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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT