Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Anger Management: We Could All Use It

By Steve Charing

The summer of discontent is about to fade away soon. At least the summer part will. This has been one of the stormiest, hottest, turbulent summers in memory, and I’m not referring to the weather. Everybody is pissed off at well, seemingly everybody.

Vitriolic town hall meetings around the country concerning health-care reform have dominated the news. Politicians are angry with each other. LGBT folks, environmentalists and immigration advocates are enraged at President Obama for not acting on issues of importance to these groups at a faster pace.

LGBT activists are incensed at former President Bill Clinton for his role in the nefarious "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. Clinton, in turn, is angry at gays for not helping him gain support in Congress to ward off DADT.

There also remains an unyielding rage towards the slow economy and bailouts used to revive it. Arguments are breaking out at the office water cooler. The terms "Socialist" and "Hitler" are being thrown around indiscriminately. Heck, Philadelphia Eagles fans are outraged over the signing of dog-abusing, ex-felon Michael Vick. But then again, those fans are perennially grumpy.

What’s going on here?

Clearly, health-care reform and its concomitant protests have taken over the spotlight in recent weeks. But it appears that these scenes of rage are not so much about the specifics contained in the proposed legislation in which several components have been fabricated for political purposes. (I wonder how many protesters truly understand the details.)

A lot of the wrath is fueled and organized by a small noisy minority who are cranky because they are out of power and that the country is run by an African-American who is decidedly smarter than them. They’re opposed to Obama at every turn, regardless of what he tries to achieve.

These are the same groups who idolize the numbskull Sarah Palin and believes her rubbish about "death panels." Some have even taken to carrying weapons to the aforementioned town halls.

Speaking of madness and Palin, recall on the campaign trail when she whipped her minions up in a frenzy to the point when some shouted out "terrorist" and "kill him" referring to Obama. And to her utter disgrace, Palin said absolutely nothing to tamp down the hateful rhetoric.

And then you add to the stew the nutcases of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs and it’s easy to see why there is so much stewing.

Even ex-presidents aren’t immune from the surly atmosphere. During a Netroots Nation gathering in Pittsburgh last month, an angry LGBT activist identified as Lane Hudson interrupted the principal speaker Bill Clinton with a condemnation of his role in DADT and DOMA.

Wagging that famous finger, Clinton replied with a shaky voice, ''You want to talk about Don't Ask, Don't Tell? I'll tell you exactly what happened. You couldn't delivery me any support in the Congress! And they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military…And all -- most of you did was to attack me instead of getting me some support in the Congress. Now, that's the truth!''

Something could be said for the fact that gays did not mobilize support in Congress back in 1993, though it would have probably been futile then. But the President did not have any standing with the military based on the perception that he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War. That alone would have iced his executive order.

He was also a new president who eked out a victory during a three-man race and won with a minority of votes cast, so his legitimacy in the minds of many was never fully established.

With no cache of political capital to spend on this issue, the military brass led by Colin Powell, forced Clinton to retreat. And Senator Sam Nunn led the congressional opposition, so the best Clinton could do was the so-called compromise of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Sixteen years after that debacle, the anger remains and is still palpable—in both directions.

The problem with all this finger pointing and irascibility is that thoughtful, reasoned ideas get drowned out by the noise. We saw the boisterous hubbub in Towson where Rep. Ben Cardin held a town hall. The country, already divided by the policies of the Bush presidency, is rupturing again after a brief feel-good respite between November’s election and the inauguration.

The anger by LGBT activists over the president’s perceived slowness in taking on our issues, I believe, is unreasonable given his right as president to establish his own set of priorities and schedule for his administration. Plus his term still has well over three years remaining, which allows time for action on his part. But at least the exasperation got his attention and demonstrates that we are not asleep at the switch like we were back in 1993.

Sometimes expressing disdain concerning policy or even towards policy-makers is healthy and in a democracy it is part of our fabric. But the heated furor as exhibited during this searing summer can be a bit much, and we should all take a deep breath and cool off some.

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