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

31 thoughts on “We’re Not Angry, Dammit

  1. I read Will’s column in our paper today, which was very difficult because my eyes kept rolling so far back into my head that I could see the roots of my hair.

    Seriously, what a dork.

  2. I don’t plan to read any more of Will’s column than what is in the blog. He doesn’t deserve that much attention. First, I don’t know how he can see any thing clearly from the Ivory Tower he lives in these days. There may have been a time in the beginning of his career that he was more like the rest of us who work hard for a living; but, not now. Also, I don’t understand his anger with the 60s, As some one born in 1945, I remember the 50s and 60s very well; and, I believe the 60s were a decade that showed the Country’s greatness. The 60s involved the Civil Rights movement and the women’s movement. The 60s exposed that the idyllic lives every one thought they had in the 50s did not really exist. I do believe that the only people who, like Will, thought the 60s were horrible are men. The 60s exposed the Leave-It-To-Beaver families had dark secrets, such as spouses being beat up on a regular basis, children being molested by family members, etc. Women were nothing more than extensions of their husbands. They weren’t Mrs. Jane Doe, they were Mrs. John Doe and weren’t allowed individual identities. Along with making many more lives better, the 60s were about peace and love–maybe sometimes taken to the extreme; but, most was important. And, Bob Dylan’s protest songs angry? The music expressed that there were problems in a very beautiful and very simple way. What is so angry about “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It is almost more relevant today than yesterday.

    I am frustrated with seeing people who used to be able to be active members of the reality-based community who no longer are; but, I am not angry. Also, I don’t hate Bush–never have. I don’t like him very much; but that is not hate. I think he is a very sad man and probably deserves to be pitied more than anything. Still, we all should be angry with they way Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the gang have tried to destroy this country. And, as far as I can see there is nothing wrong with this anger. But, Will doesn’t live in the same world we live in.

    Road rage I believe exists because of people driving around listening to right wing hate-mongering radio. If one were to do a serious study of road rage, I would bet that it would be found to have started occurring after the beginning of talk radio.

    Well, I have more thoughts on this; but, have some chores to take care of. I just want to leave you all with some words from those angry protest songs of Bob Dylan:

    Blowin’ In the Wind
    How many roads must a man walk down
    Before you call him a man?
    Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail
    Before she sleeps in the sand?
    Yes, n how many times must the cannon balls fly
    Before theyre forever banned?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
    The answer is blowin in the wind.

    How many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the sky?
    Yes, n how many ears must one man have
    Before he can hear people cry?
    Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows
    That too many people have died?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
    The answer is blowin in the wind.

    How many years can a mountain exist
    Before its washed to the sea?
    Yes, n how many years can some people exist
    Before theyre allowed to be free?
    Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,
    Pretending he just doesnt see?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
    The answer is blowin in the wind.

  3. George Will’s bowtie has been way too tight for decades, and it really shows in that column, written from Bizarro World, apparently.

  4. Strange, I’ve never seen road rage from someone in a Prius. Usually I see it in BMW drivers and large SUV owners.

    Thanks for passing along the excerpt containing the phrase ‘cri de Coors’. I’ll be smiling at that all day.

    I’m wondering if there is a way that I can, in a calm and completely tranquil way, suggest that, with their obsession about the attitude of the left, the right-wing sounds, well, dare I say, angry? They spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the subject for people who are supposedly dispassionate and objective.

    I’m also confused. Will suggests that Americans are inclined to elect presidents who advertise their emotions, yet in the last two elections the allegedly angry Democrat lost. So how does this show that Americans are infatuated with anger, exactly? Unless … do you suppose that Republicans are angry??? Shocking.

  5. Before dismissing Wood as a partisan hack, you might want to read some of the book. The book has only one chapter on politics and it does not argue that all the anger is on the Left. It argues instead that there are characteristic differences between the anger of the Left and the Right. The partisan hackery comes from those who deliberately misread this analysis. Glenn C. Altschuler’s wins that title.

  6. Healthy ‘damn good reason’ anger, say at something like an AG lying to kiss the president’s arse to the point of endangering the rule of law…..that healthy anger brings height to the angry one’s inner integrity, and empowers corrective actions. Unhealthy ‘I feel threatened’ anger, on the other hand, like quick rage at someone of different opinion, that unhealthy anger twists and shortens the angry one’s inner integrity; such shortening and inner twisting tries to relieve itself [impotently] by lashing out with unreasoned name-calling.

  7. I want to underscore what biggerbox wrote in comment 5: I have never seen road rage from people driving Priuses (and there are a lot of them where I live), it almost always comes from people attempting to express themselves through their massive battle cruiser SUVs. Obviously Will has never spent any serious time at Whole Foods. Obviously, Will is making stuff up.

    Columns like Wills’ infuriate me (and I see no reason to apologize for this) both because they’re so turning-reality-on-its-head, black-is-white, up-is-down untrue, and because they’re an attempt to silence us. It’s as though Will is saying if we so much as dare speak up, we confirm his argument. This is a standard right wing bullying tactic. It’s also a form of: bullies can dish it out, but they cannot take it.

    We should not be ashamed of the anger we have over the way these selfish, arrogant idiots have damaged our once great country, and over the many ways they have systematically attempted to silence any and all opposition. Twits like George Will with their privileged position in the country’s mindspace, combined with their myopic inability to truthfully acknowledge reality have much to answer for this, and deserve whatever scorn those of us in the real world can give them, without any apologies on our part.

  8. When a president causes half a million people or 60,000 to die for no reason, you bet your bippy I get physically sickened, then angry, at him and every one of his defenders, including Laura.

    Calmness in the face of mass murder is too damn comfortably numb.

    But then, it does seem to me that many in our culture only are in touch with three passions anymore: greed, fear and sex. Kinda like Scooter Libby’s bear.

  9. One more thing (and this was the gist of a letter to the editor I wrote/got published some years ago in response to a rightie bleating about how angry the left is)…

    Who started it? Who began dumping poison and hate into the public discourse way back in the 80s at least? Did it not begin with the angry rantings of Rush Limbaugh way back when?

    For a long time, people on the left were tolerant of demagogues like Limbaugh. Liberalism is about tolerance, and so that was our standard, habitual approach, even to someone as vile and hateful as Limbaugh. A huge part of it was also the fact that few of us really understood what we were dealing with, nor did we know how to respond to it with anything but tolerance.

    We’ve since grown to realize that tolerance has its limits, and one of them is not allowing people to ruin the space where tolerance can thrive. We’ve grown to despise those who don’t understand this basic rule of civility, and who don’t respect us, and who are actively working toward our demise.

    You’re damn right I’m angry about this. It takes enormous collective effort to create a space where tolerance and diversity can thrive – some call this civilization – but it only takes a few hate minded thugs to destroy it. And it all began in the 80s with the rise of demagogues like Limbaugh.

    I realize that he was not the first, but he rode the rising tide of conservativism and made a huge name and a movement for himself, which has spread and morphed beyond what he started. And I am damn angry about the way he and others have destroyed civility in this country.

  10. Angry? Me? – You Bet. I have watched the country I love be ethically, morally, and economically bankrupted by a bunch of self serving egoists for far too long not to be angry. I watched as my fellow citizens in New Orleans were abandoned by our own government when disaster stuck. I listened as man who swore to uphold our constitution worked to bypass its greatest protections. I cried when I heard my country discuss when and how much torture is justified. I stood dumbfounded as I watched our national grief manipulated to launch a preemptive war.

    If now is not the time to be angry, when would be?

  11. Still, we all should be angry with they way Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the gang have tried to destroy this country.

    Amen,Bonnie…The other night I was bouncing around out here on the internet when I came upon an item from the past that filled me with anger. It was a reference to the Defense of Marriage Amendment. Off hand I can’t think of a more fitting example to illustrate the destructiveness to America’s well being than that savage attack of tainted emotion launched purely for political purpose.
    I’m angry at the manipulation,I’m angry at the deceit, I’m angry at the exploitation of prejudices and the exacerbation of bigotry. There’s nothing wrong with anger..there can only be wrong in what you do with it.

  12. I was writing about healthy vs unhealthy anger when someone came to my door. What I wanted to say was that, if some unhealthily angry name-caller tries to hook you with ugly words [like righties seem to love to do], well…..take a breath, feel your feet and ground, and let your inhale extend your inside dimension taller [like an arm extending up through a sleeve]. The name-callers only ‘win’ if they can cause contraction.

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  14. Oh, BTW. I’m not angry about the 5 America soldiers who were killed in Iraq today… should I be?…. I guess that would depend on where my heart is.

  15. #6 — We are talking about the same Peter Wood who wrote the “Thumb’s Up” article for National Review, right? After reading that I thought calling him a “partisan hack” was reasonably polite.

  16. “There is road rage (and parking lot rage when the Whole Foods Market parking lot is congested with expressive individualists driving Volvos and Priuses).”

    I’m confused. How does Will know this? Don’t tell me the guy shops at Whole Foods. Is this his revenge on someone who rear-ended him there?

  17. I saw a T-shirt: “If you’re not ANGRY, You’re not paying Attention.” Parhaps, Will hopes if we get less angry, we will pay less attention, Not a chance, George.

  18. Rage? Who can forget Sen. Ted Stevens’ tantrum over the imperiled ‘Bridge to Nowhere?’

  19. Hate speech and anger on the right is a very profitable marketing device that has made millions for Rush Limbaugh, et al. For the left, it hasn’t been a marketing ploy, it has been real, rather than manufactured. Maha and I both noticed a long time ago that the righties are following a formula. Also, a lot of what the righties do is just projection – accuse your opponent of what you are doing and beat them to it first to score the political point.

  20. Funny how these same news organizations thought anger was perfectly healthy when they were writing articles about how, boy, that Bill Clinton sure does generate anger.

    But there was nothing crazy about that anger, eh?

  21. This sycophantic twit would do well to recall the honor paid to Rage by Thomas – particularly, in these, our Republic’s dying days:

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    dylan thomas

  22. It will be interesting to see what Mr. Will puts in his column when his beloved leader is finally unmasked as the nincompoop and moron (not to mention war criminal) that he is. I’m waiting for WAPO to hit the clueless trifecta with Will, Novak the lizzard and Fred Hiatt all up on the opinion page on the same day.

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  24. Wood managed to write a book about the New Angri-Culture (Cute, eh? He’s also a professor of rhetoric) without mentioning Newt Gingrich. Partisan hack sounds right to me as well.

  25. The realization that, presently, “anger” dominates the right much more than the left was possibly the biggest factor in my alienation from the right. I spent most of the Clinton years telling myself that the angry-right was just a small, ignorable, part of the Republican party, but after Bush and 9/11 it became increasingly hard to ignore. I couldn’t help notice that the “angry left” consisted of a tiny number of people and examples – I found myself reading the same examples over and over again with rarely a new addition – while the, at the same time, comments about liberals being an “enemy within” that needed to be “dealt with”, and other eliminationist rhetoric, we oozing from the right.

    I believe the source of the “angry left” meme is projection. Their anger is matched only by their paranoia, and they convince themselves that it’s “the left” who hates them would just love to exterminate them all in Soviet-style camps. Given this alternate reality, they can express their anger without considering themselves “angry” because their anger is justified by the even greater anger of their “opponents”. At least, that is the impression I got towards the end of my “tenure” reading the “rightwing” sources (David Horowitz, LGF, Instapundit, Jeff Goldstein, etc…).

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