About when did the hate begin?

Actually, I correct myself – it goes back well before that. The American revolution came after decades of vitriolic hate-filled political rhetoric and sporadic outbreaks of what would now be termed terrorism.

Nowadays, Tea Partiers carry signs and march. The original tea partiers busted heads and destroyed government property. Tax collectors were tarred and feathered (which is a horribly painful torture). Those were not acts of war – they were political protests against a lawful government which had offered the colonies representation in parliament.

Gingrich was the first in modern times to institutionalize the strategy of demonizing his party’s political opponents. That was the beginning of the end of civility.

I think the problem is there’s been a slew of divisive presidents: Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jnr and Obama. Obviously I’ve missed out a couple, but even then a figure like Bush Snr, whislt not overly divisive, is hardly going to bridge gaps that have been opened.

Obama in himself should actually be the opposite of divisive, but as far as I can tell a mixture of insane paranoia and racism has caused him to become a hate figure for the right in the USA. Despite his controversial reforms of the health system, politically he’s as bland as particularly bland mashed potato and belongs to the ‘try to please everyone’ school.

You ever hear of the civil rights movement? It wasn’t called that because people disagreed about the issue civilly and then had dinner together afterward.

I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the government is a bigger force in people’s lives than it was in prior times. When the stakes grow higher, the hostility gets more intense.

If the situation was such that a person could go through life minding their own business and not thinking about the government all that much, people would focus on it a lot less. As it is, whatever action the government has recently taken, is about to take, or you want it to take, is a constant presence in people consciousness.

I’m not sure you understand all the relevant meanings of the word civil.

Lemur866, an excellent post all the way through. I only quoted the first line for brevity, but the whole thing bears reprinting.

A lot of it started with the Reagan revolution. Reagan himself, despite his rhetoric wasn’t all that bad…he was after all a former Democrat, and he worked closely with Tip O’Neil. But some of the young republicans that rode Reagan’s coattails to office had very dirty hands indeed. In the Northwest, where I live we rediscovered dirty politics when out-of-state right-wing groups funded a vicious smear campaign against the respected senator Frank Church and managed to get a political nobody who pandered to their interests elected in his place. Western Democrats in both state and national offices were subjected to this kind of attact, and the intermountain region, which had been pretty evenly mixed, went strongly Republican and has stayed that way.

The right wing learned to use mass media. Advances in communications technology, especially television, were tailor-made to their new campaign strategy of attack ads and sound bites. Kennedy was the first president to really use television successfully, but Ronald Reagan, with his acting background made superb use of TV and taught his acolytes well. A worthy position on a political issue usually takes some involved thinking and explanation. This put the Democrats, with their more nuanced thinking at a disadvantage…the nasty snipes, the cute meaningless sound bites that are a right-wing staple lent themselves well to mass-media projection whereas thoughtful statements did not.

Instead of pointing fingers at one side or the other, it might be useful to look at the systemic changes that have happened to society that may have caused political polarization:

  • The 24 hour news cycle. The media has air to fill, so it is constantly muckraking, inventing ‘scandals’, putting talking heads on the air to bloviate about how the other side is at fault, etc.

  • Disintermediation fracturing the common culture. While in the past people had different political viewpoints, they at least tended to get their news from the same sources. Everyone watched Walter Cronkite and people read the same newspapers. They all watched Johnny Carson and talked about him around the water cooler the next day. There were a lot of shared experiences, and at least there was common ground in terms of what the basic facts were. Now, the right reads right-wing news, the left reads left-wing news, and even the basic facts are slanted. People on the left watch Colbert and Jon Stewart. There’s a loss of common references.

  • The growth of government has created giant special interests, and pitted tax consumers against tax payers. This is especially obvious in the current downturn - public sector employees felt very little pain from the recession compared to the private sector. The growth of public sector jobs and dependency on public sector jobs creates powerful lobbies that have a vested interest in helping to demonize the other side to protect their funding. The increase in government handouts, bailouts, tax exemptions and other perks creates animosity between those who have the perks and those who pay for them. And of course, sometimes the person who pays for your perk gets his own that you have to pay for. Such policies make for a fundamentally combative political process.

  • The internet in general gives a megaphone to millions of people, creating a lot of noise and ensuring that you can always find someone producing information that reinforces your own biases. We all live in bubbles of our own making now, surrounded by our own ‘yes men’. The result is the increasing feeling that everyone but you and the people who agree with you are either evil or blithering idiots.

  • The lack of a common enemy. The cold war forced compromise between Democrats and Republicans, and made ideological divisions less stark. A ‘defense hawk’ Democrat might get along better with a ‘Defense hawk’ Republican than with someone from his own party, even if they didn’t agree on a single issue of domestic politics. The cold war was more important. Now there’s no common enemy, and the parties are retreating into their ideological corners.

I’ve heard tell that the abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine helped matters in that it made the media you have today possible. On TV, at any rate, the hate began as soon as it could.

:confused: It wasn’t called that for need of a phrase to demonize opponents, either. What is your point?

I think Lemur866 totally nailed it, with one possible addition. The Democratic party is split between moderate Democrats who are more in line with what I think is the American mainstream and liberal left leaning Democrats who…aren’t (IMHO…YMMV). What that means is that it’s harder for the Democratic party to get the same level of party discipline as the Republicans are able to get. If moderate Democrats just went in lock step with everything the Democratic party said (especially the left leaning liberals), a not insignificant number of them would find getting re-elected difficult, since their political base back in their home states or districts is more moderate and might jump to a moderate Republican if they voted straight party all the time on every issue. The Republicans seem to have less problems between their very conservative right wing and what goes for moderates in that party these days.


Incorrect. For one thing, the Democrats consistently vote to the right of what their constituents want, not to the left. It was by far the “Blue Dogs” and “moderates” who lost in the last election. For another, the split is between right wing Democrats and center-right Democrats; the Left is not an important factor in American politics, in or out of the Democrats. The Democrats have demonstrated a willingness to lose elections rather than move to the left.

I’d date it to 1797 and the beginning of the Adams administration. The rivalry of Hamilton and Adams vs. Jefferson had been kept to a low simmer during GW’s administrations. But as soon as GW was retired, the gloves came off. Turns out the all-wise founding fathers had made a boo-boo in the whole setup. In this shiny brand-new country, we’re not going to have political parties here, uh-uh. We’re just going to all hold hands and sing Yankee Doodbaya. Yeah right. Pretty soon they had to pass the 12th Amendment as one of the ways of adjusting to the partisan system that wasn’t supposed to happen. Jefferson and Hamilton’s antagonism couldn’t have fallen out any other way, I suppose in retrospect, the (Democratic-)Republican and Federalist parties were inevitable.

The election of 1800 ran into some major Constitutional problems. But they did get the most important thing right: For the first time in history, one rival faction peacefully and democratically handed over power to the other. Their loyalty to the Constitution proved (a bit) stronger than their hatred for each other. The Constitution, the whole American experiment in government, wasn’t fully vindicated until that occurred.

I guess it all depends on ones perspective. Personally, I think that the majority of Dems who lost didn’t do so because they were to the right of their constituents. They didn’t lose to Republicans who were willing to move to the left to gain those seats because afaik there ARE no left leaning Republicans left. They are all moderate right or very right, with very few in the center…and yet they managed to do pretty well in the last election. If you think that’s because the Dems didn’t move further left then all I can say is give it a try and see what happens…I don’t think it will be a happy experience for the Democratic party, personally.


Before the 1990’s, most quarreling, however ugly, was about political ideas rather than personalities and partisanship. A big quarrel of 1964 was between liberal Republicans and right-wingers supporting Goldwater but, IIRC, Goldwater was still generally respected as a person.

It was during the Clinton Administration that Republicans, despite that Clinton had moved to the right-of-center, embraced smut and lies and plunged American politics into the sewer.

If you want something to blame, I’d nominate the huge power of mass media in today’s high-tech world. Thuggish slugs like Karl Rove have existed as long as there’s been politics but it’s only recently that simple-minded lies have the strength to plunge a superpower’s politics down to the level of nursery-school gibberish.

It was building on the right since Clinton, but I think for the Democrats, it was Florida and Iraq that solidified the divide.

Thanks Sam…this puts a lot of it into a neat little package for me, especially the 'lack of a common enemy" argument.

Not to hijack my own thread here, but wouldn’t the massive spiraling debt be the ‘new enemy’ now? I mean, in all seriousness, is not the debt issue a serious and dangerous threat to the USA as we know it? Or are all these ideologues willing to go down with their ship in refusal to work with the ‘other side’?

I was thinking it was somewhere between 1994 and 2000 when this bitter rivalry began, and it seems a good number of you believe this was the spark points.

I do understand that there was some serious vitriolic exchanges in the early days of the republic as furt points out, but most of these people did work together to build the framework of this country. I stress most because this could be wrong - there are arguments it was mostly a minority. Be that as it may, we have the framework due to the work they did.

These are very interesting and solid reasoned arguments that make sense with a historical preface to follow. Mmmh. So the roots of what we have today (in this argument) go back to the 50s and 60s. Looking back it does make sense.

I’m curious if perhaps a combination of this and Sam Stone’s hypothesis could possibly go hand in hand to describe how we got to today.

Yep. Say hello to The Arkansas Project.