This Week’s Courier Herald Column:
It was not so long ago when anger was a pejorative in politics. Those trying to marginalize the Tea Party as it originally organized referred to them as an “Angry Mob”. Without much sense of irony, this angered many that were part of the protests. But the anger wasn’t the kind of blinding anger that blocks out reason, purpose, strategy, or the final goal.
Those who united under the banner with a fairly narrow scope – taxed enough already – were able to frame an anti-incumbent, anti-administration’s agenda based message that propelled Republicans to take over control of the House of Representatives and make gains in the Senate. Angry or not, it was the message, executed through strategy, that carried the day.
That day was not a long one. By 2012, many others had grafted the name “Tea Party” to their own groups. The message was blurred. With some, it is no longer recognizable. And anger was no longer a pejorative. It became to be worn with many as a badge of honor. 2012 was not as kind to the movement. Seats in the Senate that had been earmarked to change to Republican hands were not. Others were lost. The White House stayed comfortably in President Obama’s hands. And the margin of Republicans over Democrats in the U.S. House shrank. The anger grew.
As Democrats continue on into another term with the Presidency and control of the Senate, the anger within some factions of the Republican base has grown to the point where expressing anger itself seems to be a sufficient message for some.
There is an industry of anger for those willing to peddle it, and too many well intentioned people are buying these wares. Whether talk radio, blogs, social media, leaders of many “conservative” organizations, and even far too many Republican elected officials, there is a steady supply of outrage to feed the base that cannot seem to quench their hunger.
There is plenty to be outraged about. The danger lies with the fact that we are losing sight that outrage isn’t a goal. It’s not a strategy. And perhaps most importantly for a party that remains in the minority, anger is not a path to victory. It is instead a destabilizing factor that uses emotion to detach the most committed from reason.
It is, bluntly and frankly, being used to manipulate the most hardcore of the conservative base to give up conscious and rational thought in exchange for blindly following the paths that the merchants of anger lay out. None of these paths, unfortunately, lead to Republican majorities. There is too much money to be made off of outrage when Republicans are in the minority.
The problem manifests itself not within a subset of Republican leaders, however, but within the grassroots. Too many now are willing to end an argument with “…but I’m just so angry.” That’s fine for self-awareness. It does nothing whatsoever to advance your political philosophy with those who do not perfectly share your views.
Republicans will not win those who do not currently vote Republican by sharing our anger. Getting angry at those who do not share our anger is a recipe to lose votes, not gain them.
Those not equally outraged know one thing about anger. They know that anger does not lead to level headed decisions. It does not lead to rational solutions. It is generally an emotion that causes far more harm than good.
And yet, many among us wear it on our sleeves as a badge of honor – a requirement even – to participate in conservative political circles these days. It is no wonder despite the economic problems our country continues to face, a heathcare system that is broken and getting worse, and a government that simultaneously finds new ways to reach into individual lives while demonstrating its total incapacity to solve its own problems that Republicans can’t sell an alternative of limited government.
We can’t sell this because we sell with anger. And we’re proud of it.
The days of being angry for the sake of being angry must end. We must not pretend to be happy about things we are not, nor sacrifice principles to overlook the unpleasant. Instead, we must focus on strategies that will alleviate the root causes of the anger and build coalitions of likeminded people who will help win elections.
No one wants to put angry people in charge of anything. And voters will not.
It’s time to lose the anger. It will help cleanse and clear the mind, leaving room to focus on what it will take to win.