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The Politics of Anger Leads to Disappointment and, Ultimately, Apathy

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It was Albert Einstein who said of anger that it "dwells only in the bosom of fools." Or as Benjamin Franklin stated: "Anger is never without reason, but seldom with a good one."

The sage analysis of two great men, who lived in different centuries facing different challenges, observe one of the constants of the human condition: anger is the great motivator that often leads to further frustration.

Yet, anger seems to be the unifying issue motivating the electorate in the upcoming midterm election.

Earlier this year, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, at a town-hall meeting was asked why the Department of Justice had a policy not to prosecute any African-American for any crime if the victim was white. That Sherman assured the crowd that no such policy existed meant little to the rancorous crowd.

Why is the electorate so angry?

A recently released Langer Research Poll indicates that 85 percent of Americans identified as "angry" about the economy. But is the current anger constructive in this year's elections?

This has manifested into an anti-incumbent, but largely anti-Democrat, mood. Nothing wrong with change, politics is cyclical.

It was not long ago, in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore and the Iraq invasion and occupation, that some on the left were driven by their anger.

But this year's election has a different feel. It is driven by an anger that also serves as its primary ideology. The anger to throw the bums out has not embraced a coherent alternative for change or offered, in my opinion, quality candidates.

It is anger that allows candidates aligned with the tea party movement to hold positions that would otherwise be dismissed as outside the mainstream such as rolling back portions of the 14th Amendment or uprooting the nation's social safety net.

The anger associated with these positions insulates whomever holds them from examining the potential consequences.

How many times have we heard repealing the recently passed health care legislation is priority one should this angry horde become the majority in Congress? According to the latest Kaiser Foundation poll, that is a position shared by only 28 percent of the country.

Though I understand the rhetoric of deficit reduction, I'm leery of many who are touting it. The deficit argument has been a political tool of the minority to offer that the majority is financially irresponsible.

It is fashionable to say of the deficit: "I don't want this debt on the backs of my children and grandchildren;" but what does that really mean?

Why are there more Americans, at least overtly, angrier about the health care legislation than the two wars that this country has undertaken? Two wars that also have the distinction of not having a line item dedicated in the federal budget that will eventually be paid by future generations.

As candidates address the disaffection with all that is wrong with America, little attention is given to not only the two wars, but also the Defense Department's $663 billion budget, which might be a good place to start when it comes to uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse.

Instead these crusaders who have vowed to take America back have taken aim at the poor. They titillate the electorate's anger impulses by promoting a version of Ronald Reagan's infamous welfare queen. This is the mythical character that lives in opulence at the taxpayer's expense.

People who see the poor as key to deficit reduction are either ignorant of the facts or disingenuous.

I suspect the current anger is due in part to the misinformation that passes as news. Policy differences based on a common set of facts is secondary to conjecture and fear-mongering, resulting in the conclusions being drawn before the debate begins.

There is not much appreciation for institutional memory. When, why, and how we arrived at the current dilemma are not useful tools in the politics of anger.

Regardless of how effective anger may be in the short-term, in the long-term the result is invariably the same: disappointment, enhanced frustration and, ultimately, apathy.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or visit his Web site byronspeaks.com.

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