Hyperbolic rhetoric threatens to swamp our politics
By Sasha Abramsky
Five months ago, Andrew Joseph Stack III, a middle-aged man who had a long-running dispute over taxes with the federal government, flew a kamikaze mission into the IRS building in Austin, Tex. On the Internet, numerous bloggers immediately declared Stack a hero, a martyr in the war against Big Government.
At about the same time, with health-care reform seemingly stalled, left-leaning activists grew increasingly shrill in their denunciations of President Obama. He was, many opined, a false messiah, a cheat, a Manchurian candidate for the right who had promised change and instead delivered more of the same old cronyism and corruption. Unemployment was nearing double digits; partisanship was as omnipresent as ever; government had bailed out the banks and allowed their executives to pocket obscene bonuses. When Obama announced that he would send more troops to Afghanistana priority he had reiterated time and again during the election campaignthe filmmaker Michael Moore wrote a public letter to the president accusing him of undermining the hopes and dreams of millions of young Americans. When Obama made compromises with Congressional figures to forge a viable coalition around health-care reform, his left flank immediately declared that he had been bought off by corporate America.
After Congress finally passed health-care reform, the rage axis tilted again. Their expectations scaled back by the upset victory of a Republican for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, progressives were a bit quieter, and it was a scarred conservative movement that was again, literally, up in arms. Scores of Democratic politicians started receiving death threats; many were so worried that they asked the FBI for extra protection. Around the country, Tea Party candidates, frequently representing little more than an inchoate rage against the zeitgeist, mounted strong primary challenges to entrenched, long-serving Republican politicians, and some sober GOP'ers, hoping to stave off defeat by the insurgents, remade themselves as rage-filled harbingers of imminent doom. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, of Ohio, repeatedly declared that passing the health-care bill was not just politically wrong but apocalyptic. As the primary season progressed, incumbent Democrats, too, began to feel the sting. Alan B. Mollohan, of West Virginia, became the first House Democrat to lose his seat. The confrontations continued, with a biker and his son, angered at government, in a shootout with the police in Arkansas.
In many ways, whether our political leanings are left, right, or middle of the road, rage is our shared experience these days. One way of looking at what is happening is that it is an expression of our anxiety over what increasingly looks to be Pax Americana's departing hegemony.