by Matthew Continetti
We've spent the month of August talking about alleged right-wing rage, but it's really time we started discussing the Angry White Liberal. When things aren't going his way, the Angry White Liberal wails and gnashes his teeth, rends his garments, and hurls invective at the opposition. His rhetoric and prose is so heated, it's gotten to the point where you need to put on oven mitts before opening the paper. He is so convinced of the righteousness of his positions that he lashes out uncontrollably at anybody who disagrees with him. For the Angry White Liberal, dissent is anathema. Antagonism is illegitimate. Only conformity to prevailing liberal opinion is enough to still his rage.
It's been awhile since the Angry White Liberal was spotted in the wild. He's been in hiding since 2006, when the electorate started handing victory after victory to the Democratic party. For a while there, whenever a liberal surveyed the political scene, it looked as though the country had finally come to its senses. Americans no longer deigned to elect conservatives to high office. In 2008 voters fell for the dulcet tones of a young, charismatic liberal senator from Illinois. A "new progressive era" was about to begin. James Carville's latest book, published earlier this year, promised to explain "how the Democrats will rule the next generation."
Then something bizarre began to happen. As Barack Obama's presidency unfurled, his approval ratings fell. The public showed skepticism at his major initiatives. The federal government bailed out GM and Chrysler over widespread public opposition. The costly economic stimulus bill appeared not to be working. The climate-change legislation that the House of Representatives passed on a party-line vote was D.O.A. in the Senate. And even though "health care" is not the top voter priority, even though the budget deficit stands at more than a trillion dollars, President Obama decided that this was the moment to remake one-sixth of the American economy.
The more Obama talked about health care reform, the further his numbers dropped. The country seemed caught in a time-warp. We'd been catapulted back to 2005, when another president attempted a major overhaul of the American welfare state. Then, too, the president deferred to Congress to come up with a plan. Then, too, as the president crisscrossed the nation, warning of the dangers of out-of-control entitlement spending, the public increasingly tuned him out. The innate conservatism of the American people--an instinctual resistance to sudden changes in existing social arrangements--came to the fore.
Such resistance became pronounced over the summer of 2009, when Congress went into recess and the people's representatives returned home to deal with actual people. Some of the constituents who showed up at the congressional town hall meetings behaved rudely. Some were kind of nutty. But, for better or worse, every oddball represented three or four or ten regular people who don't want to see another trillion dollars in federal spending, higher taxes, and page after page of mandates, not to mention likely cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Regular people, in other words, who recognize that the unanticipated outcomes of government activity often outweigh the wished-for ones, and that the unanticipated consequences of the Democrats' current proposals may include (a) the end of the private health insurance market and (b) government rationing of health services.
The Angry White Liberal reaction? Outrage and calumny. Protest, which a few years ago was the highest form of patriotism, is now considered artificial, dishonest, misinformed, cynical, and mean-spirited. "An ugly campaign is underway," Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer wrote in USA Today on August 10, "not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue. . . . Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American."
Meanwhile, Harry Reid referred to the town hall protestors as "evil-mongers." Senate finance committee chairman Max Baucus preferred "agitators." Congressman Eric Massa, Democrat of New York, accused Iowa Republican senator Charles Grassley of "treason" for criticizing the health care plan.
The King of the Angry White Liberals, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, wrote on August 14 that Grassley is "flat-out despicable." Resistance to the Democrats' plans, Krugman continued, amounts to an "outpouring of hate," the result of "the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia." (For the record, more Americans disapprove than approve of Obamacare.)
Time magazine columnist Joe Klein wrote that, "to be sure, there are honorable conservatives, trying to do the right thing"--thanks, Joe!--but the typical opponent of health reform is a "nihilist" and a "hypocrite" exploiting "cynicism about government" in a "disinformation jihad" aimed at the "tight, white, extremist bubble" that is the GOP. On the Rachel Maddow Show on August 19, star Times columnist Frank Rich warned that the current debates surrounding health care resemble the "walk up to the Kennedy assassination."
Washington Post scribe Harold Meyerson, straight off the barricades, angrily denounced Baucus, who "persist[s] in the charade of bipartisan negotiations" despite the "increasing rigidity, insularity, and extremism of today's Republican party." When Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed advocating sensible, market-based improvements to health insurance law, the response from the left was to organize a boycott of his grocery chain. Pretty rigid, insular, and extreme.
Charges of racism are never far from the Angry White Liberal's lips. In a July 22, 2009, Huffington Post entry--the website is a sort of pressure cooker for liberal rage--the "award winning columnist, author and Chicago radio talk show host" Ray Hanania wrote that:
Although the Republicans and their so-called "Blue Dog" conservative Democrats claimed they oppose President Obama's health care plan because it would increase the nation's debt, the real reason is driven by racism and the fact that the majority who would benefit from health care reform are minorities, the poor and families burdened by uninsured health challenges.
How so? Explains Hanania, "I know this is true because these same conservatives were silent when President George W. Bush ratcheted up the nation's deficit to record highs without even a whimper." Ah.
On the Diane Rehm Show in August, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift speculated that opposition to Obamacare was an expression of the "racism" that was "latent" in the 2008 campaign. Bewildered by a few cases in which a voter had safely, legally, and constitutionally brought a firearm to an anti-Obama care rally, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted that "guns were used on election days in the Deep South during and after Reconstruction to intimidate black voters and take control of state governments." Guns also were used in the invasion of Normandy. What's Dionne's point, except to imply that the gun-carriers (and, by extension, adversaries of Obamacare) are just like Bull Connor?
The Angry White Liberal finds it simply incomprehensible that somebody might honestly and in good faith disagree with the Democrats' efforts. On August 14, blogger Steve Benen wrote on the Huffington Post that the "far-right apoplexy is counter-intuitive." After all, "Why would people who stand to benefit from health care reform literally take to the streets and threaten violence in opposition to legislation that would help them and their families?"
Forget Benen's exaggerated claim of threatened violence. Note, instead, that Benen cannot conceive that someone might actually think the costs to the Democrats' program outweigh the unrealized and perhaps unachievable benefits. Hence he divides Obama's critics into five camps: the "partisans," the "tin-foil hats," the "greedy," the "dupes," and the "wonks." The "wonks," we are told, compose the "smallest of the groups." In Benen's view, then, millions of opponents of health care reform have no reasonable grounds for their opinion. That may satisfy the liberal's attitude of intellectual superiority. But it's also awfully condescending.
The Angry White Liberal directs his fury not only at conservatives. Another target is the Obama administration itself. After all, the White House has been unable to convince a majority of Americans that liberals are right and their health care reform is necessary. Comedian Jon Stewart opened a recent Daily Show by saying, "Mr. President, I can't tell if you're a Jedi--10 steps ahead of everything--or if this whole health care thing is kickin' your ass." In the Washington Post, Robert Kuttner blamed Obama's economic team, which is "far too cozy with Wall Street." For columnist Richard Cohen, Obama's "klutziness" has hampered reform. MSNBC host Ed Schultz said the White House was "dazed and confused." His colleague Rachel Maddow thinks the Democrats are "too scared of their own shadow."
All this vituperation, this unrelenting urge to discredit opposing views, builds and builds. It's uncontainable. Inconsolable. First the Angry White Liberal blames conservatives, then Democrats, then Obama . . . before you know it, he'll be blaming the entire country for the failure to pass "comprehensive health care reform." Everyone, that is, but himself.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Paging Dana Garrett. Calling "Delaware Dem".