Friday, January 27, 2012

Anger only works in short run

For anyone watching the Republican debates, and the primaries and caucuses that have followed, it’s hard to miss that they have successfully tapped into the anger of a significant part of the electorate. These voters feel like the world they knew—the world they grew up in—somehow has been stolen from them.

This sense of being wronged is reinforced on TV and radio by adjective-filled descriptions of cultures under attack and angry threats aimed at anyone who even considers working with those on the other side of the political aisle.

Newt Gingrich seems particularly adept at exploiting this anger. Newt, the best paid historian in America, surely remembers well how the delegates on the floor of the 1964 Goldwater Republican convention turned toward the network TV booths and shook their fists at the members of the press housed there.

This act of political theater did not change the fact that Goldwater lost, but it did set the stage for decades of targeting the media as a liberal elite. Newt saw an opportunity to leverage that targeting and turned a South Carolina debate audience’s amorphous disgust with the media into a primary victory.

But being charged up against the media, whom disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew called “nattering nabobs of negativism,” does not solve huge education problems in poor states or help in considering what the results of nuclear war with Iran might be.

Presidential leadership requires cool, thoughtful analysis and consistent authoritative leadership. It requires more than cheap exploitation of them-vs.-us sentiment, even if that exploitation sways voters in the short run.

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