John Yarmuth, Trey Grayson say everyone is to blame for harsh political rhetoric

01/24/2011 04:23 PM

(WITH VIDEO) LOUISVILLE — The media’s hunger for ratings, elected officials trying for memorable soundbites and the public’s willingness to tune in to inflammatory squawk-fests all deserve some blame for the current tone of political rhetoric, two leaders said Monday.

Soon-to-be former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, and Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, shared the stage with U of L political science professor Jasmine Farrier at a University of Louisville forum to discuss the current state of political discourse.

Yarmuth and Grayson, who is leaving Kentucky to lead the Harvard University Institute of Politics, both know U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman. Giffords was critically injured in the Jan. 15 shooting in Tucson that killed six people. The tragedy has touched off a debate the political climate — something Giffords mentioned in a message to Grayson the night before the shooting.

The panelists agreed that talk has been especially tough the last few election cycles.

But Farrier started her openings statement saying it wasn’t a new phenomenon. She read comments from a Yale University president in the early 1800s who wrote that if Thomas Jefferson were elected president, he would bring down religious institutions.

When forum moderate Mark Hebert of UofL asked who is responsible for the recent up-tick in heated rhetoric, Grayson pointed the finger at all parties involved.

Farrier and Yarmuth also said it has become financially rewarding for candidates from both parties to attack and vilify their opponents. Farrier said provoking emotional responses helps sells newspapers and advertising for news channels.

Yarmuth said many heated reactions from politicians helped them fundraise for re-election, meaning the heated rhetoric pays off.

Yarmuth also said he doesn’t believe his fellow lawmakers in Washington D.C. understand how to leave the heated political rhetoric on the campaign trail when it comes time for policy discussions in the Capitol. A majority don’t understand the difference and don’t try to understand the difference, Yarmuth said.

Grayson disagreed, saying he chooses to take a “glass half full approach.” The general public and elected officials know the difference between political and policy debates, he said.

But Farrier seemed to agree with Yarmuth, saying the average person can’t separate the differences between the two, confusing the general public.

So how does the situation improve? Voters should rely on different sources to be informed and not shy away from hearing perspectives that might challenge an individual’s own beliefs, they said.

-Video and reporting by Kenny Colston

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