Politics has long been a dirty business but many say the growth of the Internet and increase of web sites that deal with politics have turned political debate into a trash-talking free-for-all.
News web sites, including Capitol Hill Blue, have struggled to find a balance between encouraging open discussion of political issues and controlling the increase in invective that threatens to take over political debate.
Political discussion boards have become hotbeds of insults, threats, anger and hate.
Writes John Wildermuch of The San Francisco Chronicle:
As president of Antioch’s Chamber of Commerce, Devi Lanphere often represents the business community in front of the City Council. But last fall, when she stood up at a meeting and announced the chamber’s support for expansion of a Wal-Mart store, she was flayed by opponents.
“One person stood up and called me a whore because I supported Wal-Mart,” she said. “I’ve never heard anything like that.”
Lanphere blamed the increasing public nastiness on an Internet culture that values instant response.
“People can say whatever they want anonymously (on the Internet),” she said. “Now they’re saying those things in front of microphones at public meetings. … Before, people would call names but know it was inappropriate. Now it’s not.”
Harsh personal attacks are a mainstay of the highly partisan political blogs that are rapidly moving beyond the Internet and are becoming an increasingly important part of the country’s political scene.
Markos Moulitsas founded his Daily Kos blog (www.dailykos.com) in 2002 and has seen it become a center for progressive Democratic politics. It gets 20 million hits a month, and when the bloggers who use the site speak, party leaders listen.
But when President Bush announced this week that he would veto a bill to allow federal funding for expanded stem-cell research, not every response to the report on the blog was a reasoned one.
“I will spit on his grave,” announced one blogger, while another said he wanted to see Bush “crash his car in a drunken stupor” the day after he left office so he could be paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair and left in constant pain.
On the Republican side, bloggers have called Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a lesbian and suggested that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have murdered several of their political opponents.
Attacks that not so long ago would have brought gasps of dismay now cause laughter and applause.