The Politics of Anger on the Left
Intoxicated by the endocrine -- like jolts of energy -- the Left has become addicted to anger.
The toxicity has become so potent that some of the cooler heads on the Left are starting to notice. Richard Cohen, writing in his Washington Post column today, describes his email, traffic after a mildly critical reference to Stephen Colbert's unfunny performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner:
It seemed that most of my correspondents had been egged on to write me by various blogs. In response, they smartly assembled into a digital lynch mob and went roaring after me. If I did not like Colbert, I must like Bush. If I write for The Post, I must be a mainstream media warmonger. If I was over a certain age -- which I am -- I am simply out of it, wherever "it" may be. All in all, I was -- I am, and I guess I remain -- the worthy object of ignorant, false and downright idiotic vituperation. [....]But the message in this case truly is the medium. The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.
The hatred is back. I know it's only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations.
And President Bush, by his very persona, triggers the very wellsprings of anger and resentment on the part of the secular fundamentalists who dominate the contemporary Left. A large segment of the American intelligentsia and its hangers-on 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 does not flaunt his reading of books and newspapers and does not wield 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.
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.