John Colson: Hit and Run
October 8, 2010
We are consumed, as a nation, by the politics of rage these days.
I was reading the latest Newsweek magazine when that thought was driven home by an article entitled, “I’m Mad As Hell … and I’m Going To Vote!”
The subhead was, “The psychology of an angry electorate.”
Well, okay, I thought, this ain’t exactly news – the fact that many voters are confused, frustrated and so pissed off they wouldn’t accept the truth if they stumbled over it in a park.
No, they would rather simply be mad, and in being mad, feel like they are doing something to counter the rotten, horrific events unfolding around them. And in their anger, they listen only to voices who reinforce their preconceptions, thus making them ever angrier.
And during the madness of the current electoral tumult, many of them are flocking to any politician who demonstrates as much anger as they feel, or more.
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Take, for example, Carl Paladino, the New York gubernatorial candidate who says he is going to take “a baseball bat to Albany,” the state capital where the legislature and the governor hang out.
This is the same guy who vowed to “take out” a journalist covering the election, after the journalist, New York Post state editor Fred Dicker, demanded proof of Paladino’s charges that his opponent cheated on his wife.
Or take the GOP’s Sharron Angle, who hopes to become Nevada’s next U.S. senator, and warned that Congress is inviting “those Second Amendment remedies,” a reference to guns and, presumably, blood on the floor of the U.S. Capitol.
And people are eating it up, which I find not a little alarming. Political discourse these days has descended to the level of street brawls, and you have to wonder how long it will be before the fists of today are holding the pistol grips of tomorrow.
I should admit at this point, in the interest of full disclosure, that family lore tells how one of my ancestors was once expelled from the Kentucky state legislature and prosecuted for shooting one of his fellow legislators in the state capitol. This was back in the 1800s, when legislators of rural states often carried guns, and arguments about politics could easily get as heated as they do today and end up in gunfire.
Seems like not much has changed, except now we have laws against carrying guns in public. That is, unless you happen to be a cop, hold a concealed-carry permit, or live in Colorado, where it’s still legal to have a pistol slung on your hip in plain view, among other exceptions.
So, I repeat, how long will it be?
It was interesting to note, in the same edition of Newsweek, an article about bullying in our schools and, by extension, throughout our society.
The story was about how bullying episodes have led kids to kill themselves, citing particular cases involving a 15-year-old girl accused of sexual promiscuity; two 13-year-old Texas boys tormented by their classmates for being gay; and a New Jersey gay college student who jumped off a bridge after being outed by a Web video.
All of that is truly tragic and incomprehensible to me, but the deeper story is that these kids are acting out the open hostility they see all around them, from the world of entertainment to the world of politics. Entertainment is not the issue here, but public violence is.
Not too long ago, such behavior was not often seen outside the sports world. Remember the two soccer dads who got into a fist fight over a ruling by a referee? The videocam image went around the world.
But now it’s spilled over into politics, and is fast becoming the norm.
Remember the spitting incident on the capital steps in Washington, D.C., when Tea Party protesters hollered racial slurs and spit on a Democrat who had voted in favor of the health care reform bill?
How about the California case in which a man’s fingertip was bitten off during a fight between supporters and opponents of the national health care reform legislation? No video of this one, and the biter was never caught.
Whatever we have going on here, it isn’t very healthy, eh?
And just what do we think we are teaching our kids with all this? Tolerance, self-control and rationality?