Monday, October 11, 2010

What is making people so angry?

I'll confess I'm at a loss.  There is so much anger toward the government right now and the Obama administration, but the equation doesn't add up to me.  People will say things like, I bet those Christians who voted for Obama regret it now.  But I'm never quite sure what they are pointing to.

These are elements of anger I hear:

1. Big deficit and getting bigger exponentially
2. Unemployment
3. Health care legislation
4. "Big government" (is this code for health care legislation?)
5. Socialism (is this code for health care legislation?)
6. Bail outs of banks, GM, Chrysler, etc...
7. Attitude toward immigration

But I think there's more to it than this, predispositions and missing elements.  What would you say are the missing elements in the equation, if you think there are?


Rick said...

You might want to add immigration reform to that list as well.

It is the sum of those things, not necessarily each one, that is frustrating people. They see Obama as not prioritizing, and is instead pushing on an agenda that they did not sign-on for, with less than stellar results.

When people heard "change" at the last election, each person had something specific in mind. Obama was vague enough to allow those self-definitions of "change" to remain. Now many feel they are not getting the "change" they had expected.

Ken Schenck said...

I added immigration. My question about the "change" argument is that it can only apply to people who voted for him. Are there really people who voted for Obama for this reason who are now going to vote against him because they didn't get the change they wanted--other than of course getting the taste of President Bush out of their mouth?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think the people that run in most of your and my circles are middle or middle-upper class. These have been taught that hard work, and frugality will lead to enough. And whenever we find that these things "we" have worked hard for are being "taken" or "stolen", then we react. It is how we percieve "private property". And private property is about the right to individual financial freedom....
Isn't it a fact that communistic systems lend themselves to the dissolution of the "middle class"? The ruling party, then, is the one who determines what the peasants might "need", which is never as much as the rulers...

I think on another level, it has to do with family of origin and how one was taught by example or explaination...I have seen too many enabled to regard charity, or alturistic goals as beneficial....

mwp said...

I think a good deal of the heat in people's response to President Obama is only tangentially about the issues you raise.

We live in a scary and unpredictable world, and one that feels less under our control than in the past. A lot of people sense that the US (perhaps the West in general) is in decline -- our economy's a mess while China is thriving, terrorism is a threat that can't be "beaten" in a traditional sense, global warming seems to be a problem after all, birth rates are declining, and so on. The future is scary; maybe our best years are behind us. Maybe we're about to pay the piper for a lifestyle we've all sensed for years now involved putting off the costs for our children to deal with.

Of course the world has always been scary, but the threats of the past (the Nazis, say, or the possibility of nuclear annihilation) were contests we could hope to "win" by our own effort (win the war, win the arms race); I'm not sure people feel that's the case now.

Into this mix comes a president who is Not Your Father's President. He's a young, educated, cosmopolitan black man, born of a non-American father, raised partly in a foreign country. Remember when it was revealed that when President Bush was elected he'd only been out of the US once (to Mexico)? My friends were mostly appalled by that ("how could he have so little curiosity?"), but I also knew a lot of people who were comforted ("here's an American, through and through, who's proud of what makes this country special"). Now we have a president who was raised in Indonesia. How could this not seem strange and alien to a lot of these people?

I mentioned that he was black in that list above, but I don't think you have to raise the specter of racism here -- it's just that he's different from anyone who's been president before, and in a lot of ways American's haven't always been comfortable with. In a country where half the people consider themselves to be "conservative" (a word which has resistance to change at its heart), of course President Obama is going to be a tough pill to swallow, even if he hadn't said the word "change" once in his campaign. But in the event, he made change his mantra.

I'm not saying the President's agenda wouldn't have been controversial in any case -- the health care debate has been a third rail in American politics for decades, for example. But you asked about the extra measure of heat, and that's where I think it comes from. That's why all the demonstrably untrue things huge numbers of people believe about him (he's foreign born, he's a Muslim, he's a marxist) are all ways to put a label to their general suspicion: he's different from us.

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, my question about the stealing argument is that Obama has not proposed any tax hike on the middle class, unless you consider someone who earns more than $250,000 a year middle class. Even then, the tax rates under him would be less than under Clinton or Reagan. The health care bill requires people to get health insurance, but most of us have it anyway.

mwp said...

My apologies for double posting such a long comment! I got an error message both times I hit "post", so I'm surprised to see it here at all.

Ken Schenck said...

Sometimes people revise their comments and repost. I figured your second version was the one you wanted and deleted the first one.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken, I just got back online to add to the "list" that Americans have not been trusting of their government for a while, now. And when we continually see the "trangressions" (pretty overt ones, too) of our leaders, who are to represetn "us", then most of us have opted out. Just until the Obama adminstration.

I think that Obama had represented what we thought was "good" and "worthy of American exceptionalism". We thought a black man in the White House was an accomplishment in a little over 200 years! We prided ourselves on our humane values.

But, when this presidents words were found to be ideologically driven and that he was unwilling to listen, as well as our Representatives in Congress, then we were insulted! Do they really know better than the rest of us? Then why not explain? Or do they think we don't care, or are too ignorant to "get it", so they just bowl over us and do what they want to anyway?

The public policy issues go alonside the moral decline in our Representative's characters. They can be bought or sold to the highest bidder, altho it is technically illegal...

I think the historical story of politicians and their character has not brought about a trusting relationship between the government and the people. Even though Obama promises to not increase taxes to those under the $250,000 range, who is to say, if he won't? How many times have the American people experienced the discrepancies of promises and actual policy?

Many have decided to opt for early retirement, as why pay higher taxes and defeat one of the purposes of work? My cousin is younger than I am and he retired because of this very reason! His boss was requiring him to work 12 hours a week, and he wasn't getting any benefit from it...except to push him into another tax bracket...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And don't forget the federal deficit! Joe Biden's comment about how we didn't spend enough!!! Outrageous to the average "joe" who knows that a budget must be met, somehow...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And don't forget Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that gave loans to those who'd not proven their trustworthiness with money. If we cannot make our budget for the necessities in life, how can we think that defaults will not happen when loans are given so that people can live beyond their means?

Rick said...


"Obama for this reason who are now going to vote against him because they didn't get the change they wanted--other than of course getting the taste of President Bush out of their mouth?"

You may get some that do that, but I think it will more of an issue of those people just being apatheic about voting. They will stay home. Current polls are showing that in regards to the upcoming races.

MWP brings up interesting thoughts about the contrast between Bush and Obama. However, I think people saw Bush as a disengaged CEO, while they now see Obama as a disengaged college professor- and both of them are currently considered poor national leaders.

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, thanks for bringing these things up. They are good examples of things being said that seem to have missing elements to the equation in my mind. For example, the causes of the economic crisis, the incredible deficit were not products of the Obama administration. Why wasn't there anger about these things on this level during the Bush administration? There must be another factor in the equation.

When I listen to Obama, I hear someone who may disagree with someone's sense of what should be enacted, but I don't hear someone who isn't listening. By the very nature of the situation, a large number of people will not get the decision they want. But this is not the same as not listening.

Steven Jones said...

I think that a significant factor in this situation is the ongoing dymanic that has existed within and between liberal and conservative camps for some time.

Liberals champion certain values, but seem to have an immensely difficult time expressing these in any meaningful way, i.e. a way that motivates the voting populace who would support them.

On the other hand, the values that consevatives stand for haven't changed in FOREVER, precisly because it is the nature of conservatism to refuse to ever change or modify the vision.

Conservatism, because of it's inherent nostalgia and fear of the future (future is the possibility of change and progress), much more easily makes use of weariness (nostalgia) and fear as motivators. This isn't to say that there are no conservative ideas, but that when push comes to shove, there is more 'gut-power' in conservatism.

Liberals not only have difficulty expressing a clear liberal agenda (conservatives seem to see a more clear 'liberal agenda' than I can discern), they also struggle to maintain voter motivation.

What we have in our president is liberal who expressed a clearer-than-usual agenda, and was able to motivate! Not only did he motivate, he motivated without falling into the usual fear-weariness routine that we are accustomed to. It was refreshing to say the least.

Now, though, we have experienced two years of this president with a congress that could have forced through legislation but actually tried not to, seeking meaningful bipartisanship, but were effectively blocked at every turn. Conservatives were UNWILLING to work together, and instead universally resisted any non-conservative action as dangerous and unamerican. This is very potent and effective rhetoric, but pure rhetoric. We have a president who was unable to live up to his hope for change specifically because of those who were resistant to change.

In order to effectively resist such strong motivation for change, conservatives were forced to dig deeper into the gut, where weariness and fear reside, and to use them. The very nature of these medullar emotions is that they work contrary to cerebral activity, and so cerebral activity is best avoided. So conservatives are less willing to debate civilly, project reasonable implications, measure and map, and communicate.

Conservatism can be intelligent and well-spoken and useful. But there is more POWER in weariness and fear, and when the stakes seem to be higher, the power is what is craved. Fear works best when it unreasonable, because it seeks its own justification; it does not need to clarify or communicate itself to others. Fear breeds fear. It bypasses the cerebellum and goes straight for the medulla.

There isn't good reason for the anger, except that it 1)it doesn't need reason, and 2)it works better without it, and 3)it works to the benefit of the party-out-of-power, so that they might gain power again.

Steven Jones said...

Let me clarify. I do not consider myself liberal or conservative, but I have worked hard to understand both motivations.

For better or worse, conservatism is motivated best by fear. Perhaps what is-to-come is deserving of fear, in which case conservatism is an acceptable attitude. But perhaps not. And the merits of what-is-to-come should be the basis of merit, and where the discussion should reside, not in maintaining con-for-cons'-sake.

Liberalism, for better or worse, is best motivated by hope, in the exact inverse pattern of liberalism. So is what-is-to-come' worhty of our hope? Again, this is the discussion to have.

Without discussion, do we tend toward fear or hope? I want my instinct to be hope, but I want to measure that hope carefully. I believe my faith calls me out of fear and into hope, but that does not mean to ally myself with liberalism.

It means to be willing to be civil and speak clearly and seek understanding. My faith might incline me to support, as an example, a Rally to Restore Sanity, were a key figure to hold one, sometime soon. Say, in D.C.

Anonymous said...

Obama peddled "Hope & Change" as something that was good. Since he hardly defined what it was everyone filled in the blanks and it became a wish list of unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately for Obama and America the Messianic illusion is quickly eroding because "Hope and Change" has turned out to be higher unemployment, massive debt, wasted billions, ram it down our throat government and uncertainty of the future. I think Americans believe they did not get what they ordered, have kept the receipt and are taking back the merchandize. Obama was your first Post-Modern Presidential candidate. He was whatever you wanted him to be. People overlooked what he really was, a Alinskite Marxist. Now we are paying the price for not paying attention.

JohnM said...

Ken, regarding the big deficit, it's simply not true to say there was no concern or criticism of government spending during the Bush years. The anger was there, was mounting, and was being expressed well before President Obama took office. Now, if the deficit wasn't President Obama's creation, what exactly has he done to address it? Has not everthing he's done had the net effect of continuing and increasing the deficit?

As for why those who voted for President Obama might now regret it - probably Rick had the best explaination in his first post.

Yes, there's an irony that so many people are so angry in a generation that, on the whole, is materially far more pampered than any that has gone before it. Government has something, but not everything, to do with that. Part of the explanation is that as long as some people possess or receive things that other people don't and some people get to be or do things that other people don't - which is to say always, sinful human nature will incline people toward resentment and blame seeking.

What "might be missing" is that no, Big government is not a code word for health care legislation, rather it's a reference to the fact that government is more and more involved in every aspect of our lives. Government beneficense (when that's what even is) comes at a price, and I'm not talking about monetary. Along with our "entitlements" piled on top of entitlements we have constantly new laws piled on top of old laws and regulations piled on top of regulations, with few ever sunsetted or re-evaluated. If you put me in a strait-jacket but feed me really well I'm still going to resent the strait-jacket.

Some ofthe public ire is mis-directed at the Federal Government to be sure, people should take a closer look at their state and local level regulation. Zoning laws, just to cite one example, are not (yet) within the purview of the Federal Goverment. I wonder if the Roman Empire, for all it's faults, had the number of mala prohibita restrictions we do? Doesn't really matter though, even if it was/is worse somewhere else. If Joe stomps on my toe and Bob hits me in the head with a brick I'm still not going to thank Joe for stomping on my toe just because what Bob did was worse.

Ken Schenck said...

Craig, I still have the same question I had for Rick. Do you think that people who voted for Obama feel this way enough to vote differently than they would have otherwise? I accept some of Rick's argument about people staying home, although I have this stereotype in my mind of Democrats in presidential elections taking people to vote who's default is not to vote anyway.

John, I still wonder if there's something else in the equation that has brought the deficit and big government question to a head. I suspect it is the health care issue at least in part. Maybe it accounts for it fairly well?

::athada:: said...


I present an article I think you will enjoy, by Paul Krugman. As he is in a very tiny minority - liberal economists - I trust you will read with a hermetic of suspicion. Even so, and his policy suggestions aside, I think he points out some data that gets lost in the ire.

*total gov't employment (includes local, state) has actually declined since Jan. '09
*Of the $600 billion in stimulus, 40% (!) are "expenditures" in the form of tax cuts
*federal gov't expenditures last 2 years have only risen 3% (after inflation), which is slower yet than the two before those

Meg Parton said...

OK. I attempted to read every response and ended up thinking of a response to responses. Does that make sense? That all became a bit confusing,so, in order to stay on topic, I would like to respond to your post, Dr. Schenck.

Anger and frustration towards the government can seem heated and full of emotion, I'll give you that. Not everyone who spews angry rhetoric will be able to give you a very factual reason as to why they are upset at the way the government is running our country. Ironically enough, those are usually the people who are interviewed on news spots.

With that in mind, let me please say that I do feel somewhat of a punch to the gut when I see or hear someone talk about people with opposing ideas as if they are full of only emotion and no rationality. I read as much of the health care bill that I could, attended town hall meetings, asked questions, and read a "layman's" version of the bill as well. I revisited Ludwig VonMises economic theory. I read historical texts as well as current political texts. I have to say, that although emotion is involved in my political thoughts, my ideologies are not based on that emotion.

And I'm not alone. Although I am not a Tea Party member (I'm not a Republican either- or a Democrat, for that matter), and I don't plan on becoming one, I was all too curious about the rallies taking place, and decided to go to one. I took pictures, talked to people, and observed the scene overall. The one I went to in particular was in Oceanside, CA. There were people of ALL races there, all ages, and everyone was on their best behavior (except for one gentleman who appeared to be high. He was wearing tie-dye, swimming in the fountain, and playing a small guitar- singing nonsensically. I don't think he was on either side. haha).

The people I spoke with were working men and women who simply wanted to feel as if their vote mattered. To feel as if the work they were doing was helping their families survive and thrive, not paying for saving a seal or turtle mentioned in some earmark of a bill that had nothing to do with the environment. And of course, being in CA, these people didn't want their hard earned money to continue to support all of the illegal immigrants that are crossing their border less than an hour from that rally.

Continued on next post...

Meg Parton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meg Parton said...

The people I spoke with were working men and women who simply wanted to feel as if their vote mattered. To feel as if the work they were doing was helping their families survive and thrive, not paying for saving a seal or turtle mentioned in some earmark of a bill that had nothing to do with the environment. And of course, being in CA, these people didn't want their hard earned money to continue to support all of the illegal immigrants that are crossing their border less than an hour from that rally.

I feel as if there is a common denominator to all 7 points you listed, and you may be surprised that it's not Obama. No, I do not care for him being in office, but Bush was a Keynesian as well and continued us along that economic path.

Our government started out fairly small. Large compared to Great Britain, but small compared to the United States today. Back then, metropolitan politics ruled our little land. People in GB ran our land from across the Atlantic, and did a rather bad job because they did not live here. How can you rule a land you know nothing about?

Ironically enough, we are somewhat in the same position now. Everything is run from Washington D.C. Even state representatives live most of the year in D.C. and are paid VERY well to either show up or not show up to work every day. Because we are so global and technologically savvy, we feel we can be all things for all the nation from the nation's capital from our computers. The men and women who sit in those seats year after year, sometimes for decades, lose touch with that state and make decisions that are not necessarily what the state's people want.

Also, much of the legislation taking place is federal law superseding state law, which falls directly in line with my point. No matter the intentions, Oregon can run its state better than D.C. can. If Oregon wants the Health Care Bill, let them vote on it. Why does all of this new legislation have to be federally enforced? States tried to reject the bill, knowing they could not afford it, and the Federal Government did not allow it.

So, the worry and fear and anger is not always unfounded. Our nation is large. I would say ALMOST too large to be run efficiently at the federal level. That is why the founders wanted the states and communities to take care of business first so the same metropolitan politics didn't happen again. Federal Law has its place, and it has crossed over those boundaries in numerous ways and in a very short amount of time. Many Americans do not like this, and therefore, are worried about what lies ahead.

Anonymous said...

Yes many Obama voters will be voting for Republicans on Nov 2. It will be a Democratic disaster. I think many people did not understand who this guy was and how radical he would be. Also, things getting worse is not the change they thought they would get. Yea, we got rid of Bush, but what did we get, Bush on steriods. More debt, same wars, worse economy with little sign of improvement. When you condition people to think that government is the great provider and solver of our problems, look out because in reality it is not. Obama is paying the price for the failure of big government which he so passionately believes in failing to bring the instant change people thought they would get. Remember, he campaigned on "the oceans would cease and the earth would heal." He oversold himself and now looks like a failure.

JohnM said...

Ken, ok, I can accept the description of health care as an, and maybe THE, issue that brought the deficit and big government issue to a head better than I can accept the description of the Big goverment issue as code for health care legislation. Remember, for something to brought to a head something had to be festering under the surface in the first place.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Someone brought up the subject of immigration. I think that healthcare and immigration go hand in hand. How else can hospitals meet budget and doctor's do the 'humane" thing, when immigrants need to be seen in the emergency rooms?

The move to enlarge our borders with illegals irrates all of us, because some of us have known those that have gone thorough the proper amnesty to illegals is nothing other than politically motivated, as these immigrants will vote for the one who gave them citizenship! How is that different from "buying votes"? (Remember that Clinton also did this in Texas in his second term)...

So, healthcare is about government incrementally taking over our choices and determining for all of us, who, when, and where, and how much....and it is done in a 'Humane way" through immigration policy.

If the adminstration was serious or concerned about the drug trafficking that are flooding certain States, then they wouldn't have challenged Arizona's suit. Don't the States have a right to decide what will be most benficial to them and the people? It was another arrogant dismissal, at least that is the perception...