TCS Daily

The Politics of Rage

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - November 7, 2003 12:00 AM

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 Underground."


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.


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