Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Voters are Angry: Part III

Excuse me for bringing up Newt Gingrich again--I hate to admit that he is saying anything relevant to our current political situation--but I note that Gingrich is now going around promoting an anti-Islamic movie, and saying that we need a federal statute banning judges from relying upon Shariah law, as if this were one of the most pressing problems facing our nation.  Gingrich is only one of the voices stirring up fear of Islam, which has also been manifested in anti-mosque demonstrations in New York and elsewhere.  Somehow we were able to keep a lid on anti-Muslim hysteria during the Bush presidency, and maybe Bush deserves some credit for that, but unfortunately this form of hate and fear has been creeping out into the mainstream recently.

It almost makes me miss the good old Cold War days when we had an enemy worthy of us, in the form of the international Communist movement, a powerful threat that united the country in opposition.  Today we have no adversary that can threaten us in the same existential way, which may in itself be a reason for public frustration and anger.  Instead of stirring up fears of the Soviet Union's plans to annihilate us, many of the angriest Americans we see marching on Washington now reserve their hatred for gays or immigrants or Muslims or liberals.  They are making enemies of their fellow citizens.  That we now have a president named Barack Hussein Obama obviously serves as a lightning rod for their divisive message.  It has been some time since we could call ourselves--if we ever should or could have--a white, Christian nation.  Many people seem unable to reconcile themselves to that fact.  I get angry too when I hear some of these people talking about taking their country back.  Who do they think they are they taking it back from?  All of the anger, by the way, is not just coming from the right.  Some of the angriest voices you hear these days are from Obama supporters who believe the administration has sold out to corporate and military interests, and conceded too much to conservatives.  Zealous partisans on both the left and the right don't want to give anyone on the other side a seat at the table.  Does that mean we don't really believe in democracy?  Or that most of us continue to view politics, and life, as a struggle in which one party's gains must come at another party's expense?

My biggest disappointment with the Obama era so far is that instead of approaching our national problems with a cooperative spirit, as was promised during the 2008 campaign, we seem more polarized than ever.  I do not blame Obama for this, because the president seems to be one of the few still preaching that we should put aside red and blue, black and white, right and left, us and them, and start thinking about all of us being in the same boat.  I blame us for being unable or unwilling to accept this message.  It is not so easy for us to overcome our instinctual combative drives.   Viewing the world in us vs. them terms may be hard-wired into our DNA.  We seem to need enemies, foreign or domestic.  We think that we cannot win unless somebody else loses.  Maybe we should not have been surprised that after electing a president whose whole platform was built around commonality and unification, people have rebelled against that very vision.

This election season, the media can be counted on to keep us focused on which party is going to win, and which party is going to lose.  Appealing to the voters' competitive instincts is also probably the best way for each parties' candidates to get their supporters fired up.  But it might be more constructive to look at the election as a test of the extent voters will respond to negative messages of hate and fear, as opposed to positive messages of hope and change.  The loudest voices we are hearing now are of course the angry ones.  My hope, however, is that voters will tune out negative campaign ads, and turn away from candidates who appeal to hate and fear, and that quieter voices will prevail in the voting booth.


  1. Nobody is stirring up anybody. There is a very ancient reservoir of paranoia in the American political genome, that is usually held in check by the population at large. Every now and then, the deterrence of the majority is diminished through exhaustion. Witness the red scares after World Wars I and II, the kookiness of both left and right during the height of the Vietnam war. Right now we have a political center that is demoralized by the financial crisis and our inability to get out of it. So the idiots have taken center stage. Roosevelt had it too, during the Depression, but unlike Obama he had command of the airwaves and the willingness to go toe-to-toe with his adversaries (in fact he relished it). Gingrich is not leading the charge on any of this craziness. He is simply tapping into it and giving voice to the otherwise uncommunicated paranoia, sort of playing BP to the crude thoughts of the crazy 20% that has always lived here among us.

  2. So I guess in January of 2009 when President Obama was questioned about his stimulus package and he replied: "I won. So I think on that one, I trump you" he was being bi-partisan?

  3. Thanks for more insightful sharing, Joe.

    I really like the tone of your blog. Obama was very good today (at town hall) in face of some tough Qs. I feel for him. I do hope there is movement on the left to recognize.

    Clinton failed to recognize national sentiment 16 years ago when he campaigned against the contract on america. The result was the first Republican congress in 40 years. Prescious little time remains. Every unfair attack on middle america (from left or right) strengthens their conviction. Key: unfair attacks. As we all know, the loudest are often the most extreme. It's not fair to cast 'whatever the tea party is' as extreme. The philosophy is not extreme -- even if some labeling themselves as follwers, are. Progressives as a whole are not extreme, even if some of those who call themselves Progressive are. Christians (insert Muslims, Jews, etc) are not extreme, even if some calling themselves Christian are.

    The browning of america is a fact. Nobody of meaningful significance is resisting that. If any of us know people like that, seek to share thoughts the more enlightended because the closed minded are a waste of time and will wear themselves out. Obama is no more white or black that half of my extended nieces and nephews and I am Irish. Move on!

    "If you want to sing out, sing out". "If you want to be me, be me." If you want to be you, be you". "But there's a million things to be". "You know that there are".

    Neither the left and right have to be correct to be in power. Just be fair and understand the centrist. We will try and follow your leads. But somebody(s) better lead because Obama needs help from his own party. This poor guy is getting killed.

  4. Zoe Lofgren = one more reason why voters (both sides) are angry. Oh my.