The Politics of Anger on the Left

America's Left and the political party it calls home, the Democrats, have been seized by anger ever since the disputes of the 2000 presidential election, with its razor—thin margin, judicial intervention called forth by Gore, and the ultimate victory for President Bush.

Intoxicated by the endocrine -- like jolts of energy -- the Left has become addicted to anger.

The Left has been self-administering a daily dose of derision, bile, and venom in an effort to keep its energy levels high in the face of a continued Republican hold on the presidency and Congressional majorities. But these are dangerous drugs. Whatever satisfying kick they provide, the side effects are so serious as to threaten the survival of the organism itself.

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.
Presumably Cohen writes to warn his ideological brethren of the dangers and possibly deflect or diminish the anger. This will not work. Anger is a self-reinforcing addiction when it is shared with others in the same community. 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 Priuses, Volvos, Beetles, mini-vans, and Lexuses. They enjoy meeting and spending time with others who are in tune with their particular emotional orientation.

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.

His open Christian faith is an affront to their pretentious embrace of denatured religion, agnosticism or atheism. That such a man should be the head of state for the political entity they regard as the vehicle for transformation of humanity is both profoundly embarrassing and infuriating to them.

The energy generated by the resulting anger intoxicates those who have no solace in the ability to command others to conform to their vision, lacking access to the instruments of state power. 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.

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.'

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.

The current decade sees the Democrat Left even more dominated by anger than conservatives ever were in the 90's. When Nancy Pelosi promises investigations of Bush, should voters hand a House majority to her party, she may energize her adherents, but she also alienates the swing voters who will determine that majority. As Charles Krauthammer (creator of the Bush Derangement Syndrome diagnosis) noted yesterday on Special Report with Brit Hume, they are in essence promising voters that they will make sure that Bush goes down in history as a failed president.

The appeal of such a promise is minimal, even when the stakes are 'only' national prosperity and domestic policy. When the nation is at war with an enemy that seeks our destruction, the promise becomes a mutual suicide pact, a platform with extremely limited appeal.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of The American Thinker.