Deadman's picture

    Twist and Shout: Why the Politics of Rage Makes Me Want to Cry

    " is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"

    I was livid when I first saw video from the health care town hall meeting that took place last week in my hometown St. Louis.  I had already seen enough similar footage from other cities, but the fact that these were in some ways 'my folk' infuriated me.

    Ignorant rednecks, I thought, the whole lot of them.

    Judging by their age and apparent socioeconomic status (yes, I was stereotyping), I couldn't help but figure that many of these folks were already receiving a substantial amount of government-financed health care in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. I was convinced many of them were either paid shills of the health-care industry or just sheep lathered up into an unthinking rage by the reactionary talking heads that now populate the airwaves.

    These people are the ones who have been chewed up, spit on and totally ignored for years. They have seen their jobs shipped overseas, their communities neglected. They may have a right to be angry but they should be venting their rage at the fat cats on Wall Street, who plundered and pillaged this country for a decade and then received trillions of dollars of our money, bailed out of the damage caused by their own incompetency and malfeasance.

    But instead, of all issues, the thing that finally tipped these people over the boiling point was the prospect of trying to find a better way to provide health care for all of our fellow citizens, of trying to fix a broken system that eats up way too much of our GDP, that doesn't work nearly as well as it does in other less resource-rich countries, and threatens to topple our nation's already creaky balance sheet.

    Fucking uncaring, unthinking, rude, selfish idiots. That was what I thought of these people.

    But now I realize that by thinking this way, I was engaging in their game, letting my emotions get the best of me. I was demonizing them just as they were demonizing Obama and The Other that frightens them so much.

    Because here's the truth: I have bought into The Politics of Anger. How could I not? It is now in full force. Everywhere. We should just call it ImPolitics.

    We can't have a rational debate anymore about anything without feeling the anger, letting it seep into our thoughts and words to the point where we no longer are listening to each other but shouting at each other. And when the issue at stake is something as important and as personal as health care, the tempers run even higher and hotter.

    And while the extreme right may practice this form of politics with much more enthusiasm and effectiveness than most, they don't have a monopoly on it.

    Admit it, you think the religious right are a bunch of hypocritical assholes. You thought Bush and Cheney were evil. You've compared them to Hitler and the Nazis once or twice, at least in your thoughts. And this was before they abused the power of their office, led us into a war on false pretenses, and took away a number of our personal liberties. Perhaps you felt this way as soon as the 2000 election, which you are convinced they stole in part by using their mob tactics in Florida (some of those scenes in the election offices in Miami-Dade County certainly do have an eerie resemblance to the rage we're seeing now).

    I'd like to think I'm better. I have a sensitive soul and an open mind, after all. I appreciate fine art and literature and film and music. I can appreciate nuance, see things in colors other than black and white. I am enlightened. I know and appreciate how precious and short life is, and how we too often get distracted by issues that don't truly matter.  For whatever we may think lies beyond, if anything, we should at least agree that we would make our temporal lives a lot more pleasant if we tried to understand the common humanity that links us all, binds us to the same shared fate.

    But then I see the terrifying rage at these meetings, and it makes me wonder.

    I know it's the insult of the day to throw out the term Hitler and raise the specter of  Nazism whenever you disagree with your opponent. Both sides do it, and the inappropriateness of the metaphor has rendered it all but impotent.

    But I wonder if the rage you see at these meetings doesn't indeed spring from the same place that led us to a world where such a thing as the Holocaust - and all the other holocausts, the Rwandas, the Cambodias, the Bosnias, the Darfurs, etc. etc. - became possible, perhaps even inevitable. That perhaps the rage at these meetings, and the rage that rises in me as I watch, is the true realization of the common humanity of which I speak, and of which binds us to the same shared fate.

    And then my rage dissipates, and is instead replaced by a deep sadness. It is much less fulfilling. I hope it is just as inappropriate.


    Devastating, Deadman.  You're right that it's all too easy to feel angry.  I've gone through a similar process where my mind immediately renders a bifurcated perspective whereby these protestors must either be 1) shills or 2) woefully ignorant.  And it's easy to be angry about either prospect.  Part of it is because I know how badly meaningful reform is needed, and not in 10 or 20 years, but now.  Part of it is because, once again, I have the sense that these people, whether genuine or not, are railing against their own economic interests for reasons that I don't understand.  Part of it is because, as I attempted to highlight in a recent post, what I'm seeing now seems so cartoonishly at odds with what I saw during the Bush administration.

    But anger won't get the job done, especially when its not pointed in the right direction.  The problem here isn't left or right.  It isn't that Obama is trying to destroy America from the top down or that disenfranchised members of the electorate seem determined to destroy it from the bottom up.  It's that the system we have is not functional from the perspective of delivering healthcare.  It's that insurance companies don't compete with one another in terms of providing a better service at a cheaper price, but rather collude in order to attain ever greater profit margins at the expense of those who were counting on medical insurance actually covering them in the event that they get sick.  It's that drug company patents, which are supposed to incentivize private investment in important medical research, create a regime where companies are more interested in the IP of patents on highly marketable, and highly profitable, drugs that tackle the big issues, like erectile dysfunction, while only turning out marginal improvements, as A-man has recently pointed out, in battling cancer.

    It's that private interests have not only captured these markets, but that they've also captured our political system.  Worse yet is that it is apparently all too easy for them to get us shouting at each other while they negotiate the next incarnation of market control and prepare to sell it as reform.

    wow, great comment, DF. You raise so many good points in three paragraphs. unfortunately, like my post, it doesn't offer any solutions, either. alas, the whole thing seems so intractable right now that it's no wonder rage seems to be the primary emotion expressed by all sides.

    The political situation aside, the solutions aren't really as daunting as some would state.  As I noted earlier in the year, there is a wealth of possible solutions that we can take directly from functional examples in other countries.  The basic rules are:

    1. Insurance companies must accept everyone and can't make a profit on basic care.
    2. Everybody is mandated to buy insurance and the government pays the premium for the poor.
    3. Doctors and hospitals have to accept one standard set of fixed prices.

    The insurance companies don't need to be put out of business entirely (though I wouldn't shed any tears if they were).  They just can't keep doing business the way that they have been.  It's the job of government, by way of a popular mandate from the people, to reign this industry in.  To me, this is what's at stake.  Is or is not the government able to act as a check on industry out of control?  Giveaways like this aren't promising.

    It may well be that the "political reality" is that we can only get some mild brand of reform passed at this juncture.  However, if that truly is the case, what does that say about the state of our democracy?  Is it true that all the insurance industry needs to do is buy out a handful of strategically placed members of congress?

    And, if it is true, why aren't people screaming about that?  Talk about the destruction of America...

    It does sound easy. It's not like there aren't other models out there from which we can take the best and emulate, and scrap or improve the things that don't work. But yeah, I'm afraid our democracy is getting rotten. I had some hope after last fall, but if there's any truth to the compromise you linked to with regard to the pharma industry, i'm even more skeptical. i feel like it's the same thing the administration did with regard to Wall Street bailouts. they take this dont let the perfect be the enemy of the good to an unhealthy extreme i fear.

    Great post and great comment.

    Personally, I'm reacting to the rage by documenting and lampooning the lunacy. That won't do much for health care, but unless there are any undecided senators lurking at dagblog, I can't make much difference on that front anyway. Passing health care is Obama's burden now. I'm putting my trust in him as I did during the primary and general election. There was plenty of shrieking to go around then, but Obama quietly pursued the votes that mattered and accomplished what he set out to do. It was a sound strategy for a candidate, and it is doubly so for a president. That doesn't mean that health care will pass, but if it fails, it won't be because of gibbering Republican berserkers.

    thanks for the reality check. i agree, obama has shown enough competence in his brief career as a candidate and politician that maybe the game plan is working. but if it involves more compromises like the one DF pointed out, will it be worth it?

    The flip side of that argument is that the not-good-enough is also the enemy of the good.  Saying "let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is fine if your bead is still fixed on the good.  If it's an excuse for not-good-enough, then I say it's an exercise in false dichotomy.

    I sometimes wonder whether the Dems really believe in their policy prescriptions.  If they really believe, as I do, that meaningful healthcare reform would be a net positive for the majority of Americans (by way of being a net positive for the American economy), then why don't they put their backs into it and show some faith in their supposed ideology?  Get the right bill passed, used reconciliation if you have to, but if you really believe that it's going to work then there's nothing to fear.

    That the reforms will work certainly gives the conservatives reason to fear.  This memo, written by Bill Kristol back in 1993, illustrates that a leading conservative believes that one of the greatest threats posed by successful heathlcare reform is that it would prove to people that government can be effective.  Do the Dems not believe that this is the case?

    The short answer is NO. The insurance companies just won.

    The administration, heeding the bleats of fearful and paid-off congresscritters, has just punted on the public option. Sebelius and Obama have both signaled that non-profit co-ops might do the trick by injecting some competition to the insurance industry. Sure, that might happen!

    And if anyone thinks that's a reasonable, Kent Conrad-style compromise, glance at the Drudge Report, where the main art is a white flag. No, this administration is going to settle for the illusion of reform.

    The mistake was to not stake out a single-payer system as their starting position, compromising if necessary on a public option. By positing the public option as their initial offer, the Democrats guaranteed the final product would be much, much less.

    The need to cover those 40 million-plus is still there. What if they can't even afford co-op rates? Here's how desperate some are:

    If your narrative is accurate, then I call it nothing less than the failure of Obama's political pragmatism.  As I stated repeatedly last year during the election: Pragmatism is not, itself, a principle.  Half a loaf is better than none, true, but you don't start out negotiations by asking for only half a loaf.  You take that if that's the best you can get, but you ask for the full loaf from the word "go".

    I'm thumbing through my copy of Rules for Radicals right now.  Team Obama is getting worked by the Alinsky playbook right now, which I find to be ironic since I thought he knew his Alinsky.  In the chapter on tactics, Alinsky writes:

    For an elementary illustration of tactics, take parts of your face as the point of reference; your eyes, your ears, and your nose.  First the eyes; if you have organized a vast, mass-based people's organization, you can parade it visibly before the enemy and openly show your power.  Second the ears; if you organization is small in numbers, then do what Gideon did: conceal the members in the dark but raise a din and clamor that will make the listener believe that your organization numbers many more than it does.  Third, the nose; if your organization is too tiny even for noise, stink up the place. (p.126)

    Last year, Obama accomplished (1), but he failed to mobilize them in this effort this year.  In absence of his show of power, the opposition appears to have gone with (3), which has been elevated to (2) with the help of the MSM.

    The opponents of reform have successfully polarized the debate, another of Alinsky's prescriptions.  The discussion is all about socialism and "death panels" and the imminent threat to America posed by its President because, well, we don't trust him.. can't say why exactly... something about him is just different and it makes me afraid....

    As Bill Moyers highlighted recently, Obama, just a few short years ago, said that he supported single-payer system, but that we had to take back the congress and the White House first.  Well, we did that and he, improbably enough, ended up in the big chair.  But now we can't get it done because the majorities aren't big enough.  Or because of Blue Dogs.  Or because it's just not "politically feasible".

    Politics, I am told, is the art of the possible.  Who's really willing to put their political ass on the line to see what's really possible, rather than consigning themselves to half a loaf (at best) before the negotiations even begin?  I thought it would be Obama, but I still haven't heard him articulate, in a way that I know he is capable of, what specific reforms are needed and why.

    All of the talk about getting some half-assed reform done now to get something better later is nonsense.  If the Dems can't do it right now, they never will because it's unlikely that they'll have this much consolidated power again in the near future.  Ram the reform down the opposition's throat and let them cry about it for the next 40 years like has occurred with Medicare because they won't be able to roll it back once it's out there, just like Bush couldn't roll back Social Security in '05.

    On the same page in Alinsky's book that the above quote comes from is a quote from Hannibal: "We will either find a way or make one." Proponents of reform are in desperate need of political leadership with the capacity for imagining what's possible and the tenacity to make it so.

    you seriously could (and probably should) repost this comment into a separate blog post. It's that informative and accurate. really well-stated.


    I'd just add to your Hannibal quote a favorite from Napoleon: "If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna."

    This one seems apt in context:

    The Potemkin city of which I wish to speak here is none other than our dear Vienna herself. - Adolf Loos

    Make of it what you will…

    Your beautifully written missive touches my heart and soul...yet I'm left with sadness that our nation can't seem to rise above this morass.


    thanks so much for the compliment. im probably being too negative but some days I just listen to much depressing music.

    BTW, my cousin who read this post and thought that the politics of rage was nothing new (which was kind of my point, but still) ran across this quote from Richard Nixon during his first inaugural addres and thought it highly reminiscent :

    In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.

    Good quote, and I actually read Nixon's entire speech and found it truly uplifting (if only it wasn't tainted by what we now all know of the man and his deeds). Perhaps the best line - and most appropriate for my post - is this one that came right before the heretomentioned sentence.

    The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.

    To lower our voices would be a simple thing.

    Simple, indeed.

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