Loose Canons

Barry’s Angry Words

This president is the root cause of the political anger that is out there.

By 1.11.11

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Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, overseeing the investigation the Tucson shootings that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a coma and federal judge John Roll and five others dead, wasted little time in blaming heated political rhetoric for the crime.

Shortly after the first reports of the shootings, Dupnick said, "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital," adding "We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry." Giffords' father, asked if she had any enemies, reportedly said that the whole Tea Party was her enemy.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the attack on Giffords and the others is a result of political rhetoric. The political anger there is -- built over nearly two years of the Obama presidency -- resulted in a force that ejected of 63 House members last November. And the root cause of the anger is to be found in the man who resides in the White House.

Every president is responsible for the political climate while he is in office. Using the Bully Pulpit, controlling his agenda and in dealing with the Congress and the public, every president has at least great control -- if not sole control -- of the level of heat in American politics. When a president loses that control, like Obama did last fall, it presages a political disaster for him and his party.

President Obama is a tumultuary. He governs by inflating or inventing crises which he insists must be acted upon as he prescribes with an immediacy that tolerates no delay or debate. His signature remark -- repeated again and again -- is that "The time for talk is over. The time for action is now."

Obama derides debate, and refuses to answer critics, choosing instead to end the discussion. In January 2009, challenged by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Az) on the shape and size of the economic stimulus package he proposed, Obama cut off the discussion by saying, "I won."

And that is his style. Whether it's angry words spoken with a preternatural calm or calm words delivered in a visibly angry demeanor, he has cultivated the anger that propelled his legislative agenda through Congress in a tsunami of unread and undebated legislation.

The anger voiced at countless townhall meetings in 2009 was the first visible response to Obama's stampeding Congress to remake America. People who had never been active in politics went to tell their congressmen and senators that they felt that their government no longer represented them.

But instead of listening to the protests of those new townhall activists, Obama and his congressional allies rammed the healthcare "reform" bill through to his signing ceremony when Vice President Biden memorably called it a "big effing deal." It was, and it further distanced Americans from their government.

Too many Americans are alienated from their government because they don't trust it. And, given the record of the past decade, they shouldn't. Those who live in border states are virtually left to defend themselves against the encroachment of illegal aliens and violent crime. For all the spending that Obama has done, we still have nearly 10% unemployed (and many more in some states). Alienation and frustration breed anger.

And so does Obama. His cultivation of anger is nearly a constant in his rhetoric.

His style uses two rhetorical tools: stating angry words calmly or stating calm words angrily. There are many examples of each. His talent for managing anger -- and his allusions to violence - first became evident in his presidential campaign.

At a June 2008 campaign fundraiser in Philadelphia, Obama calmly -- almost jokingly - said "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun."

On January 31, 2009, shortly after taking office, Obama used angry words calmly. Talking about Wall Street bankers in a video, he said "The American people will not excuse or tolerate such arrogance and greed."

In December 2009 at the Copenhagen global warming summit, Obama's dream of a new global warming treaty vanished when China and other nations balked at the economy-killing nature of the proposals. Then a visibly angry Obama hurled his calm signature line at the Chinese saying "the time has come not to talk but to act."

His best use of the "angry words spoken calmly" tactic was in his June 7, 2010 blunt defense of his administration's lackadaisical response to the BP oil spill. Obama had convened a panel of experts to advise him, bragging endlessly of his energy secretary's Nobel Prize. When his academic approach to the disaster was too much for even the liberal media, Obama explained that he brought in the experts to help him decide "whose ass to kick." (Later that year, on October 31, Obama was again visibly angry, lashing back at Connecticut rally hecklers yelling about AIDS.)

It's rare for Obama to appear angry and speak angrily at the same time. The best example was his December 7, 2010 press conference at the height of the congressional fight over extending the Bush-era tax rates. There, Obama apparently adopted the angle Sen. Bob Menendez took a week earlier. Menendez had said that negotiating with the Republicans was almost like negotiating with terrorists.

In his press conference an angry -- even petulant -- Obama lashed out at Republicans, saying "It's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed...The hostage was the American people." He also kicked his liberal supporters, telling them to not be "sanctimonious" and reminding them that "this country was founded on compromise."

Anger is not malum in se: it's not an evil emotion. Anger is a strong passion or an emotion of displeasure. It is a natural response to all sorts of affronts, be they personal or political. In politics, anger stirs people to demonstrate, to speak out and to vote as they did last November. And among those who are not unhinged, it doesn't breed violence.

That is why it is perfectly understandable that Professor Obama would want to create and control anger in the electorate. And that is also why we are left to wonder why, in cultivating political anger so assiduously, he uses words of violence such as "hostage takers."

One clue can be found in Obama's first autobiography, Dreams from My Father.

Most of us remember being influenced by books in our childhood. Whether you studied the Bible or pored over the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, at least one book sticks in your mind as having influenced your view of the world and your way of thinking.

Obama mentions only one book in Dreams from My Father, the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and he mentions it twice.

In one part of the book, Obama wrote of how he sought to shake off a "nightmare vision" of racial repression, and of reading Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright and DuBois to try to understand. But "Only Malcolm X's autobiography seemed to offer something different. His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will…"

How did that influence the young Obama? We will never know, and it not of ultimate importance. What is important is how an American president manages the anger he creates.

Barack Obama is an accomplished rhetorician. His loss of control over the political climate last year has seemingly been recovered in the December lame duck session. It is up to him to heat or cool American politics. At this point, there is no reason to believe that the angry words, or the calm words stated angrily, will be fewer this year than last.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. You can follow him on Twitter @jedbabbin.