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.
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, Woodâ€™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 â€œNew Anger tends more to the political left than the political right.â€ He believes that once-angry conservative white males have turned their attention â€œto Home Depot and bass fishing.â€ For Americans now, â€œthe primary image of angerâ€ is Howard Dean, Al Gore, or a millionaire rapper. And the â€œleftist anger groupâ€ 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 â€œoffer genuine insights.â€ Wood seems rather unconcerned about angry racists, homophobes, violent opponents of abortion, and civil-liberties-suppressing â€œsuper-patriots.â€
In popular culture, Wood deems Bob Dylanâ€™s protest songs â€œa kind of memoâ€ to angri-culture, dividing the world into â€œweak good guys and powerful creeps.â€ But country musicâ€™s anger at a cultural elite that â€œproclaims its open-mindedness while simultaneously expressing contempt for traditional valuesâ€ is â€œwarranted.â€ 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 â€œcomic tone and timingâ€ who is not himself angry, and says nothing at all about Ann Coulter, Bill Oâ€™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 …