The Politics of Rage

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Jeffrey C. Dege

Nov 10, 2003, 11:36:49 PM11/10/03

The Politics of Rage
By Pejman Yousefzadeh Published 11/07/2003

Some time ago, TCS contributor Megan McArdle, writing as the pseudonymous
"Jane Galt" on her blog, came up with "Jane's Law." The law states the
following: "The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The
devotees of the party out of power are insane." Let's focus on the
insanity part for a little bit.

In analyzing this year's gubernatorial race in Kentucky, Tapped, the
blog for the liberal magazine The American Prospect, stated that the
race was a great test case for whether Bush-bashing could potentially
work as an electoral strategy for the Democrats in the 2004 election
cycle. Tapped approved of Bush-bashing, and hoped that it would indeed
be vindicated. The politics of rage are now in vogue on the political
Left, with candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination trying
to outdo one another in an effort to prove their dislike of the Bush
Administration, and of Republicans in general.

But the Left must be sorely disappointed. For the first time in over
35 years, Republicans have taken the Governor's Mansion in Kentucky in
the elections this past Tuesday, as well as winning the governor's race
in Mississippi. Republican candidate Bobby Jindal is running strong for
Governor of Louisiana, which will hold its runoff election on November
15th. And of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to oust Gray Davis in
the recall election in heavily Democratic California by a healthy margin.

Given these losses and the losses in 2002, there are calls for the
Democrats to re-examine their tactics. For example, open-source guru
Eric Raymond said this week in the wake of Tuesday's elections:

The most important message the voters delivered yesterday is that
running against George Bush is a fast road to failure. Where Republican
candidates successfully tied themselves to national issues and ran on
a boost-Bush platform (as in Kentucky and Mississippi) they won. Only
where the Democrats were able to divert attention to local issues (like
the FBI bug in Philadelphia Mayor Street's office) did they succeed.

U.S. troops out of Iraq? Jobless recovery? War for oil? Tax cuts?
Halliburton? All these favored taglines of the anti-Bush crowd got
no traction at all. Zero. Zip. Nada. There is no evidence that they
helped and some inferential evidence in the poll numbers that they
hurt. The Democratic incumbent in Mississippi knew this was a'comin'
- he actually worked at keeping Bill Clinton and the whole gaggle
of Democratic presidential candidates out of his state. This didn't
save him.

Nevertheless, rage appears to be increasing on the Left. Andrew Sullivan
found the following post at a political chat site called "Democratic

I Hope the Bloodshed Continues in Iraq

Well, that should bring the bats out of the attic with fangs
dripping. I won't be hypocritcal [sic]. It is politically correct,
particularly in any Dem discussion to hope and pray and feel for our
troops and scream "bring them back now". I'm fighting something bigger.

I'm a 58 year old broad and I can tell you that what is going on in
our country isn't the usual ebb and flow of politics where one party
is in power and then another; where the economy goes through ups and
downs.......yawn, yawn - just wait a bit and things will turn out
peachy keen. That stupid la-la land is over.

I realize that not every GI Joe was 100peeercent [sic] behind
Prseeedent [sic] Booosh [sic] going into this war; but I do know
that that is what an overwhelming number of them and their famlies
[sic] screamed in the face of protesters who were trying to protect
these kids. Well, there is more than one way to be "dead" for your
country. They are not only not accompishing [sic] squat in Iraq,
they are doing crap nothing for the safety, defense of the US of A
over there directly. But "indirectly" they are doing a lot.

The only way to get rid of this slime bag WASP-Mafia, oil barron
[sic] ridden cartel of a government, this assault on Americans and
anything one could laughingly call "a democracy", relies heavily
on what a shit hole Iraq turns into. They need to die so that we
can be free. Soldiers usually did that directly - i.e., fight those
invading and harming a country. This time they need to die in defense
of a lie from a lying adminstration [sic] to show these ignorant,
dumb Americans that Bush is incompetent. They need to die so that
Americans get rid of this deadly scum. It is obscene, Barbie Bush,
how other sons (of much nobler blood) have to die to save us from
your Rosemary's Baby spawn and his ungodly cohorts.

Democratic Underground deleted the thread that contained this comment,
but not before blogger Stephen Green was able to collect some reactions
from other commenters - none of which condemned the writer of the above
post for wishing death on American soldiers merely for partisan purposes.

Now consider the following post on the official blog of the Democratic
National Committee:

Morning all. It occured to me that all the bump that Bush got late
last week from the economic figure went up in flames yesterday with
that helicopter.

"That helicopter" was the Chinook helicopter carrying U.S. military
service personnel that was shot down on Sunday, November 2nd, killing 16.

Think these comments were out of the ordinary? Well, obviously, you
haven't read the now infamous column by The New Republic's Jonathan Chait:

I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his
policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And,
while I'm tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him
for less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he
has come to his economic and political achievements and his utter
lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at
having done so. His favorite answer to the question of nepotism -
"I inherited half my father's friends and all his enemies" - conveys
the laughable implication that his birth bestowed more disadvantage
than advantage. He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school
- the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday
and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks -
shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy
feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks - blustery self-assurance
masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that
everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing
- a way to establish one's social superiority beneath a veneer
of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a nickname without his
consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him,
I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him
even more.

And finally, consider this story, stating that the Democratic minority
on the Senate Intelligence Committee - a committee that traditionally
eschews partisanship of any kind given its considerable national
security responsibilities - wishes to make the investigation
of prewar intelligence a thoroughly partisan affair. (The memo
describing the Democrats' ostensible plans can be found here: Ranking
minority member Senator Jay Rockefeller denied that the memo was approved,
and claimed that it was "likely taken from a waste basket or through
unauthorized computer access."

Commenting on the story, blogger Steven Den Beste compares the
separation of partisan politics from national security in the past,
with the increasing politicization of national security issues today -
a politicization that is typified by this latest story. Those who believe
that politics should not trump national security concerns will likely
be dismayed by the bracing and negative conclusions reached by Den Beste.

It may eventually be necessary to examine the first part of "Jane's
Law" - the part about the devotees of the party in power being smug
and arrogant. But right now, that is less of a problem than the insanity
that is driving much of today's politics - an insanity that appears to
be doing nothing to help the electoral prospects of the party out of
power. Behold the harvest of the politics of rage: Failure at the polls
for the enraged, and failure on the part of all sides to make progress
on substantive issues, thanks to over-the-top partisan fervor.

There exists a law, not written down anywhere, but inborn in our hearts;
a law which comes to us not by training or custom or reading but by
derivation and absorption and adoption from nature itself; a law which
has come to us not from theory but from practice, not by instruction but
by natural intuition. I refer to the law which lays it down that, if our
lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any
and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right. When weapons
reduce them to silence, the laws no longer expect one to wait their
pronouncements. For people who decide to wait for these will have to wait
for justice, too - and meanwhile they must suffer injustice first. Indeed,
even the wisdom of a law itself, by sort of tacit implication, permits
self-defense, because it is not actually forbidden to kill; what it
does, instead, is to forbid the bearing of a weapon with the intention
to kill. When, therefore, inquiry passes on the mere question of the
weapon and starts to consider the motive, a man who is used arms in
self-defense is not regard is having carried with a homicidal aim.

--Marcus Tulius Cicero, 106-53 BC

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