The Politics of Anger and Hope

Angry. Old. White. Tea Bagger. Far-Right. Racist. Homophobic. Sexist. Hypocritical. Anti-Science. Religious Zealots. Angry.

This is the Republican Party, if you ask your average person under 30, or racial minority, religious minority, sexual minority, or non-conservative. Those of you who fit in one of these categories and are reading this article are probably shaking your head in agreement. Those who fit the conservative/liberty mold or in Republican Party are probably already silently muttering to yourself about media bias and those darned awful dastardly Democrats. Oh, how different it would be if only all news stations told the truth like Fox News! If only liberals sat down and listened to the awesomeness that are the words flowing from Rush Limbaugh’s mouth, then all would be solved.

Unfortunately for those of us in the liberty/conservative movement, most of these characteristics have some basis in truth; or at the very least a substantial segment of the party displays characteristics of some of these traits. Yes, they are exaggerated, hyped, overplayed, and used against us repeatedly; however that doesn’t mean they don’t form a substantive basis of serious problems facing the GOP. While someone like Todd Akin doesn’t represent the party, by sweeping his mistake under the rug as ‘one lone nutty guy speaking out poorly’, we fail to address serious underlying issues facing our party and our movement. Some might question why I’m discussing this. “Aren’t you playing into the Democrats’ hands by affirming this? You must be one of those secret liberal RINO sellouts!!” Alas, if it were only so. Being a Democrat is so much easier in modern day culture. Being a Democrat is like a one way ticket to the “cool crowd” in our modern youth culture. It means that you are assumed to believe in things like diversity and science, that you really care about the assorted unwashed masses begging for social justice, and most temptingly they even allow free debate on different topics within their party!

For all its great décor and sociological storefront, however, there remains one major problem with the Democratic Party: the foundation is based on failed policies and principles. I could spend articles going on about the failures of the Democratic Party to address our nation’s most basic needs, and I probably will at some future point. However, I am a firm believer that in order to succeed in life one must address the problems in your own house first and foremost.  And boy, does the Republican Party ever need a remodeling.

After the 2012 failure… err I mean election, the RNC went about a self-examination of sorts, where it did a fairly decent job of identifying most of the major problems within the party. However, in fear of offending any subset of the party, it failed to offer serious solutions to address those issues. In the biggest political punt of the decade, the party essentially said, “We have some serious issues which, if not addressed, will leave us unelectable and toxic for decades to come. Have fun solving that!” Thanks RNC.

So when the RNC and every other major Republican network has set their heads in the sand to ignore these issues, who am I to address them? Well,  I certainly don’t have any illusions that I’m someone special. I’m one guy with one set of opinions ready to share them. Many will ignore them, some might laugh, some might decide I’m a bad, evil traitor to the party. Will I turn this around by myself? No, but perhaps I’ll change a few minds and start a few conversations.

With that, I’ll begin by discussing the first and last word of my exhaustive list of negative characteristics plaguing our party: the topic of anger. It’s the only topic I’ve addressed twice because I believe it is probably the most damaging and affirmed characteristic haunting our movement. The angry conservative is not just a stereotype, but a reality that is all too often indulged, and even lionized, in the movement. Want to prove your conservative credentials? Just give a venom-filled rant about Obama, Pelosi, and Reid. Want to bolster them a bit more? Declare your disgust for RINOs, moderates, and anyone who dare look a Democrat in the eye without trying to punch them.

I’ve been to my fair share of Democratic, Republican, and non-partisan events. At only one type have I heard repeated and regular applause for the man or woman who gets up to discuss how angry they are. Angry about the president, about the direction of the country, about the loose morals, about debt crisis, and in fact, just angry in general. If this has been you, please know that you’ve probably done more damage to your cause than help. Why is that? Mostly because your average American doesn’t want to vote for the angry guy. The angry guy is a turn-off for the sensitive delicacy of the American palate. Angry people come across as unproductive, uncooperative, and uncompromising. While there are elements of the movement that want exactly that in a candidate, those are qualities that the vast majority of Americans reject in their politicians.

You’re angry. We get it. We all get it. We all have been angry. I’ve been angry before. I’ll be angry again. I’ll let you in on a secret, though: the Democrats get angry too. As do Independents and those who care nothing for politics at all. The difference between how the Democrats and the Republicans handle their anger is the entire contrast between the effectiveness of the parties. Democrats channel their anger as a weapon to use against the Republicans. In 2006, rather than primary Democrats who voted for the War in Iraq anti-war, liberals focused all their energy on fundraising for and supporting candidates who would eventually take the House and Senate. Grassroots conservatives, in their anger at the healthcare law and stimulus, started to follow the same pattern; but they have now devolved into spending most of their time trying to primary any Republican “squish” they can find.  In 2008/2012 President Obama ran on a fluff-filled and hollow campaign slogan of hope and change, and chants of “Yes we can”. What did Republicans run on? Anger at President Obama’s liberal policies, and in particular, anger at the healthcare law.

Anger has a place and is a natural and healthy emotion to express. The problem comes when you hold onto that anger and don’t let it go. The public and conservatives in particular were angry when President Obama passed health care reform. They were angry at what they rightfully saw as growing government control, increased spending, and market perversion. Channeling that anger was the right move at the time. That was 2010. It is now 2014. Those that still hold onto that same fervent opposition to the healthcare law come across as enthralled in obsession. Do most Americans still oppose the healthcare law? Opinion polls say yes. Are most Americans so upset with the law that they are willing to shut down the government and the functionality of Congress on budgetary matters? Not even close.

In the four years since passage, Republicans have failed to articulate our clear alternative to the health care reform, which is one of the reasons we failed to win in 2012. We have given the public no clear positive alternative to the mess that has been left for the public to deal with. The public has had plenty of time to discuss and digest why the current law is not working in the way designed or promised.  But what they have not had is a clear discussion of where the Republican Party wants to take the country’s health care system. Without clear, positive solutions that we can rally around, we are left with unyielding opposition.

Instead, what we have is an unrelenting call for total repeal and nothing else. However, that call can only be met in one unlikely scenario: we have a Republican President, Republican led House, and Republican led filibuster-proof Senate. The fiasco that was the government shutdown is proof positive that the Democrats will not budge on repeal as long as they hold any of the levers of government. Without that perfect alignment, the Republican Party is left in the situation of angry opposition agitators. While majorities and coalitions could be formed to modify or eliminate some of the worst parts of the law, we have weighed ourselves down by calling for all-or-nothing repeal.

So what should the grassroots conservative activist do with his or her anger? Channel it, use it, and eventually let it go. If you find yourself angry, write a respectful letter to your congress member, fundraise for a candidate, write an op-ed to your local newspaper, block-walk, or host a rally. Put out the positive alternatives to what you do not like in our current government, and how you would like to see it changed for the better. People sympathize with those in their anger only a little while; and eventually their sympathy turns to annoyance, disgust, or even fear. We cannot be a long term winning party until we create our own substance-filled message of hope.