After Punk singer Johnny Rotten left the Sex Pistols, he headed another group called Public Image Limited. Among its hits was the song “Rise,” featuring a verse that included the bellowing refrain “Anger is an energy.”
It’s true: Anger can be a great motivator for change. But if that’s all a person or a movement has to rely on, without offering any positive message as a counter-balancing force or goal, they’ll ultimately become bitter and self-destruct.
Look no further than the modern-day Republican Party and the recent “Cincinnati Tea Party” event for proof.
The boisterous rally, held March 15 at Fountain Square, was billed as a way to pressure Congress into repealing the recently approved $787 billion economic stimulus plan and protest Obama’s $75 billion mortgage relief program.
As the name implies, the event was fashioned after the historic Boston Tea Party in 1773, when American colonists dumped crates of imported tea into Boston Harbor, angered by an act of Parliament that allowed a British company to undercut the tea prices offered by colonial merchants.
Cincinnati’s protest — one of several held nationwide this past weekend — was inspired by the televised rant of CNBC commentator Rick Santelli. He’d complained that the government was promoting bad behavior by bailing out homeowners facing foreclosure, whom he called “losers.”
Newsflash to Santelli: Statistics show private institutions fueled the sub-prime mortgage boom behind the economic crisis. In 2006, for example, private lenders issued more than 84 percent of all sub-prime mortgages. CNBC and boosters like Santelli encouraged the lending because it inflated the housing bubble that drove home prices up and helped the financial traders who sold derivatives — folks who really add nothing of substantive value to our economy — make outlandish profits.
Now that the house of cards has come crashing down, Santelli and the greedy Wall Street types are looking to place blame elsewhere. Boo hoo.
About 4,000 people attended the Cincinnati rally, less than the 6,000 expected by organizers but still impressive.
If you listened to those milling about in the crowd, you heard different reasons about why they were there. Some hated big government. Some were pissed about the bank bailouts. Some objected to any stimulus spending. Some disliked Obama personally.
Republican politicians, including U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt and ex-Rep. Steve Chabot, helped fan the crowd’s emotions. What resulted is a textbook example of mob mentality and self-delusion.
So frenzied were protestors that they physically threatened TV reporters covering the event, sending them scurrying to nearby police for protection. It all smacked of Sarah Palin’s ugly campaign rallies last year.
“It’s Democrats who got us into this mess,” many in the crowd said, and instead of government intervention “we just need to rely on the free market to fix everything.” No speaker dared point out, however, that the Dow dropped by more than 25 percent during President Bush’s eight years.
Also absent were any remarks about how Bush’s economic policies had a free-market obsession that turned a blind eye to regulation, which resulted in the banking sector meltdown. Near the end of his term, even Dubya himself privately said, “Wall Street got drunk.”
Many at the rally repeated the GOP’s tired and discredited philosophy that Obama should be cutting taxes on the wealthy to help foster an economic recovery. That philosophy has led to an ever-widening gap between the very rich and the very poor in this nation. Let’s leave that aside for a moment, though, because here comes the big kicker.
Obama’s plan imposes a lower tax rate on the wealthy than Ronald Reagan did. That’s correct: Less. Than. Reagan.
At the end of Reagan’s first term, the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans was 50 percent. Obama’s plan calls on scaling back the Bush tax cuts from a 35 percent rate to 39.5 percent.
For most of America’s history, we all realized and accepted the concept of shared sacrifice and the adage of “for those who have been given much, much is expected.” As a result, the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans under President Nixon was 70 percent and the rate under President Eisenhower was 91 percent. No, that’s not a typo.
I’d wager that almost everyone at the Cincinnati rally makes less than $250,000 annually. Obama’s plan means they won’t pay a cent more in taxes, but it’s a futile effort to tell them. Why listen to reason when it’s more fun to work up a good head of steam?
Modern Republicans first began to crack the Democratic Party’s dominance in federal government with the 1966 mid-term elections. That’s when the GOP’s ultra-conservative wing reached out to Southern Democrats who resented President Lyndon Johnson for pushing through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, outlawing racial segregation once and for all.
When Johnson signed the 1964 bill, he reportedly told an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation,” and so Democrats did. Republicans preyed on the fear and anger of white blue-collar males who perceived that gains for blacks and women came at their expense. Nixon used the so-called “Southern strategy” to make coded racist remarks to white voters, and Reagan railed against alleged “welfare queens.”
All that bile triggered a long bell curve of momentum for the GOP beginning in 1966, which reached its height in 1984 and finally petered out in 2006.
Anger only carries you so far, and ultimately it’s unsatisfying. That’s a lesson many Republicans still need to learn.
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