and for doing such a good job in "selling the Republican brand" to any moderate who might come accross this. It seems Republicans are at the end of their rope, and have nothing of value or substance to offer to the country except the "crocodile tears", posturing and pandering to a dumbed down vote, by appealing to the most uninformed and violent portion of the populace. How does this reflect on America and what does it say about Republican leadership qualities? Your ugly rhetoric will not bring about any of the badly needed domestic solutions, nor would it make America stronger, more vibrant, or help any of our allies overseas. Angry sore loosers may be the more applicable term for your party, even despite your louded November "victories". You are slowly losing any relevance in the modern world, and the militant wave will only carry you so far. Change your ways or get the h3ll out of the way and let real Patriots clean up after you. Sincerely, Tony FL.

      January 12, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Clinton was the smartest of the last 10 presidents? Who won the cold war? The only thing that happened that saved Clinton was the internet breaking out in 1995. Before you speak about any of his legislative accomplishments please realize that from 1994 to 2000 Their was a Republican majority in Congress. He could not have done anything with out them. Republicans were put there in 1994 for the same reason that they were in November 2010 Clinton went hard left and the country reacted. Clinton was able to move back to the middle something Obama is not going to do because his frothing at the mouth left base has already turned on him for trying to do so.

      As far as all the hate? The people on the left talk about compassion, tolerance and understanding. Yet when they come across people they don't agree with rather then use facts or logic to debate they shout and name call. Then accuse conservatives of the very thing they themselves are doing. Their are people on the right that do the same thing for sure but don't try to say Democrats and liberals take the “higher ground” then use it just so you can get a better angle to spit on me because I don't agree with you. There was a lot of this during the last 2 years of Bush to deny the vitriol and hate coming from many on the left and from the Democratic congress itself is futile.

      In your own words Obama is not as bad as Cheney or Bush? Well 3 years in and we are still in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo is still open and Obama renewed the Patriot Act. So how is Obama doing the same thing as the last administration make him any better? It’s the guy YOU voted for that is what make’s it different. It’s that double standard that helps fuel the anger

      January 12, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      So sad you only went down the one way road of being a liberal, you only whined about the GOP and conservatives but yet said very very little of the 'other side'?? I agree with you, one term then go home WITHOUT being elected to any other office.....town, city, county, state or country! By the way, they are all....I repeat...all are out for power no matter what party they are affiliated with! Nice feeling to have isn't it!!!

      January 12, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Speakman

      CF as a reporter, it's obvious that you have a liberal lean to you, you and your associates have been a major factor in the mood in this country. The news has had a liberal slant to it for decades, Americans are fed up by this fact. I don't listen to Rush or the other conservative talk show personalities however when I do happen to catch them I have to agree with most of what they have to say. So again, I have to say that the major liberal news outlets share the lions share of the blame for the atmosphere we now find ourselves in.

      January 13, 2011 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Well, here's a great example of the types of conversations that are both unproductive and illustrate selective hearing. When one attempts to make a point regarding their political philosophy, interpretation of news events, or support for a candidate, another attempts to place their own interpretation (often based on things not said by the first) in order to minimize or denegrate the writer.

      Political parties represent a diversity of political viewpoints...great...it's what this nation was founded on, the ability to disagree and have the issue debated/decided in Congress or at the ballot box. But disagreement is not an attack on an individual. That I may disagree with the President, a senator, judge or whomever does not mean that I somehow wish to lessen that individual's worth. Democrates attempt to describe Republicans as unfeeling lackies of big business while Republicans put Democrats into a bag labeled socialist or worse. When you read the news, do you stop to ask yourself "where's the evidence" or "is there any substance here?"

      We can't limit our speech based on whether our words will be misinterpreted by some nut...that's part of the cost of living in a free society. But we can hold the influencial members of society (leaders, CEOs, etc.) and the news media accountable for their decisions. This issue is about the inflammatory nature of debate today...but it is the news media (not just reporters, but the editors and producers who made the final decision of what is presented to the public) that then becomes responsible for exposing those words to us. Unfortunately, the business of news now requires papers, TV and radio organizations to not just tell us what happened, but to provide their cut on why it happened and what it means....things that are rightfully left to the listener or reader.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Emmanuel Goldstein

      "As a long-time news reporter, I have watched politics from near and far for many years., Never has there been a time of vitriolic hatred as in the past decade. "

      Seriously? Have you checked your history or are you just going off gut feelings? I would suggest that prior to the civil war, during the rise of the No Nothing party, and the period after the War for Independence were at least a vitriolic as now.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      The reason people blame Bush & Cheney is because they really did run an arrogant criminal administration that gutted the world's economy, started a completely fraudulent war in Iraq, clawed back as many environmental measures as they could, refused to be held accountable by muzzling the press etc, etc. People will "get over it" when the effects of that worst administration in US history are finally reversed. As this could take decades, get used to Bush & Cheney's legacy, it's going to be with us for a long time.

      January 13, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      What a load of crap..

      January 13, 2011 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • DL

      To me, watching these rallies with people holding machine guns did me in. I don't care who you are, what your beliefs are or how 'angry' you are. Any rational person, with ANY common sense would know exactly what message they are sending with that behavior. And if you for one second think it's normal, and it's about your 'rights' you are either a liar, or you have been so jaded by this garbage spewed by media in this country you are completely incapable of reasonable thought. None of what has happened is a surprise. Roll the clocks back a few months to the 'tone it down rallies' that were held. Right now nobody wants to take any responsibility for their part in this, it's typical. But if this country is going to survive, that type of behavior can no longer be acceptable from anybody.

      January 13, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Kelly

      One of your own, Howard Dean, is the "godfather" of hate politics. Deal with it!

      January 13, 2011 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Scared Straight

      Tony, You write very well and even articulated several clear points around the tragic Bush/Cheney first term, yet you were not able to see through the propaganda and slander of Kerry that you actually saw Bush as a "lesser evil"? I assume that only proves that spending enough money on advertising to paint a negative picture of the candidate does in fact win elections.

      January 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dudley4637289

    When the only two political parties become intransigent and refuse to work together voters sense the lack of progress and vent their frustration. News reporting has always leaned upon the bizarre, the bloody, and the confrontational, but now we hear, watch, or read about them 24 x 7, when we used only to get them for a few minutes over our morning paper. When writing e-mails and commentary like this one instead of personal political activism where hundreds or thousands show up at our representatives place of work, voters are frustrated because they get no response. Everyone is responsible. No one is changing.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Very well stated, thank you!

      January 12, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Wise Just Moderate

    The vitriolic hatred produced one of the greatest political victories in modern history and was wonderful for news media ratings. I'm afraid it's here to stay. We indeed have met the enemy and it is us.

    January 12, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • I.L.

      You are so very, tragically right. The politics of anger is good entertainment. More importantly, the politics of anger fills the void of understanding quite nicely. We the People sense that something has gone very wrong with the nation, but we don't know what that is. Angry politicians pointing fingers and calling names offer us something tangible: a target for our anxieties about where our jobs are going, where the nation is going, and what the future holds for us. The blame game offers American voters the same seductive, easy-to-swallow elixir humanity has been consuming since the invention of language.

      January 13, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  10. jl taylor

    There are many weak minded people who are seeking a place to belong and something to believe in. Even those on the
    eve of insanity incorporate negative and positive information to produce their thoughts and guide their actions. We should
    not be surprised that killing a politician is viewed by some insane person as a good thing after they go for years hearing
    people like Sera Palin, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Shawn Hannity, Mark Levin, and many other right wingers call for over
    throwing the government by force if needed. 28% of Republicans think that its using guns against the government is OK.

    January 12, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • American Citizen

      When the government chooses to do what it will without the council of the people it governs, it by its own action creates the NEED for violence and revolution.

      Read the history of our nation's beginning. It is going to be repeated

      January 13, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    The tragedy is that, in a nation with so many wonderful resources for education, so many people turn to irrational political dogma, kook religion, and rage rather than try to educate themselves and understand their world. The extreme right does promote violence and hatred. Extremists on the left are perhaps less violent, but no less moronic. Both are based on uneducated, irrational, and fanatical attachment to simplistic political dogma, and most of the followers and proponents of such views are flat-out stupid. However, no one should be forced to respect others, and free speech rights should not be constrained. The only solution is for Americans to again seek to be educated and knowledgeable, as a result of which far fewer people will willingly listen to, and support, extremism. The Sarah Palins and conservative talk-radio garbage are only providing what many want to hear – captializing on stupidity. By the same token, there is nothing wrong with feeling extreme dislike towards people like the guy who killed all of these people, or politicians who launch unjustified wars, kill thousands and thousands of people for no reason, and squander the financial resources of their nations. The Vietnam and Iraq Wars, and those responsible for them, are very good examples of what any rational person would naturally loath. A nation of uncaring, lobotomized, politically correct saps and cowards is no better than a nation of idiot extremist-politcs desciples. We once had conservative politicians with relatively high principles and integrity, like Ike Eisenhower. Not perfect – but a genius and saint compared to today's conservative spokespeople. Maybe new, responsible people of that caliber will again emerge.

    January 12, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brady

    There is power in words. Often it seems as though politicians and pundits are yelling at each other like children on a playground. Sadly, the ones who shout the loudest and make the most insulting remarks are the ones that we pay attention to.
    What if- every time we have a conversation with someone else- we are not the most important person in it?
    Let's stop making sweeping statements that label people as being one way or another. People are complicated, and almost nothing is ever as black and white as we say it is.
    I really appreciated this report, and I am looking forward to hearing the rest of it! Thank you, Lisa!

    January 13, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. Tim in Colorado

    I agree, many people talk about people in the other party like racists. Both Dems and Repubs do it. And yes, it is real racism.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. Rob Hannigan

    Yes, politics has gotten out of control. Both sides need to calm down and relax. I know one side favors one section of America and while the other group favors their side. However, you are all colleagues working together. Elected by the majority of people in your state to represent them to the best of that persons abilities. Like President Obama, said we can do better. We can do better then this shootings really. Is that what we as a country has come down to? Name calling is for children that don't know any better.
    But we know don't we. So what are we going to do now that we know what we say can affect millions of people. Just as the actions of one shooter can affect millions around the country. What was it 6 died we all morn and the world prints news papers about it. Brazil, Australia several other countries. For some reason or another the world still looks at us as a role model. They see the potential that we ourselves have lost sight of and are crawling in the dark to find.
    We need to find our eye glasses stand up and dust the dirt of our shoulders. Straighten our suit and tie and get back to business. America is still the greatest achievement in the history of mankind. Not buildings not cathedrals not sending men to space. Mankind has achieved a place on earth where every soul can be heard and opinion counted. The last the world saw such a thing was the Roman republic which has been dead sense the year 31 b.c.
    Now we have it lets not lose it lets not allow the people that died be forgotten, but instead honored. By never letting this happen again. God bless America and may he also bless each and everyone of you.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jim Brieske

    Let me post my comments CNN censors or I will shove a tornado up your a** in Atlanta again.

    January 13, 2011 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      another unhinged righ winger. but "both sides do it". you people are blind. eyes wide shut.

      January 13, 2011 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
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