We’re Not Angry, Dammit

One of the more maddening conceits of the Right is that righties are temperate and reasonable while lefties are a quivering mass of inchoate rage. George Will, master of smug obliviousness, today writes that “Americans” are “infatuated with anger,” but somehow in Will World that anger is mostly on the Left.

There are the tantrums — sometimes both theatrical and perfunctory — of talking heads on television or commentators writing in vitriol (Paul Krugman’s incessant contempt, Ann Coulter’s equally constant loathing). There is road rage (and parking lot rage when the Whole Foods Market parking lot is congested with expressive individualists driving Volvos and Priuses). The blogosphere often is, as one blogger joyfully says, “an electronic primal scream.” And everywhere there is the histrionic fury of ordinary people venting in everyday conversations.

Krugman the equivalent of Coulter? Please. And I like the touch about road rage among Volvo owners in the Whole Foods parking lot. I did a news google for “road rage”; one of the first incidents that came up involved two Arizona guys driving pickup trucks.

Will continues,

Perhaps this should not be surprising, now that Americans are inclined to elect presidents who advertise their emotions — “I feel your pain.” As the late Mary McGrory wrote, Bill Clinton “is a child of his age; he believes more in the thrust-out lower lip than the stiff upper one.”

It never occurred to me before that empathy is a form of anger.

In his column Will quotes an anthropologist named Peter Wood. Wood, who also writes for such bipartisan publications as National Review and FrontPage, is the author of the recently published A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. Here’s a review by Glenn C. Altschuler in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Unfortunately, Wood’s partisan preoccupations mar his ability to understand the origins, nature, and significance of the New Anger. His right-wing prism imprisons. He does not follow the evidence wherever it takes him. And so, A Bee in the Mouth deserves to be derided as a cri de Coors that Scaife-goats the 1960s and Bush-whacks ideological adversaries.

Wood insists that the “New Anger tends more to the political left than the political right.” He believes that once-angry conservative white males have turned their attention “to Home Depot and bass fishing.” For Americans now, “the primary image of anger” is Howard Dean, Al Gore, or a millionaire rapper. And the “leftist anger group” MoveOn.org. But not Tom DeLay, Pat Robertson or the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Those who believe that anger is caused by secularists, proponents of identity politics, and taboos against the politically incorrect “offer genuine insights.” Wood seems rather unconcerned about angry racists, homophobes, violent opponents of abortion, and civil-liberties-suppressing “super-patriots.”

In popular culture, Wood deems Bob Dylan’s protest songs “a kind of memo” to angri-culture, dividing the world into “weak good guys and powerful creeps.” But country music’s anger at a cultural elite that “proclaims its open-mindedness while simultaneously expressing contempt for traditional values” is “warranted.” Wood acknowledges, grudgingly, that right-wing anger dominates talk radio. But he focuses on Howard Stern and Don Imus, who are not conservatives, proclaims Rush Limbaugh a master of “comic tone and timing” who is not himself angry, and says nothing at all about Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and Neal Boortz.

I’d dismiss Wood as a partisan hack, but I fear that would make me sound angry.

Update: See also Gary Boyd of North Carolina Mountain Dreams. (The photo makes me homesick, btw.)

Update update: Speaking of righties being angry


The arrest of 15 British sailors by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is a worrisome development. The immediate concern is for the safety and well-being of the sailors, of course. Let us also hope that the sailors are released before tensions escalate and push nations closer to war.

Captain Ed notes that Iran’s trying the sailors for espionage would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions. You remember the Geneva Conventions — they’re some old treaties that Alberto Gonzales thinks are “obsolete” and even “quaint.”

Over the next few days expect Britain and Iran to haggle over whether the sailors were in Iranian waters or not. The Iranians claim to have evidence the sailors deliberately entered Iranian waters. The Brits say the sailors were “miles” inside Iraqi waters. An Iraqi fisherman who claims to have seen the capture says the Brits were on the Iraqi side of the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

The British sailor episode bears a resemblance to the U2 Incident. For the young folks: In May 1960 the Soviet Union shot down a U.S. U2 spy plane that had entered Soviet air space. President Eisenhower at first denied the plane and the pilot were engaged in espionage; he insisted that if the plane had been in Soviet air space, perhaps the pilot was lost. But the Soviets had the pilot, Gary Powers, in custody, and they had film taken with camera equipment installed on the plane, and eventually Eisenhower was forced to admit that, yes, the plane had been on an espionage mission. The Soviets tried and convicted Powers of espionage; he was imprisoned for two years, then swapped for a Soviet spy in February 1962. The U2 Incident contributed to an escalation of tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Then we had leaders who really didn’t want to go to war. As Glenn Greenwald documents, we are not so fortunate now. And compared to current Iranian leadership, Nikita Khrushchev seems almost reasonable. Bad times.