Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Politics: Lots of Anger All Around

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Using talk radio as a barometer never leads to an accurate view of the electorate, but I've been struck in recent weeks by the continued anger being expressed by callers to talk shows of all political persuasions in the United States. From KUOW's "The Conversation" (usually drawing left-wing Seattleite callers) to the syndicated Glenn Beck Program (usually drawing those far on the right), people are calling in expressing anger toward the Federal government. It may have peaked during the revelations about the bonuses paid to executives of AIG, but it hasn't subsided much.

On the left, there's anger that the Obama administration has sold out to corporations and isn't using government power enough, and that it isn't different enough from the Bush administration in foreign policy. While public figures on the left like columnist David Sirota and economist Paul Krugman have been pretty calm if clear in their criticisms, callers to talk shows have not. I've been surprised at the number of left-wing callers to talk shows saying that they wish they had not voted for Obama, and that they were already disappointed and--yes--angry with him, usually for his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, but also over the economy. Even a month ago, these callers were rare; they are rapidly becoming the left-wing mainstream.

On the right, the anger is all-encompassing. People are echoing the opinion of talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh that the nation is threatened by socialism as embodied by the Obama administration. Some actually fear the government, leading in part to a run on both weapons and ammunition sales that started the day Obama was elected and still continues to this day according to a report on NPR's All Things Considered today. Listening to right-wing callers to shows like Limbaugh's, the reaction is visceral to anything the Obama administration does, whether it is bailing out a financial institution, orchestrating the removal of the CEO of General Motors, or Obama himself giving a speech to a foreign audience--it's ruining the country.

The right-wing movement is coalescing into what are anticipated to be enormous rallies on Tax Day, April 15th, which according to their organizing web site will be taking place all over the country. One of the prominent Tea Party backers, talk show host Glenn Beck, has been so over-the-top that he has even drawn a brilliant parody from Stephen Colbert. Yet, listen to callers to the talk shows, and Beck seems like a downright moderate.

The promise of the Obama administration was that it would go beyond the "red state versus blue state" dynamic of the past decade. With the anger upwelling on both sides, either this is the first step toward achieving that goal as people express their emotions, or it's the beginning of the evidence that the endeavor is utterly impossible because they can't get over those emotions. As always, time will tell.

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