Guest Column (1/21/10)

Mad! — It’s America’s favorite mood

Jan. 21, 2010

By Edwin Cooney

I can’t prove this, but it seems to me that, more than ever before in our entire history, we Americans are an angry people. If such is not the case, then all of the media advertising and the persuasiveness of our professional opinion makers are in vain.

Here are some of the things Americans have been urged to be “outraged” about over just the past couple of months:

> There’s no single payer health plan in the proposed health care reform bill — Liberals are irate; there’s too much regulation in the bill that’s likely to pass.

Meanwhile, Conservatives are furious;

> The inability of our intelligence agencies to stop underwear bombers. Everyone wonders why President Obama was with his family in Hawaii on Christmas day instead of rushing back to guard us from the White House Situation Room;

> Whether we should wish one another “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” — everyone’s unsettled over that controversy;

> What the current Senate Majority Leader observed about President Obama’s race nearly two years ago as opposed to what another Senate Majority Leader said about someone else over seven years ago — the GOP is madder about that than Al Sharpton;

> Whether the trial in Federal Court over the legitimacy of California’s Proposition 8 (the 2008 California anti-Gay marriage proposition) should be televised —Hollywood’s gotta be worried about the fate of the movie industry during the trial;

> The way Tiger Woods treated his trophy wife — feminists are really riled about that one;

> Whether Mark McGwire should be forgiven for having taken steroids and human growth hormone in the 1990s;

> The fact that the Pro Bowl is being played ahead of the Super Bowl …

It goes on and on.

Now, America has never been a peaceful realm of serenity or even — in my view — “a city on a hill.” Seldom, however, have the American people been so bombarded by articulate professionals insisting that the problems we face are so formidable that only ideologists of purity can solve them.

When I was growing up, commercials were about things like which soap or detergent would best clean your clothes or kitchen, which foods were most nutritious, which gasoline would enable you to drive your car the furthest and, oh, yes, which beer or cigarettes our sports heroes and cowboys preferred.

Now consider the following. All of those appeals were solutions to everyday problems brought on by everyday living. We all had laundry to do, kitchens to clean, growing children and each other to feed, and automobiles that needed to be operated efficiently. Everyone accepted the idea that as unhealthy as they were, cigarettes and beer were an effective way to relax and ease tension. Advertising, like the news stories we’re supposed to worry about today, tell the story of human error or, even worse, deliberate neglect.

Turn on your radio or television, boot up your computer, and these are just some of the problems that the products and services being peddled today will solve: Entrepreneurs clamor to get you out of debt that was brought on by unscrupulous credit card companies; law firms and tax experts promise to save you from your government; someone wants to sell you gold in exchange for increasingly useless dollars so you’ll have something to spend when Uncle Sam goes broke due to those useless dollars being demanded by those same gold sellers; bankers and life insurance companies want you to know that even if your mother-in-law is against you, the companies are on your side. Toothpastes, cleaning products and herbal remedies are being sold on the grounds that more traditionally manufactured products deliberately pollute.

Many years ago, I heard Secretary of State Dean Rusk assert, “America is too powerful a nation to be infuriated.” Mr. Rusk was, of course, referring to our nuclear capability if sufficiently humiliated by a potential foreign foe.

Perhaps the angriest nation in recent history was Germany after the Treaty of Versailles. We all know what Germany took us through until she was forced to get over her mad by the American, British and Russian armies. America’s woes may be more numerous, but Germany’s chip on the shoulder insofar as the treatment she received due to the Versailles treaty was far more debilitating than anything we’re suffering from today.

What’s rather scary is that Americans think their anger is justified by their sophistication, “common sense,” patriotism and even their religious faith.

Even more frightening is the following analogy: Germany’s mad in the 1930s caused that nation to strike out at the world. America’s mad in the 21st Century, principled, well-documented and righteous as it may be, has its own citizens in its angry sights. Hence, our deadliest enemy invariably is us!


Edwin Cooney is a national political and historical columnist.