September 16, 2004
Blind AngerBy Thomas Lifson
Anger, the most toxic of emotions, has poisoned the American left and much of the Democratic Party. To the astonishment of many level—headed political professionals, the Kerry campaign is unable to let go of its charges that George Bush's Air National Guard service was deficient, even as CBS and Dan Rather become a national laughingstock for their airing of forged documents and inability to 'fess up. The public plainly isn't buying the notion that something which may or may not have happened thirty years ago is determinative of the worthiness of the sitting President and Commander—in—Chief to be re—elected.
Every day which passes focused on the Guard story is another day that Kerry makes no gains.
Blind rage is the only plausible explanation for the behavior of the Kerry campaign, and the behavior of Dan Rather and his CBS cohorts. Rather is so convinced of the underlying sheer evil of George W. Bush that he is now justifying the 'core truth' of his story based on forged documents.
"people who for their own partisan, political agendas can't deny the core truth of this story...and want to change the subject and make the story about me rather than have the story be about the unanswered questions about President Bush's military service."
Justifying lying in order to tell a greater truth is never an effective argument, all the more so when the person making the justification is in the news business. This is a blatant confession of being a propagandist, not a journalist. The hole Dan is digging just got a lot deeper.
Where does this derangement come from? In an article published the day of this website's debut, I offered a few thoughts on the origins and role of anger on the left. They seem to be equally relevant today. Excerpts follow.
The Democrats have built a mythology around the 2000 Presidential election, as Richard Baehr convincingly demonstrated. The energy generated by the resulting anger has been a prize sought by party officials and candidates alike. But like the thrill brought on by amphetamines or other nervous system stimulants, the short term surge comes at the cost of longer term damage to health.
Anger has become the fashionable political mood in America's faculty lounges, big city newsrooms, and Democratic political events.
Anger is a terrific motivator. Angry people contribute money, go to events, wear buttons, t—shirts, and funny hats, and readily slap bumper stickers on their Volvos, Beetles, mini—vans, and Lexuses. They enjoy meeting and spending time with others who are in tune with their particular emotional orientation. Some even find that sharing outrage can lead to sharing other passions, via computer dating services linked to the Dean campaign.
But anger has many drawbacks as the basis for an American political movement. Americans tend to favor optimism and a sunny disposition in their political leadership. Ours is a nation built on the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right granted us by our Creator. More than two hundred years after this right was articulated in the Declaration of Independence, Ronald Reagan won overwhelming electoral support running on the slogan 'Morning in America.'
Let the Balkan peoples define themselves by their ancient wrongs waiting to be avenged. Let clans like the Hatfields and McCoys in the hollows of West Virginia carry their grudges for generations. They are the curious exception to our general rule of concentrating on what we can become, rather than what our ancestors were. Americans take seriously their birthright, and would rather wipe the slate clean than nurture a collective grudge. Anger is like an acid which curdles the sweet mother's milk of happiness, whose pursuit is so much a part of our national character.
Of course, there are some who do choose to define themselves by their ancestors' tragedies, and whose vision of a world put right consists of extracting vengeance of some sort. Most prominently, the movement to collect reparations for slavery, payable 150 years later to the presumptive descendents of slaves, is being touted as a path to cosmic justice. But even its most fervent proponents do not foresee the public ever using the democratic process to enact a reparations law. Rather, litigation, giving the judiciary the opportunity to impose reparations on parties found somehow liable for the damages incurred in the past, is the primary tactic being employed.
Aside from its limited electoral appeal, anger is operationally a tricky, even dangerous force to harness. 'Blind anger' is a common expression precisely because anger tends to render its carriers insensible to the complexities and subtleties of their environment. Particularly when the angry gather together, their anger feeds on itself and multiplies its force. It is precisely for this reason that mobs are recognized as dangerous.
Even if the shared anger is nonviolent, it still is capable of blinding the angry to the probable reactions of others. Convinced of their utter righteousness, seriously angry political movements readily overplay the cards they are dealt. Haters of Bill Clinton learned the hard way that the middle/majority of Americans could not be mobilized to share their passion, even when they held an ace, in the form of their enemy's false testimony under oath.
Anger requires an object. There must be someone or some group at which the anger is directed. By its nature, therefore, anger divides people. If the object of the anger is external to the nation, then anger can unite a people, as it has such nations as the Greeks, Koreans, and Poles. But if the object is internal to a nation, then schism, a rejection of the 'we the people...' ethos, rears its head.
In George W. Bush, a large segment of the American intelligentsia has found an object wholly outside their framework of affection. People who obtained their status and income partially from the ability to speak articulately, and master a body of learning, find it troubling when one who gives no evidence of even caring about reading books and newspapers, or developing a large vocabulary of eloquently—spoken words, rises above them in status. It is an insult to the personal values they have embraced, and on whose rightness their own sense of self—worth depends.
Even worse, George W. Bush shows no shame or guilt in his character. Rather than embrace his insecurities, and embark on a lifelong path of searching for relief via the therapeutic talking cures so common to the urban educated classes, George W. Bush embraced Jesus Christ, and appears to have been done with his personal demons — no more drinking, no more rebellious streak, no more troubling doubts.
George W. Bush incarnates a rejection of the very values, beliefs, skills, style, and psychology by which large numbers of America's educated class define themselves. Their self—concept is violated by his actions, his manner, his attitudes, and especially by his triumphs. If he is correct, then they are terribly, terribly wrong.
Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist by training and former practice, has coined the term 'Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS)' to be an affliction quite common today. He defines it as 'the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency —— nay —— the very existence of George W. Bush.' Dr. Krauthammer is better situated than I to diagnose paranoia as an outcome of rage at George W. Bush. But it is consistent with the behavior of other groups which have been animated by anger.
Paranoia is rarely the basis for successful political action. Reading far too much into the actions of their opponents, the paranoiacs dissipate their resources fighting unnecessary battles. Their readiness to assume others are against them creates enemies where neutrals or even friendlies are present. Paranoia is quite simply dysfunctional.