By Greg Erlandson
Expressions of outrage are starting to tick me off.
I realize that it takes some chutzpah for me to say this, since outrage is the mother's milk of editorialists.
But even by the loose standards of my avocation, I'm feeling embarrassed by the inflated ire and short memories that crowd communication channels these days.
Or maybe it is simply that mine is an equal opportunity outrage, appalled by the entire spectrum of what passes for political discourse.
Liberals are shocked, shocked, by Joe Wilson's shout at President Obama in the hallowed halls of Congress. No doubt they have completely forgotten the years and years of ridicule heaped on Obama's predecessor, culminating in the film "W." and including all manner of abuse and denunciation.
Their denunciations may not have been shouted on the floor of Congress, but in every other possible cultural venue in the country except, perhaps, the P.A. system at a NASCAR race, Bush was anathematized.
On the other hand, what passes for conservative rejoinders these days seems comprised primarily of unfounded rumor and ahistorical analogies. Are we at such a state in this country that debating birth certificates and the secret Muslim allegiance of the president, or comparing him to Marx, Lenin and Hitler is the best that we can do?
The politics of vilification that characterized the Blue State treatment of Bush is now matched by the politics of vilification by Red State critics of Obama. And the cycle of rage and resentment seems to gather dark energy with each turn of the political flywheel.
So much of what passes for debate seems simply the howl of our frightened ids. We watch our life savings vanish in the house of mirrors that Wall Street built, and we howl. We see jobs disappearing -- most of them held by men who were once providers for their families and now feel they have failed their families and been abandoned by society -- and we howl.
We see a culture that ridicules the higher values of all sides of the political spectrum -- God and faith and family, concern for the unwanted, ill-treated and impoverished -- and we howl.
Somehow, we have to get past the rage. A woman I know who qualifies as a "professional Catholic" took a call one day from someone who was spitting mad about the local bishop. Instead of arguing, she decided to ask a few questions. She tried to find out what was haunting her caller. And soon the conversation switched from fears about immigrants to health worries and the frustration of dealing with soaring medical costs and the maze of Medicare paperwork. She ended the call not by arguing, but by inviting her caller to pray with her right there on the phone. And they did. In that moment of sharing, they got past the rage.
It isn't that someone can't object to a leader's position on immigration or health care or the war in Iraq. Such debates can be passionate, and when calls for civility seem primarily intended to still the passion and mute divergent views, they are a sham. But when the debate moves from issues to caricature, when one listens in vain through an entire rant for anything approaching a cogent discussion of the issues, that is when we are more likely to be hearing the howls of an angry soul rather than a political discussion.
And it doesn't take long to see that this inability to control the outrage is emblematic of a society that is fraying at the edges. In this context, Joe Wilson's "You lie!" and tennis stars' tantrums and the punch-throwing running back from Oregon State and even the silly behavior of Kanye West are of a piece with the red-faced hysterics of the town hall meetings and the many shouting matches that filled the summer news cycle.
While a few people are profiting from all this anger, we as a nation are the worse for it. And that's an outrage.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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