The Limits of Perpetual Anger

The sixties weren’t all peace, love and understanding. In spite of the beads and flowers and affected mellowness, the left was pretty angry – at that unspeakable immoral and fundamentally stupid war in Vietnam, and at those who ginned it up, and at our consumer culture that produced crap and had all of us bamboozled, and at predatory capitalism itself. Blacks were still being treated unfairly too, and women still held back for no good reason. It was enough to make your blood boil, or make you take to the streets, which many did. They were outraged and you should be outraged too. That worked, once – with that massive march on Washington when Martin Luther King spoke of his dream – but it only worked because the outrage was translated into dignified aspiration. Things could be better, and here’s how they can be made better, and this really can be done. So things were done – the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and so on. The righteous anger of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X changed nothing – that just closed down possibilities, even if it allowed the angry to feel good about their anger. That’s not worth much. Anger and outrage get you nothing much. Suggesting sensible and fair alternatives does. The perpetually outraged end up talking only to each other in the end – no one else is listening.

That was long ago. The “angry left” faded to a cultural curiosity – a sort of historical artifact of something exciting and dynamic that just didn’t work out. Anger just closes thing down. Martin Luther King had been right all along – dignified nonviolent passive resistance, and reasoning with those who just don’t want to change, gets things done. The left learned its lesson. Few of them now run around with their hair on fire telling everyone else they should be outraged – now it’s an occupation or a silent vigil. Yes, you want to shock the conscience of the nation, but screaming in the nation’s face won’t do that. It’s the spittle. No one likes spittle.

No one told the right about the spittle. In the last decade or so they decided the way to go was to practice the politics of grievance – they were outraged and, damn it, you should be outraged too. The way to return to power after the Clinton years was to tap the nation’s anger, or find a large enough audience of those who were pretty much angry about everything so you could turn a hefty profit even if no one you suggested ever won an office. This made Fox News a solid success and made Rush Limbaugh a rich man. They had a lock on the angry-at-everything crowd, most old white men, folks in the South still angry about the Civil War, and those who were edging up on being modestly well-off and didn’t want to pay a dime more in taxes. That was a solid bloc – they listen, avidly, stewing in their anger, and also buy worthless overpriced gold coins and reverse mortgages from the advertisers.

This worked fine, for a time. Everyone was angry after 9/11 but the trick was to offer something else as the rest of the nation moved on. Anger must be fed. If it’s not fed it dies, and there goes your business model. Luckily, Barack Obama came along – a pleasant and reasonable man, smart and superbly educated, and gracious to a fault, but a good possible target. The 2008 presidential campaign was all anger – the guy had palled around with terrorists, after all, and he talked about the rich chipping in a bit more so he was a socialist, or maybe even a communist. There was no evidence for it, but maybe had had been born in Kenya, or was a Muslim, or an Arab, or something. At one point, on Fox News, we were told to be outraged that he and Michelle had exchanged a terrorist fist-bump – but the Fox News host lost her job over that. Plausibility matters. Still, there were the McCain-Palin supporters shouting “Kill Him!” and “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Off with His Head!” at rally after rally. This scared McCain – he did try to put a stop to it, not that it did much good. Hate was in the air. Folks had been told to be outraged, and that was their natural inclination, so they were – but no one likes spittle. Obama won easily. And then he won again four years later. Outrage is both tedious and tiresome, and finally comically absurd. It’s a lesson from the sixties, but that was all Sarah Palin had going for her, dragging John McCain along, as the iconic old man telling the kids to get off his lawn. They should have known better.

No one, however, seemed to know better. We got the Tea Party – angry about being taxed too much, even if taxes, in Obama’s first term, were lower than they’d been since the early fifties. Yeah, but everyone hates taxes, and hates the fact the economy collapsed because the wrong sort of people got big breaks on mortgages they couldn’t pay, or something. This all centered on the idea that the government should do less – next to nothing actually – and keep its hands off everyone’s Medicare and Social Security. It was hard to figure it all out, particularly since Obamacare was part of it. That would be taking their money and using it to provide healthcare to folks who don’t deserve it, because they haven’t earned it. And there was what they called the Debt Crisis too – even if there really isn’t one at all – if you believe economists. Still there was a lot to be angry about, including all those Mexicans here illegally, taking our jobs, not that any Tea Party folks would work scrubbing toilets or picking tomatoes. You grab whatever anger you find, even if it makes no sense. Perpetual anger takes some inventiveness.

Heck, maybe you just paid your auto insurance bill, and you’re angry you’ve tossed in hundreds of dollars each year and you’ll never get a fraction of that back. Some fool who doesn’t even know how to back out his driveway will smash something and get your money. You’re covering his (or her) incompetence, and paying through the nose. What you put in you don’t get out. That’s being forced to throw money away – your hard-earned money. That’s not fair. That’s also outrageous.

Calm down. If you have an accident you’ll be covered and someone else can be outraged if they’d like. Risk pools work that way, not that anyone understands that. In fact, now it’s a way to be outraged at Obamacare. Ben Smith covers that in Obama Prepares To Screw His Base:

President Obama’s enemies often accuse him, in the starkest political terms, of crudely acting to shift resources toward his political base: green-energy donors, single women, Latinos, African-Americans.

But the next 12 months are likely to reveal the opposite. Imminent elements of Obama’s grandest policy move, the health-care overhaul known as ObamaCare, are calculated to screw his most passionate supporters and to transfer wealth to his worst enemies.

Here’s the reasoning:

The passionate supporters are the youth, who voted for him by a margin of 60% to 36%, according to exit poll samples of people 29 and under. His enemies are the elderly: Mitt Romney won 56% of the votes from people 65 and over. And while one of Obamacare’s earliest provisions was a boon to the young, allowing them to stay on their parents’ insurance through the age of 26, what follows may come as an unpleasant surprise to many of the president’s supporters. The provisions required to make any kind of health insurance plan work – not just ObamaCare, but really any plan of its sort – require healthy young people to pay more in health insurance than they consume in services, while the elderly (saved by Sarah “Death Panels” Palin from any serious attempt to ration expensive and often futile end-of-life care) consume far more than they pay in. There is always a push and pull, however, and this year will be spent laying plans to shift the burden further toward the young.

Yes, the young will pay more in health insurance than they consume in services – which is posited here as outrageous. Ben Smith thinks the young should be up in arms, unless you understand risk pools:

Meanwhile the AARP, the implacable lobby for retired people, has been energetically making the case that the young should pay up.

In an interview, AARP legislative policy director David Certner didn’t contest the suggestion that young people would be forced to pay more, but argued that it was a matter of the common good, not simply the interest of his constituents.

First of all, he told BuzzFeed, the young may not be paying their fair share: “Younger people pay less in taxes than they do when they’re middle aged and have higher incomes.”

And second, they’ll be old someday too:

“It’s about having a big insurance pool because everyone benefits from it,” Certner said. “If a younger, healthier person is spending a little more now, it’s okay because at some point they’re going to be a less healthy, older person too.”

Smith is not convinced:

This is a reasonable policy argument, though it’s worth noting that every interest group argues its interests are identical to the common good. Cutting my taxes will stimulate the economy; spending on defense technologies will protect the homeland; maintaining my work rules will protect students; etc.

But politics is about power and resources, not about policy and morality. AARP has no real case to make there. The current young supported Obama; and the current old opposed him.

Smith thinks there’s trouble coming. Obama should have protected those who voted for him, not the smelly old people, but Matthew Yglesias counters:

The primary flaw in Smith’s analysis, however, is that obviously today’s young people will be tomorrow’s old people. So even if the existing under-35 cohort has relatively few health care problems right now, it’s still in our interests to set up a system that will provide for future needs.

The converse, however, isn’t the case. The GOP’s base of senior citizens can afford to be genuinely indifferent to the plight of younger people who do have substantial health care needs because old people don’t get younger. Nor do today’s elderly cohort have that much cause to concern themselves with the question of the long-term sustainability of Medicare, the integration of information technology into the health care sector, the potential public health benefits of restaurants disclosing more nutritional information, or most of the other subjects the Affordable Care Act tackles. There are also side features – like the regulation allowing kids in their early twenties to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy – that are very favorable to young people.

But honestly, the issue here isn’t in the details. It’s in the fact that today’s 25-year-old is tomorrow’s 55-year-old. Whether the Affordable Care Act is really in the interest of the young cohort just comes down to whether or not it’s a good idea overall.

Yglesias thinks Smith misses the real outrage, if you like being outraged:

The place where raw conflict of interest comes into play is that the Affordable Care Act is a fairly massive income redistribution scheme. The tax base to finance Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies is extremely progressive, not flat like Social Security. The richest Americans will overwhelmingly be the ones paying the tab, and the benefits accrue overwhelmingly to the bottom half of the income distribution.

Why should the rich pay a bit more to keep the poor alive? Is that good for the country? Opinions vary, but the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein sees what Yglesias sees:

Universal health-care systems in general – and Obamacare in particular – move money from the rich to the poor. The program fully subsidizes insurance for anyone making less than 133 percent of the poverty line and partially subsidizes it up until about 300 percent of the poverty line. On the other side, Obamacare pays for itself in part by taxing the rich. Both parts of the bill effectively redistribute from older Americans to younger ones.

So, do you want to be outraged? The auto insurance premiums of safe drivers also pay for repairs to the busted up cars of incompetent drivers. Each pays separate rates, but it’s still redistribution, and necessary for anyone to be covered at all. This is pretty basic stuff, and not particularly outrageous, and at The League of Ordinary Gentleman, Todd Kelly is a bit exasperated:

Oh for fish sakes.

Of course young people pay disproportionately in ObamaCare; they do so in any health insurance scheme. This has nothing to do with lobbying efforts; it has to do with the very definition of insurance: Younger people pay more in premium per individual healthcare dollars spent than old people because they’re healthier. They’re supposed to subsidize the elderly and the infirm. This isn’t a political conspiracy within the system Smith has cleverly uncovered; it’s the very definition of insurance.

People who don’t get in auto accidents pay disproportionate premium-to-claim ratio when compared to those that do have accidents; the same is true of homeowners whose houses don’t burn down. You want to “screw” others in the insurance subsidization game? Start smoking in bed and leave your stove on when you go to work.

I can’t decide which scenario I find more likely: that Ben Smith knows all of this, but still gets paid to write as if he doesn’t, or that he’s really this uninformed about the principal concept of something that he has been writing about since Obama has taken office.

Yes, but perpetual anger takes some inventiveness, as Brian Beutler notes:

By the same logic, Democrats have been “screwing” young people for almost 50 years, by requiring workers to finance Medicare spending. Likewise, on closer inspection, the ACA is an even more devastating blow to young men than to young women, because it ends gender rating and thus represents an enormous transfer of wealth from men to women.

And yet young people, like almost all people, are huge fans of Medicare, and I predict they’ll be big fans of the ACA, too.

If the ACA were all downside for young people then I think it would be fair to ask why they remained so enthusiastic about Obama and Democrats in 2012. But of course it’s not. And presumably Obama’s supporters appreciate both the immediate and future benefits the law will provide them, along with the broader social good of reducing the ranks of the uninsured – even if they don’t like paying their premiums now, while they’re healthy. They realize that “youth” isn’t a fixed demographic, and that they’ll eventually age out of it.

Maybe only the rich should be outraged:

Unlike Medicare and Social Security, which are financed by a regressive tax on workers, the ACA will be financed largely by taxes on wealthy individuals and companies, and the benefits divvied up among low-and-middle income people who currently lack insurance. I strongly suspect that this redistributive effect is what’s really animating the conservatives promoting Ben’s article.

Perhaps so, but perpetual anger takes more inventiveness than this talk of risk pools and redistribution, so now and then you need to toss in a real conspiracy theory, and Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo reports on the latest one:

In the wake of news that Sen. Lindsey Graham is threatening to block the nominations of Hagel and Brennan, there’s a whole new conspiracy theory bubbling up on the right. From ground zero of Obama era conspiracy theories comes the conspiracy theory to top them all: that CIA nominee John Brennan is himself a Muslim.

The claim originates with longtime TPM favorite, ex-FBI agent and anti-Islam activist John Guandolo. Guandolo left the FBI after sleeping with a witness in the investigation of disgraced Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana. But he subsequently landed on his feet as part of the anti-Islam circuit.

Yesterday Guandolo went on Tom Trento’s radio show – a little known but prolific center of anti-Muslim and ‘defend us against the Muslim hordes’ commentary – to make his claim.

That was this:

“Mr. Brennan did convert to Islam when he served in an official capacity on the behalf of the United States in Saudi Arabia,” Guandolo told interviewer and radio host Tom Trento.

“That fact alone is not what is most disturbing,” Guandolo continued. “His conversion to Islam was the culmination of a counterintelligence operation against him to recruit him. The fact that foreign intelligence service operatives recruited Mr. Brennan when he was in a very sensitive and senior U.S. government position in a foreign country means that he either a traitor … [or] he has the inability to discern and understand how to walk in those kinds of environments, which makes him completely unfit to the be the director of Central Intelligence.”‘

Brennan did indeed serve as CIA station chief in Riyadh in the 1990s and today holds the official title of Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. On Jan. 7, Obama nominated Brennan as the next director of the CIA, though he has yet to be confirmed.

“Are you kidding me?” Trento balked at Guandolo’s allegations. “The head of the CIA is a Muslim? For real? … Are you sure?”

“Yes I am,” Guandolo asserted. “The facts of the matter are confirmed by U.S. government officials who were also in Saudi Arabia at the time that John Brennan was serving there and have direct knowledge. These are men who work in very trusted positions, they were direct witnesses to his growing relationship with the individuals who worked for the Saudi government and others and they witnessed his conversion to Islam.”

Marshall notes how this was all over the right-side new sites – the big story of the day. It will be gone soon enough, but it’s just another example of the politics of grievance – this man was outraged and, damn it, you should be outraged too. He has no proof but this could be true!

Of course it’s also one more example of how outrage is both tedious and tiresome, and finally comically absurd. Yes, you want to shock the conscience of the nation, but screaming imaginary nonsense in the nation’s face won’t do that. It’s the spittle. No one likes spittle. The party of perpetual anger should know better, even if they now can’t even begin to imagine an alternative to anger. On the other hand, it took the left decades to get over the sixties. Give these guys time. They’ll figure it out, or they won’t.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Conspiracy Theories, Conspiracy Theories about Obama, Obamacare, Politics of Grievance, Republicans and Anger, The Angry Left, The Sixties and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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