Hatred vs. Anger in Political Argument

Having heard the President’s call for civil discourse in Tucson, I rouse myself from blogging torpor to propose an explanation of why the entire back-and-forth over our impolitic politics is both endless and pointless. It advances no coherent point because it fails to draw any commonsense distinction between hatred and anger.

Essentially, hatred is a causal factor, while anger is a response to some stimulus. They often coexist, of course, but they are nonetheless distinct in ways that are important to politics.

Some of the worst laws ever enacted in this fine nation were those that based law on hatred by codifying racial prejudice through the legal imposition of segregation onto the ordinary business of everyday life. C. Vann Woodward has argued that these Jim Crow laws may not have simply reflected a universal racist sentiment, but rather imposed a harsh regime upon a post-war society that, in at least some locations, manifested a degree of ease in racial relations that was noticeably greater to contemporary observers than what could be found in New England. Was it that famous Southern veneer of civility that dampened opposition to the sweeping new laws that established the pernicious system of state-mandated racial inequality? If so, then there is nothing good to be said about that sort of civility. Had he been a citizen of Alabama in those times, Barry Goldwater might readily have denounced “moderation” and extolled “extremism in the defense of liberty.” Those times called for righteous anger, not quiet concern.

Of course, there was surpassing anger in response to the push for desegregation in the 1960s, which could in no way be considered righteous. Since anger is a response and not a cause, it is neither inherently good nor inherently bad in political life. Conversely, it would be absurd to say that the compromises at the national level that allowed the Democrats to rule as the party of both Theodore Bilbo and Henry Wallace were inherently good simply because no heated rhetoric was involved.

The connection of all this to the Tea Party of today is immediate. Are Tea Partiers angry? Speaking as a sympathizer to that movement, I say yes, indeed they are—and why not? The last Congress had neither the time nor the inclination to read the law through which it heedlessly initiated the restructuring of the entire health-care sector, yet it remained too busy to pass an actual budget. Utterly transparent falsifications and accounting tricks were deployed in order to make the preposterous claim that the amount of health care delivered to Americans in the aggregate could be increased while reducing the federal deficit. Anyone who believes himself to be an advocate of sensible—let alone limited—government and is not outraged by the spectacle of the 111th Congress is simply not paying any attention at all. And if a person who holds such views—which are not based on hatred, but on wholly reasonable tenets of sound policy and the just aims of a free society—is angry, that anger does not make him a “hater.”

Rep. James Clyburn, long-serving Democrat from South Carolina and a veteran of the civil-rights movement, looks at the Tea Party’s rallies and sees images of Orangeburg reflected back. His perception is perhaps understandable, but it is a view taken through a glass, darkly. The Tea Party’s purpose is not to oppress Rep. Clyburn, but to oppose him. He chides Sarah Palin for failing to comprehend what he believes to be so clear, all the while remaining oblivious to his own blind spot as he gazes upon her.

Now it is not my claim that none of the anger in today’s politics is motivated by hatred. In fact, it is depressingly easy to find truly hateful speech all over the internet, although in many cases it is not entirely clear how to distinguish between hatred and mental imbalance. (As I write these words my thoughts are filling with images from sites operated by such people as Markos Moulitsas, Andrew Sullivan, and the anonymous minions of the Democratic Underground.) As for why I think that hatred is disproportionately an attribute of the left, another post will be required, for this one has already exceeded the limits of readability.

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