In politics, as in so many other aspects of life, anger is a combustible fuel. Affirmed and titrated, it helps us move forward. Suppressed or self-indulged, it's likely to blow up in our faces.
With the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination coming to a close, there's plenty of anger in the air. And the elements are distinctly flammable. As Bob Herbert just wrote in the New York Times, "the Clinton and Obama partisans spent months fighting bitterly on the toxic terrain of misogyny, racism and religion."
Herbert doesn't spread the blame evenly. And, as an elected Obama delegate to the national convention, I don't either. But at this stage in the nomination process, the returns of blame aren't merely diminishing -- they're about to go over a cliff.
The anger that's churning among many Hillary Clinton supporters is deserving of respect. For a long time, she's been hit by an inexhaustible arsenal of virulent sexism, whether from Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh or Chris Matthews.
If Barack Obama were facing defeat now, his supporters might be more inclined to dwell on the thinly veiled, and sometimes unveiled, racial bigotry that caused some Americans to tell reporters that they could never vote for a black man for president.
There's no lack of injustices, defamations and outright outrages to cite. They're important to remember, assess, denounce. And: Now what?
In times of emergency, people have been known to put aside differences, at least for a while. Sometimes, feuding neighbors unravel hoses and pass buckets so the entire block doesn't go up in flames. Or alienated relatives take care of a fading loved one. People who fear strangers learn to trust in a shared humanity.
The Bill of Rights is burning. Children are dying in Baghdad and Chicago and Los Angeles and countless other cities and towns because of Republican "leadership." Negative trends of governance are scorching a social contract that had been slowly weaving the threads of human decency.
This year offers an electoral opportunity to get out the fire hoses and douse the pyromaniacs of the GOP. But the long Obama-Clinton battle has depleted precious time with little good to show for it.
A lot of negativity has aired, and some of it has combusted. Despite the real progress of the past several decades, remaining prejudices and injustices of gender and race -- and, though less talked about in news media, of sexual orientation and economic class -- are still haunting us and shadowing the future.
Furious supporters of Hillary Clinton are now talking about Michigan and Florida. Understandably, they're apt to see recent developments in the context of despicable male chauvinism and unfair caricatures in the press.
There's more than enough anger to burn.
And John McCain is eager to benefit from every bit of such anger, the more displaced the better. Right-wing corporatists quietly cheer his calls to give them even more extreme tax cuts. Outright militarists are hoping for four more years, and the odds seem to be shifting in their favor. Men on the Supreme Court named Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito are waiting to welcome kindred spirits in black robes.
Unfortunately, the angry often end up burning themselves.