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Who Owns Anger?

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Tell me the complaint, says the doctor, and I can prescribe the remedy. For those who are not tea-partiers, it is difficult to understand clearly the nature of the complaint.

This may be in part due to the diverse nature of the party. Looking on from the outside, anger seems to be the glue holding together anarchists, libertarians, conservatives of various kinds, and groups harboring complex grievances.

It is necessary to tread lightly in commenting on the tea party phenomenon, as I've learned, to avoid being considered part of some mysterious elite that, as one angry man wrote to me, "talks down to people." My interest in trying to understand the tea party lies in the hope of some kind of communication. But it is hard to hold a conversation with someone who insists on shouting or who seems to want to get rid of a duly-elected president in the middle of his term or who is mad at the Congress, every member of which was elected by a majority of voters in his or her district or state.

One thing needs to be made clear. If anger is the admission dues for membership, then I qualify. I'm as angry as any tea-partier. So tea-partiers have to get over the notion that only they have a right to be angry. A lot of Americans are angry who don't necessarily therefore want to impeach Barack Obama, or spit on congressmen, or scream at town hall meetings, or bring down the government of the United States. No one, including the tea party, has a corner on anger.

For myself, I'm mad as hell about the corrupt lobbying system in Washington. I'm mad as hell about former members of Congress, and their families, who make millions trading on a title the voters gave them. I'm mad as hell at people who like government when their side occupies it but think they have a right to bring it down when their side loses. I'm mad as hell at a government that wiretaps my phone or throws me in jail without a warrant. I'm mad as hell at people who claim to revere the Constitution and hate the institutions it created and the elected officials who inhabit them. No one in the tea party, including former governor Palin, is more angry than I am at Wall Street bankers. They are the greediest bunch of human beings I've ever seen.

Let's get one thing straight: the president and members of Congress are elected by the people of the United States. If you don't like that, there are lots of other countries where this is not the case. If you are angry at Barack Obama, or any member of Congress, you are angry at your fellow citizens who voted for them. There is a name for this process: we call it democracy.

Simply losing an election is not sufficient grounds to advocate overthrow of the government.

If tea party anger is more complicated than losing an election, then what is it? Is it losing a job, losing a house, having medical bills, living on food stamps, or all the above? If so, damn straight. I'd be angry too. The university where I work could fire me any day, without notice. It hasn't happened yet, but it could. Would I be angry if it did? You bet. But if this anger is something else, let's say bitterness at a black couple in the White House, or women being more equal, or medical care for poor children, or efforts to create a more decent and humane society, then there is little we can talk about.

If the tea party draws up a manifesto to clean up the air and water, to outlaw former elected officials from lobbying, to get rid of nuclear weapons, to take care of sick children and have Wall Street bankers pay for it, to provide decent care for wounded soldiers, to lock up drug dealers and clean up ghettos, to create jobs for working people, and to enforce the Fourth Amendment, I'll be the first to sign it.

To comment, please visit Senator Hart's blog at www.mattersofprinciple.com/.

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