Rage versus facts: Peter Hartcher in today’s SMH

I think he’s spot on.

…The image of children parading in front of the White House with an ”Obama Antichrist” placard, the froth-mouthed Tea Party movement, with its wild claims that sharia is taking hold in American cities, the news report that the Secret Service is overwhelmed by death threats against the President, are all part of the angry election of 2010.

It’s not that Americans have nothing to be angry about. Unemployment is at 9.6 per cent. There are 7 million fewer Americans in work today than three years ago, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics… [More dismal stats follow…]

Polling suggests that Americans have been this angry before. Indeed, 1994 was dubbed the ”Year of the Angry White Male.” It was an anti-Clinton ”wave” election that cost the Democrats a whopping 54 seats – about the same number the Democrats are expected to lose today.

And the conservatives don’t have a monopoly on anger-peddling: ”When George Bush was in charge, you had people like Al Franken or Michael Moore, who on a daily basis were drumbeating anger about the state of the country, and they got their anger amplified by the blogosphere,” points out commentator Sasha Abramsky of the Demos think tank in New York.

”And when Obama comes in, you see that anger in a sense inverted, and the right gets very, very angry.”

So anger is a standard tool, used by both sides of politics.

Is there anything new about it? One striking feature of rage 2010 seems to be that it is increasingly fact-proof…

In a country where partisans can live in a self-selected world of partisan media, there is no set of agreed facts, only agreed points of conflict.

The future? American political anger is not going to go away, even if the economy improves. Because it works.

In the US system of voluntary voting, typically fewer than 40 per cent of voters will cast a ballot in a midterm election. So the ability to motivate turnout is decisive. Naturally, this works better for the party out of power.

This is the reason the Democrats are going to lose today. As the Pew pollsters explain in a study of the differences between the people who will be voting and those who will not: ”Non-voters express greater satisfaction with national conditions than do likely voters, and are more likely to approve of Barack Obama’s job performance.”

And anger? While 19 per cent of non-voters say they are angry with the federal government, 27 per cent of likely voters are. That margin is big enough to be decisive. The motivating power of anger makes it uniquely valuable, and guarantees its place as the first – and future – emotion of politics.

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One thought on “Rage versus facts: Peter Hartcher in today’s SMH

  1. My wife and I head out to Boston again in 2 weeks. We have been visiting our elder son and his family (and extended family, primarily of Greek origin) since 2003. Each time we experience the political climate.

    American politics at the moment are in turmoil. The Tea Party… Sarah Palin… Fruit cake commentators… Newt Gingrich… Fox telly…

    I think that America is f*****, unless someone takes control. It is bloody certain that Obama is not up to the job. He would seem to be a boy on a man’s mission.

    Cameron in the UK is showing some promise.

    Abbott in Oz is a joke. Turnbull is our only hope on the Conservative side.

    Meanwhile I will concentrate on what really matters in this Oz life of ours : whatever beats So You Think will win the 150th Cup. Believe me!

    John

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