The Politics of Anger

Have you heard? The Tea Party is angry. America is angry. Anger is the watchword of the election season. When pundits wax eloquent, they speak of this ire with reverent awe. When commentators comment, they seem to be squeezing themselves with delight every time they mention voter rage.

Is anyone but me completely puzzled by this reverence for anger? Since when did anger ever amount to a political position? Since when did we start thinking of anger as a plank in a political platform.

Where I come from, anger is something that we try to avoid. In my family, when one of us gets angry, the next step is apology. There's nothing you can say in anger that you also can't say in more measured tones. Most of us recognize that when we get angry we have "lost it." What is the "it" that we have lost? We've lost our cool, our rationality, a concern for the other, and a general sense of decency. In life we don't respect habitually enraged people. We might even suggest "anger management" as a solution to a perennial sorehead.

Of course there is a place for anger in relationships and even in politics. But anger is not a permanent state of being in either, nor should it be. Isn't politics the art of the practical and the possible. Government involves compromise and alliance. In the old days, politicians used to make strange bedfellows -- nowadays, as in a marriage gone bad, they don't even get into bed together anymore.

If you look at what the Tea Party is angry about, it's out-of-control spending and big government doing the spending. They want to "take back their country," and they are angry as hell about it. OK, so when the anger cools, you have to ask. How do you balance the budget? What programs and entitlements do you want to cut? From whom are you taking the government back? In other words, once your anger has cooled and you've stopped yelling at your wife, your friend, or your country, what follows?

Obviously, what needs to be done is to create more jobs and jump-start the economy. And how do we do that once we've stopped yelling? Then you have to get into the complex and rational business of analyzing which economic ideas work and which don't, which approaches have the best track records, which experts to allow into the White House, and so on. All of these are knotty questions that require cool heads and very rational approaches.

But the Tea Party members are like drivers with road rage. Every one else is wrong, but once your anger dies, you're just another driver on the freeway. What ennobles you and makes you feel that only you know how to drive is the beeping horn, the finger thrust out the window, and the yelled expletive. Voter rage is not something to be cultivated in a democracy, because we all know that ironically road rage causes accidents, it doesn't prevent them. And voter rage, while all the rage now, can easily cause a huge accident come Election Day and beyond.