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Fouroboros | Anger and Fear, Fear and anger. What's the difference?


1-23-2004

 

Anger and Fear, Fear and anger. What's the difference?

The conventional wisdom is busily peddling the idea that Howard Dean is an angry man, and, that "anger' won't sell to an American electorate. Thanks to his little outburst in Iowa--and to people like Chris Matthews, gleefully playing that Iowa videoclip over and over with a grin reserved for a new toy--Dean may prove them right, for the wrong reasons.

Yet, strangely, there's little mention of the effects of the "paralytic fear" being fuel-injected into the American psyche by the administration Dean and the other Democrats hope to unseat. The dueling narratives seem to be,"We must be fearful about our security." And "We must be angry about the shortsighgtedness of the current administration."

If you, along with me, take those as given, my question would be: if fear is the currency by which America is being led today, how is anger at that leader and that tactic misplaced?

Certainly, Business, Media and Establishment influentials find themselves in the odd position of having to back a quirky incumbent horse because of national esprit d'corps--he's less than satisfactory or sensible, but he's all we've got right now. In an earlier post, I quoted Nathaniel Hawthorne: "No man . . . can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally being bewildered as to which may be the true." This has been the quiet quandary the powerful have endured for the past 18 months or so--since the concerted push on Iraq got official administration sanction. The facts have always been the facts: experience and common sense told many in the know that reality was not sync-ing up with desired outcomes vis a vis motives, WMDs, intelligence, spin and political maneuvering. But for the "wise ones," there's an obstacle. Changing course would have many unfavorable ramifications. Number one of those would be: What were we thinking? Number two would be: We'd look silly.

Such is the case in boardrooms and chambers of power everyday in America. Dumb decisions made by smart people afraid to admit that shit happens and they're not the Amazing Kreskin or Peter Drucker. The dry holes of leadership whim become rat holes: self-perpetuating drains on energy, attention and money because we can't admit fallibility. So what do they do? They lie. First to themselves, then to us. The "anger" spin, conveniently bulleted, but left unexplored, is just such a defensive diversion.

Under the standard calculus--using say, The City on a Hill, smiling Reagan model--the anger doesn't sell wisdom may hold true. But something I haven't seen noted by mainstream thinkers and bloviators--surprise, surprise--is that this electorate is different than past ones. And that this president is no Reagan when it comes to the reassuring delivery department.

In this, I would suggest that Bush is much less like Reagan, and more like Carter in the effects of his demeanor and stewardship of the nation.

Bush's chief rhetorical weapon is to remind us, every chance he gets, that we are under assault at every turn. "I'm here to protect you", he infers, but the atmospherics and weight never ease or change. As a result of this and of Orange Alerts and of wobbly interchangeable rationales for doing any number of things, the electorate too, is in the midst of a quiet gut check. They "like" Bush as the parlance goes, but they're wondering if the keening, anxious, almost fearful nature about how we're conducting this war on terror thing is really "Who we are."

Carter's "malaise", the gas lines, economic grey skies as far as the eye could see, these all led to his being labelled as inept, but most devastatingly, they led to him being regarded as a victim of his circumstances--the times dictated what he said and recommended for us. And much of what he said was unimaginative and reflexive. True, often, but reflexive and constrictive nonetheless.

In much the same way, Bush's script has been written for him, and his edits and additions don't do much to rosy things up because, well, because "fear" is subtractive and ennervating for the broad polis. From anthrax scares that disappear into the memory hole, with their ensuing "duct tape and plastic sheets" recommendations, to the drip-drip of tragic daily causalties in our "success" in Iraq, the inevitable conclusion--often left unsaid by many voters--is that we're in a box. And a gloomy one at that. Economic and Jobs reports tell us we're in a recovery, but our eyes and ears and unemployed friends and associates tell us different. We may shrug off European and Allies' doubts about our courses of action, but whatever voters may tell you, nobody likes not being liked--especially Americans. And that is my point: Optimism, even when sporting a bloody nose, is in our DNA.

Bush, like Carter, seems not to get this instinctively. Sure, when scripted, he sounds the right note--with words not his own. But given that he is not Reagan, the actor, the words ring false after the tenth recitation because there's no self-identification behind them. I would bet that Bush himself is getting bored with the shtick.

Why? Because, I would venture, Bush cannot handle success on it's own terms. He does not have an innate belief that things will work out. Bush is a "glass half-full" man whose missionary zeal only kicks in when someone or something is perceived as a threat to what's left in the tumbler. In this, he is truly conservative. But, if you recall, "conservation" and cardigans and dour proclamations and similar half-full-isms where the hallmark of Carter.

If you think about it, Bush's best moments as president have all revolved around a singular tragedy--his climb atop "The Pile" at the World Trade Center, his carrier landing, his Thanksgiving visit to the troops. To add emphasis, he's none too choosy about where and when he utters the numbers "9-11". These seminal, significant moments are the soapbox on which he climbs to proclaim his relevance, because he's trying to replicate the only feeling that makes him feel useful: the abstact idea of "leadership."

if you look closely, you'll notice he leaps from "significant moment" to "significant moment" with no thread of connection beyond his presence. For an MBA, he acts for all the world as if the only part of his lessons he disn't sleep through were the Marketing classes. Perhaps we could call this Management by Showing Up. Who knows? His adult career has all the hallmarks of a self-saboteur who professes to admire success, promotes success, then ties his own shoelaces together every chance he gets. Outsize gains get this interest, yet the spadework they require has no appeal. Again, Why? Maybe because workaday "success" has been "done" in his family, therefore it holds no luster for him. Maybe his history with alcohol holds a clue--teetering on the edge of destructon and feigned disinterest only to come back and stick your landing is the height of self-affirmation for many drunks, a quest often repeated and derived from an admix of low self-regard combined and soaring grandiosity. A roller coaster ride. The problem comes when you dig valleys just to make the peaks. Who knows. But three years into his term, we're finding divots everywhere.

Howard Dean--I didn't forget--offers his own bag of quirks, Aaarghsbut, apposite of Bush, I would submit these come from too much thought instead of not enough. Ancillary to Bush's "fear" message, then, is an equal and opposite "anger' suggestion that

things aren't as "you say they are. They're worse, and I'm suffering through your delusion of prosperity, safety and progress.
The Dean penchant for thinking out loud gets him in trouble, particularly with those who stew on their words and deliver them thrice edited and twice tested. Reporters and opponents salivate over his appearances, not because he'll mangle syntax like Bush, but becasue he'll say what's racing through his mind. Maddeningly, this is a plus for many out there in the voting world thanks to the deficit of real opinions in the political marketplace. The teflon that--up to now--accrues to Dean despite the "gaffes" is due to the nature of the gaffes. They often derive from saying what is obvious to many, but isn't usually uttered in poilite company--media, in this case, as they do so often, defining what is "polite."

Opposite of Bush, Dean suggests shredding the system--at least, that's the reportage of it. This makes people queasy, especially those vested in the status quo. Of course. The implicit anger that underlies Dean's message is frustration with the charade that is "the system", the institutional shell game. As a doctor, Dean inquires, not knowing where his questions will lead him. That is the discipline of Medicine. Dean wants to know the facts and circumstances. As far as I can tell, he interprets them to reveal a patient doing everything it can to ensure it's early demise. He views current conservative prescriptives in exacly the way Grover Norquist and his "Club for Growth" conservatives present them--You know, starve the government of funds so Grover "can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

Reminded of the implications of this, Americans realize that that's their safe food, predictable electricity, and reliable, available medical attention being euthanized in one sentence, all in the name of shifting their dollar from a government to a corporation. They know it, they sense it, they feel it to be true. But, again, suggesting this impolitesse raises hackles in the quarter-to-quarter reporting world and in the day-to-day assessment universe that the pilots of the status quo live and breathe.

This clumsiness, this "anger", is what perturbs some segments of America, and energizes others. The drawback is that those who are energized by the message have the quietest voice, and the most to lose or gain. They teeter on the edge of a prosperity the influentials are comfortably ensconced in and delight in debating in the abstract. Bush offends, and Dean attracts, this group. And it is growing exponentially.

Feeding the "anger" is the fact that here are you and I, suffering through the choices of leadership--enduring the rollercoaster--all the while being told not to consider being upset by our circumstances, but to buck up, to wait for the better times. We are told to fear and not fear at once, to shop and not contribute, to trust our "betters" on this one.

Happily, more and more pople are saying, "No dice. I'd rather vote."

 

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