Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Today, talking politics is plain ugly

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
October 18, 2012 -- Updated 2202 GMT (0602 HKT)
Tea party members protest President Obama. Ruben Navarrette says Americans can't talk politics without extreme accusations.
Tea party members protest President Obama. Ruben Navarrette says Americans can't talk politics without extreme accusations.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: We're a nation divided into two camps that call each other names
  • Navarrette: A black actress came out for Romney and got slammed and reviled
  • Limbaugh calls activist a 'slut,' he says, columnist blasted for changing parties
  • Nobody can disagree without going on the attack, he writes, and leaders just as bad

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Our politics have changed in America -- and, unfortunately, not for the better.

With the Robert Bork hearings of the 1980s and later the Monica Lewinsky affair of the 1990s, we were introduced to the "politics of personal destruction."

Today, we're living with the hangover and learning how destructive it can be when we take our politics personally. We're a nation divided, where people can no longer agree to disagree without becoming downright nasty.

Cafferty: How many debates needed?

Just ask Stacey Dash, an African-American actress who was attacked on Twitter for abandoning her support for Obama and daring to publicly endorse Mitt Romney for president. The actress, who starred in the movie "Clueless" and the cable TV drama "Single Ladies," tweeted: "Vote for Romney. The only choice for your future. Team Romney...Vote Romney."

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

The liberal Twitteratti went crazy. One Twitter user wrote about Dash, who is also half Mexican-American, "You're an unemployed black woman endorsing Mitt Romney. You're voting against yourself thrice. You poor beautiful idiot." Another chimed in with: "I guess 'Clueless' star Stacey Dash endorsing Mitt Romney shows that she is indeed clueless."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



But the really ugly barbs came from fellow African-Americans who tweeted that Dash was a "jigaboo," "traitor," "house n-----." You get the picture. Many went further, urging Dash to do everyone a favor and "kill urself."

Stacey Dash defends pro-Romney stance

Decoding body language in second debate

Or ask Buzz Bissinger, a columnist for The Daily Beast who must have felt as if he was trapped in an episode of "Liberals Gone Wild" after announcing that he had -- after the first presidential debate in Denver -- decided to support Mitt Romney for president.

A self-described "lifelong Democrat," Bissinger wrote in a column after the first presidential debate that he could "no longer back a president who no longer acted like he wanted to be president, who offered a vision for the country as original as those college essays you can buy off the Internet, who in front of 70 million viewers acted like he had 90 minutes to kill before going out to dinner with Michelle for their 20th anniversary."

Bissinger was castigated by his wife and friends and liberal readers, who through what the columnist described as "thousands of comments on The Daily Beast website and Twitter and Facebook; writers from national media outlets trying to pick the column apart because they were outraged that one they considered part of the tribe, a journalist and author, would actually turn away from the ingrained liberal leanings of the profession." His takeaway: "Liberals preach tolerance, but 90% are every bit as nasty and vitriolic as the conservatives they rightfully condemn for being nasty and vitriolic."

And ask Cornel West, one of the country's most prominent African Americans, who last year went into the liberal doghouse when he criticized Obama for abandoning African Americans and the working class. West called Obama a "black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats." He won the wrath of the Rev. Al Sharpton, and fellow academic Melissa Harris-Perry responded by slamming West for making a "self-aggrandizing, victimology sermon."

Photos: Why your vote counts

Of course, conservatives also know full well how to level personal attacks. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh stepped in it when he demeaned Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" after she testified before Congress about the importance of requiring univeristy health insurance plans to cover birth control.

Radio talk show host Glenn Beck, who formerly hosted a daily talk show on the Fox News Channel, once said that President Obama was "a racist" who had "exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."

Then there are all those tea party activists, some of which, in combating Obamacare, thought nothing of holding up racist signs depicting the president as an African witch doctor. Naturally.

At the end of the day, labels like "liberal" and "conservative" don't mean much. Human beings are all the same. Some are raised to be tolerant of different points of view, others not so much. The more secure you are in what you believe, the less likely you are to attack someone for believing something else.

Opinion: I'm Mormon, and I'm voting for Obama

Meanwhile, in this country, a lot of people seem to be on the attack. If you oppose the president, his supporters will call you a racist; if you support him, his opponents will call you a socialist. You're either accused of not loving your fellow man or not loving your country.

It's all part of where we've arrived, and how we've changed. We wear our ideologies on our sleeves. We keep our political views, and presidential choices, close to our hearts. And so when they're challenged, we feel personally wounded. So we get angry. These days, if you challenge someone's point of view or disagree with their choice in candidates, it's as if you're directly attacking them.

It used to be that Americans could disagree over politics and still go out and have a drink. Not anymore. Nowadays, if you disagree, one of you isn't just wrong. One of you is a bad person. And who wants to go drinking with a bad person?

Now, almost everything about politics seems less cerebral and more emotional. The business is no longer about compromising with your opponent; it's about conquering him. We don't just disagree; we're out to destroy. We don't settle for half a loaf; it's all or nothing. The goal isn't to find solutions; the objective is simply to win at all costs.

McCain weighs in on war of words over Libya

After Tuesday's presidential debate, Obama was criticized by some Republicans for being too combative. But judging from the polls, Democrats are delighted with Obama's aggressive stance, and they want more of the same in the final debate next week.

As for what got us to this point, maybe the politicians are to blame for leading the way, with their negative ads and their tendency to treat every political campaign like a contact sport.

Or maybe it's generational, a result of what happens when baby boomers -- who, since the Vietnam War, have believed their values were superior to everyone else's -- control the government. Or maybe it comes from living in the Internet age in which everyone has an opinion and feels entitled to express it freely and without apology.

Four years ago, with the election of Barack Obama, it looked as if the United States had taken a giant step forward. Now, it looks as if we're going backward.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT