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Good American Citizens Should Be Noble, Not Ignoble Like Anti-Government Republicans (Review Essay)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 11, 2011: The Republican noise machine in the United States makes a lot of noise. The noise generated by Rush Limbaugh on the radio and by certain commentators on Fox television and by conservative columnists and pundits in print outlets often seems to be designed to play on our fears and arouse our anger, rather than appeal to our rational intellect.


By contrast, Democrats appear to be afraid of arousing political anger (as distinct from personal anger, which I will also discuss momentarily). Instead of playing on our fears and arousing political anger, President Obama, for example, specializes in playing on our hopes for change. Of course there is nothing wrong in hoping for change, provided that the change we hope for is not just some quixotic stuff of day-dreams. However, if President Obama hopes to be re-elected in 2012, he probably should not rely on hope for change to turn out the vote in the 2012 presidential election, as it did in the 2008 election. Instead, he should hope that well-informed fear of the Republicans and well-informed political anger at the Republicans will move the American voters to re-elect him president, rather than electing a Republican to be president.


I use the example of President Obama to illustrate the larger problem as I see it in the Democratic party today. The Democrats today seem to me to suffer from an anger deficit regarding political anger. But the traditional way of referring to an anger deficit is to speak of cowardice. I see political anger as desirable because it should serve to motivate voter turnout. But Democrats today seem to regard political anger as just a bad habit that Republicans have. Because Republicans rely heavily on political anger, the Democrats appear to have decided that they will be "above" such a bad habit. The Democrats are going to take the high road as it were and arouse our hope for change, but without arousing our justified political anger at the Republicans who have engineered the problems that the high-minded Democrats hope we want to change.


As I say, hoping for well-informed change, as distinct from quixotic hopes, is fine as far as it goes. But we also should be prepared to fight politically and non-violently for the change we hope for. Political anger is the root of our fighting spirit. No political anger, no fighting spirit. No fighting spirit, no voter turnout, or low voter turnout. But these observations suggest that President Obama and the Democrats today have a deficit in their fighting spirit, to put it mildly. In plain English, they are suffering from the bad habit of cowardice masquerading as high-mindedness.


In her book Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos , Aristotle, and Gender (2000), Barbara Koziak argues that in political theory today we need to retrieve Aristotle's view regarding political anger and its importance for politics. No, she does not single out the Democrats for comment. But I am singling out President Obama and the Democrats. The Democrats seem to believe that Republicans are just being ill-mannered when they try to play on people's fears and anger. As a result, the Democrats seem to believe that they are being well-behaved and polite by not trying to arouse political anger. As Barbara Koziak's analysis suggests, political anger evidently needs to be retrieved in the political theory that the Democrats today are evidently following.


But if Aristotle advances a healthy regard for the place of political anger in his political theory, we might wonder how and why he came to have a healthy regard for political anger.


Aristotle and everybody in his audience were familiar with the Homeric epic the Iliad. The Iliad is about political anger of epic proportions, King Achilles' justified political anger at being publicly dishonored by King Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the thousand-ships that set sail to retrieve Helen from Troy. Agamemnon also dishonored the priest of Apollo. So Agamemnon was up to no good, just as the Republicans have been up to no good over the last half century or so. But Achilles had the good sense to get angry at Agamemnon for dishonoring him.


By contrast, most Americans have not had enough sense to get angry at hubristic Republicans such as President Ronald Reagan when he declared our American government to be the problem. That's bunk! Reagan is the problem. He and other Republicans are hubristic, just as Agamemnon was. But in time Agamemnon repented. Will the hubristic Republicans ever repent their anti-government hubris. Anti-government Republicans are not fit to govern because they see government itself as the problem. Government is not the problem. The American government is for the common good. Republicans are not fit to govern because they are not for the common good of Americans. Let Republicans keep on saying that government is the problem, but keep them out of government offices because in the final analysis they are anti-American. When you say that the American government is the problem, you are anti-American.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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