There are a lot of annoying people on the planet. Almost everyone is annoying to some degree, and at some time or another. But there are some people who go well over the boundaries of acceptable annoyance, and provoke rebellion. Not to trivialize History, but look at the American Revolution. While events went out of control and led to armed insurrection, they started – well, for lack of a better word, as annoying. Taxes that applied only to the colonies. Rules from London that Parliament and the Crown never planned to discuss, let alone apply to themselves. Requirements that started out as minor, but more and more sent the signal that the Americans were considered not merely second-class citizens of the Empire, but were themselves all but property of the Crown. Insulting, and when you boil the Revolution down to its essentials, it comes down to the fact that the British Government just went too far. No one has ever claimed that the Parliament was as bad, say, as the Huns under Genghis Khan or the Romans under Nero, but for all that they went beyond the lines that the people would accept. The American people, anyway. Recent years seem to indicate that the modern Britons are, sadly, all too willing to be treated like property of their government. And in short order, this helps explain recent American politics on the national level. In 1994, the American people were fed up with the arrogance of Clinton and the Democrats, and handed Congress over to the GOP, since the Republicans at least had promised specific changes in accord with the public will. In 2006, however, the apparent failure of the GOP to stick to their word caused the people to give the Congress back to the Democrats, who had been promised ethics, accountability, and representative government. In 2008, that same spirit led many Americans to support Barack Obama, seeing as he promised to be open and accountable to the American people (just a suggestion, Mister President – if you’d kept all those promises you made, most of your support would still be there; lying to folks generally gets found out and is neither smart nor effective in the long term), and it’s pretty clear to everyone not addicted to teleprompter-induced unicorn droppings that Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat went to a Republican because the good folks in Massachusetts decided firing a shot across the bow wasn’t getting the message across, so they put one into the mizzenmast of Obamacare.
This is nothing new, really. Clinton got elected in 1992 mostly due to American annoyance at Bush I breaking a tax promise. Nixon got elected in 1968 due to Johnson getting caught out as a liar and a crook (ironic, considering Watergate). And FDR got a lot of political mileage blaming the Depression on the Republicans, something Obama tried to do but fumbled, not only because the present situation is no ‘Depression’, but also because his own party had more to do with its cause than they admitted, which the American people have begun to recall. As a result of all this, a lot of Conservatives have begun to anticipate big gains this fall, on the assumption that the voters will ahnd Congress back to them, the House for sure and maybe the Senate, too.
But will they, really?
Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts was important, but it remains to be seen if it will resonate nine months from now, especially on a national scale. Already, conservatives, moderates, independents and even liberals are claiming that his win demonstrates the strength of their own political views. But it’s also important to understand the limits to playing on annoyance. Jimmy Carter, for example, convinced Americans that Democrats should be trusted more than Republicans. But by 1980, his performance had undone that conviction. A politician may gain an office through fear-mongering or playing on the public’s annoyance with an incumbent, but earning the public’s trust depends on something better. This is a hallmark of Reagan, and before him FDR and the other significant leaders. Leadership, when all I said and done, is something much different and greater than simply playing on anger and resentment.
But returning to annoyance. It must be said of horseflies that they are persistent, and the same is true of politicians who play on ire to their advantage. We must presume that all the politicians involved in this fall’s contests will be energetic is their use of attacks and criticisms. Anyone dismayed by the tone of the last few elections had better stock up on movies and books, and shut off the TV between June and January. There is a firestorm coming, of great intensity and spite, wherein all manner of malice and false accusation will be raised against the evidence which otherwise would overwhelm the hypocrites, of whatever political color and symbol. For there are true and false Democrats and Republicans, just as there are traitors and fools in every country and culture. The difference is the integrity and courage to be found among those who carry their party’s name in the public eye.