Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Today, talking politics is plain ugly

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 6:02 PM EDT, Thu October 18, 2012
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
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT