I’m so old, I remember when it was taken as general wisdom that people don’t vote for angry candidates. I remember sitting in a crowded Belcourt Theater in 2006 and getting scolded by Harold Ford Jr. for being “too angry.” I remember Tweety and Bobo devoting vast amounts of airtime and column inches to concern-trolling about “the angry left.”
I’m so old, I remember this:
The latest example of the anger strategy came Sunday, when Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said on ABC that Clinton “seems to have a lot of anger.” He cited comments she made in Harlem on Martin Luther King Day in which she likened the Republican-led House to a “plantation” and called the Bush administration “one of the worst” in history.
Other examples of the anger strategy abound. Last summer, with chief White House political adviser Karl Rove under investigation in the CIA leak case, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, denounced Democrats’ criticism of Rove as “more of the same kind of anger and lashing out that has become the substitute for bipartisan action and progress.”
Last month, after Gore criticized the president for approving warrantless eavesdropping on terror suspects, Schmitt retorted: “While the president works to protect Americans from terrorists, Democrats deliver no solutions of their own, only diatribes laden with inaccuracies and anger.”
Bush himself touched on the anger theme in his recent State of the Union address, saying: “Our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger.”
Ah yes, those were the good ol’ days, I guess. Now we have Newt Gingrich exploding at debate moderators and three conservative Supreme Court justices so peevish about some perceived slight from last year that they boycotted the president’s State of the Union address. Last night President Obama struck an inspirational, motivational tone while his Republican detractors sat on their hands and scowled. Well, all except Mitch McConnell. I hope someone in the GOP remembered to pick up the wax figure they had sitting in McConnell’s place. I’m sure these rentals from Madame Tussaud’s ain’t cheap.
Over at Balloon Juice, mistermix has posted some similar thoughts, contrasting the optimism that Obama displayed with the glum, sour puss firmly attached to every Republican in Congress. If this strikes you as a bit of a double standard, well, what else is new? IOKIYAR rules our discourse.
But there’s a reason anger works for Republicans and not Democrats. Back in 2008, following Fred Thompson’s spectacular flameout, My Wingnut Friend told me he’d probably hold his nose and vote for John McCain. And then he pounded his fist on the table and said, “I just want someone who can kick some butt!” At whom, or what, he didn’t say. I think it goes without saying that it didn’t matter.
And this is your modern conservative voter in a nutshell. They want someone who embodies the inchoate rage they all feel at being wrong about everything since forever. There really isn’t any more to it than that. They’re angry because they can’t be racist, sexist, homophobic, hippie-punching, raghead-bombing troglodytes and not get called on it. They’re angry that they’ve lost. They’re angry that they’re culturally irrelevant, regardless of their political and material power. Their anger reflects a psychological problem, not a political one.
Newt Gingrich knows this, which is why he can “kick some butt!” at debate moderators and not suffer any negative consequences. My only question is why these things are never issues with the punditry unless Democrats are doing them. Why don’t we have Tweety and Bobo soberly musing about how Republicans are too angry to get elected? How come there’s no concern-trolling about what a turn-off this is to voters?
Maybe that will come as Newt continues to exceed expectations in the primaries. We shall see.