Cleaver: Toxic rhetoric is celebrated in Washington
January 10th, 2011
07:22 PM ET
12 years ago

Cleaver: Toxic rhetoric is celebrated in Washington

Washington (CNN) – Some Democrats are not so subtly using the tragedy in Arizona to point fingers at Republicans for stoking inflammatory political rhetoric, but Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver says there is blame on both sides.

"We have Democrats saying dumb things every single day, and Republicans as well," said Cleaver.

Cleaver, the new Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is also a Methodist minister and delivered a short prayer on the steps of the Capitol Monday for hundreds gathered for a moment of silence to mark the Arizona tragedy.

"Hopefully this is a transformative moment," the Missouri Democrat told CNN later in an interview.

"If it isn't, it should be. Whether the shooter was inspired by speech or not to do his dastardly deeds is irrelevant. The truth of the matter is the tone is toxic here in Washington, and we have been exporting it around the country," he said.

Cleaver said he sees "every day" examples of colleagues applauding each other for saying toxic things.

"Your colleagues pat you on the back and say 'boy that was good, you called him, you called her, such a good name' and that's celebrated," recounted Cleaver.

"If you really are nasty to somebody and if you had a hidden microphone, you could hear people are saying, it's like, 'good job' and we've got to stop it," he said.

Cleaver suggested it is time for a government watchdog group to focus its energy strictly on civility.

"They would somehow rank us on the basis of our civility because nothing is going to be done here, with all the issues facing us, until we become more civil," said Cleaver.

He also admonished his colleagues for pointing fingers about hostile rhetoric elsewhere.

"We can't blame talk radio or anyone else. We are the band, the president is the orchestra director and we can't blame people for picking up a bad tune. We've got to stand up and declare that the 112th congress has a clean slate. Whether it's defiled or not is up to each member of Congress," he said.

Filed under: Arizona • Congressional Black Caucus • Democrats • Republicans
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Cindy

    There has been "no remorse" expressed by the obvious instigators... only finger pointing back, only aggressive-defensive responses. Nothing will change.

    January 10, 2011 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  2. Leslie

    Finally, someone who admits that both sides need to practice plain and simple good manners and civility! Whichever side of the aisle one is on, how about working FOR the people of this country instead of AGAINST each other??

    January 10, 2011 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  3. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Crosshairs, don't retreat, reload, guns and asault weapons carried to political rallies, nooses and posters displaying lynches, let's kill Obama being shouted out at political rallies and politician, that being Palin, never opposed, radio talk show personalities screaming the country is becoming socialist, the President is a Muslim, I could go on and on but you've heard it all. I've always blogged this political atmosphere is dangerous to the country and our children and now an innocent child is dead as well as others killed or seriously wounded. We could have and should have stopped this sick mess because it will happen again and I pray, not my family or yours.

    January 10, 2011 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  4. Joan

    Finally...FINALLY !!!!!!! A voice of reason and civility. Hopefully other elected officials in Washington will follow the leadership of Rep. Cleaver. He has set exactly the right tone that we all need to hear right now.

    January 10, 2011 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  5. I voted for neither

    What can you say except he's right? Both parties scream at each other like children on the playground. If you go against the liberal agenda, you're racist. If you go against the conservative agenda, you're socialist. Maybe now people will start to grow up and act their age.

    January 10, 2011 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  6. usualone

    It is easy to see why Democrats would take this tactic of pointing fingers at Republicans. What does Ms. Palin think it means when she uses cross hairs in her comments. Just listening to the inflamatory comments of Glenn Beck also prompts such illustrations by the Democrats. These are just two examples of folk who go beyond the norm to inflame their constituents. There are consequences for their actions, especially since there are too many people out there who are unstable and tend to take these types seriously. I really don't see too many, if any, Democrats stirring the waters as these two do and now there are resulting actions of sick folk who irrationally accept the tone of the Palins, Limbaughs, and Becks of this world who are aligned with the Republican Party.

    January 10, 2011 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  7. Dave

    So the Democrats politicize this ragedy with false accusations of this person being a right wing nut and then say BOTH sides ned to tone it down?

    You wonder why you lose most elections when the truth comes out

    January 10, 2011 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  8. Josiah

    I agree with Congressman Cleaver. I myself am a conservative, but I don't think being a liberal is a bad thing. I am, however, also someone who realizes both sides of the aisle have talked about this sort of thing before. All the same, I particularly like that the Congressman said "whether it's defiled or not is up to each member of Congress." I may be a used to hearing it, but I still myself wanting to believe.

    January 10, 2011 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  9. karen from charlottesville

    I respect his reasonable nature but the fact of the matter is that 10 of the people on Sarah's "hit list" have had death threats against them.

    January 10, 2011 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  10. Debra

    Well said,Congressman Cleaver.

    January 10, 2011 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    Nothing the media loves more than false keeps the controversy alive by preventing one side or the other from being objectively analyzed and called out for what it has done.

    January 10, 2011 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  12. Four And The Door

    This is an interesting comment coming from a Democratic Congressman. But regardless, he is absolutely correct.

    But here is what we have seen recently. When Obama invited the Republicans in the Lame Duck congress to work with him on a few bills, he found that they can be a great ally. Let's hope he continues this approach and we can see both party's getting things done. It will be better for them and for the country.

    January 10, 2011 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  13. L.P

    I agree with Clever, we have a serious problem; we've all lost respect for each other and for some reason that's been ok. We have called each other names (usually people you don't know) and bashed them for one thing or another. This all over politics?? Ridiculous. Our words quickly end up being insults and slurs when we can't think of our arguments fast enough. They're all to blame and so are we for allowing ourselves to be drawn in. Now is the time to try to pull it together and stop such hateful words, we've found out time and time again that they do damage.

    January 10, 2011 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  14. DAVE

    nothing is going to change as long as american voters support this kind of hate politics. many voters let the right wing and left wing talking heads supported by the news media to shape the kind of people who run for public office. if you don't kiss up to the news medias kind of measuring stick of only right wing and left wing talking head WINGNUTS view of what a person running for office should say and support than this is the out come we get like sat morning. the voters themselves are some of the reason that washington is come to be what it is because they make up their minds by the kind of crap news media that fans the flames of hate in politics and not facts just for the ratings they get which keeps them in business. money for the most part drives the voters in their choices from the sound bits they hear paid for during an election. people called kennedy"s communist and martin luther king an unamerican left wing communist! that kind of hate talk took three of these mens lives away from them. most but not all of this hate talk is coming from the right. palin herself had representitive gifford on the internet with cross hairs over her picture saying that she was a target to be taken out during the last election! how do you feel now ms. palin?

    January 10, 2011 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  15. oldload

    The extremists feed on each other. It doesn't matter which side. I can go to one website and say Limbaugh and hate, vitriol and venom will flow. I go to another and say Behar and hate, vitriol and venom will flow. Civility is what has been lost in this country. Respect is gone. Morality is the base and is rapidly drying up. I think we have a generation of disinterested adults with their 20 something kids that were raised by TV sets to blame. It's sad and it will take a generation to fix if we can. Culture change is the hardest change to make.

    January 10, 2011 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  16. Philip Chen

    While I understand the Congressman's point that civility needs to reenter the public forum, I respectfully submit that the hate-filled, violence loaded imagery of recent years goes way beyond the pale. It is not simply calling someone a name that should be addressed, but it is holding the ones who use weaponry-filled rhetoric accountable for the consequences of their words.

    January 10, 2011 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  17. getoutofmypocket

    The only voice of truth that I have heard coming out of Washington. Thank you, Congressman Cleaver. Please continue to speak because yours is the only voice of reason representing all sides at this time. And, everyone there voice to be represented is what causes all the angry discourse. There is certainly no one news channel that represents everyone. And, you are right in your analogy that Washington is the band and the President is the orchestra conductor.

    January 10, 2011 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  18. Jason B.

    Well said Rep. Cleaver. There's acid being thrown by both sides of the aisle. Most people will hear it and tune it out. But too many people are hearing it and taking drastic actions, whether it be acting out in a violent manner or letting that acid fuel their own hatred and vomiting out even more hateful words.

    It's high time for ALL Congressmen and women to grow up and act like adults.

    January 10, 2011 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |