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A stirring SOU

even if John Bohener scowled and Biden grinned. Why can't the country come around to what Obama proposed tonight for the country?  Text.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Why??? You have to ask why, MOS?

Did you see that lunatic Rep Tim Huelskamp's (R - KS) performance during his interview with Rachel Maddow last night?  You know, Obama is a "monarchist" dribble???

As long as you have that kind of delusional primary process thinking passing for public discourse among the rabid Republican rightwing - and members of Congress, they will never embrace even compromise with this President who can never be white enough for their sensibilities.

Like the rest of us, Obama just needs to move on.  The only thing these guys understand is defeat in an election.  We voters need to get hopping ...

"Obama Derangement Syndrome"

Wish I had coined the phrase.  What puzzles me is how we came to be such angry peopl (Left, as well as Right), we Americans who have blessings of freedom and riches beyond the dreams of human history to our day or the actual circumstances of most - nearly all, really - of our fellow humans today.

Mark L.

Over at Slate Magazine online, William Saletan has a perceptive analysis of President Obama's State of the Union address, In part, he uses word-counts from Obama's speech to suggest that Obama is cleverly laying the groundwork carefully for the 2014 mid-term election campaigns.

Here is a link to the Saletan column mentioned above.

And here is a story in the NYTimes about efforts to thward a cooperative!!!  effort of the UAW and Volkswagen to unionize a plant in Tennessee.

"What puzzles me is how we came to be such angry peopl (Left, as well as Right), we Americans who have blessings of freedom and riches beyond the dreams of human history..."

Mark L. --

Great question, but it's the kind that requires a sort of wisdom that seems beyond us.  That we're angry is beyond any doubt -- just look at the internet and all its bile and snark and fury, not to mention the 30,000 people killed here each year with guns.  But why are we like this? -- especially given our blessings?  

To even hazard a guess would make one sound like one of those European philosophers who seem convinced that they, with the slimest sociological and historical evidence, can describe the depths of the European soul.  And yet think of de Tocqueville's remarkable work.  How did he understand the nascent U. S. so very well after only one visit?  How can someone or even a groups of humans understand the well-springs of another culture's soul?  Maybe de Tocqueville shows us that only a stranger, an Other, can be objective enough to see what is really there?  The answer for us now seems so out of reach that I wonder whether we should even begin to look.  But it's still a great question, begging for an answer.

You can pull at any string and find that people are angry often for very specific reasons and they can find others easily who share their reasons. For example, the U.S. Congress is one of the most unpopular institutions in the country with a 73 percent unfavorability rating (Pew, Oct. 2013). That need not mean people are angry at Congress. But....

Here's Robert Gates on his time as Secretary of Defense, dealing with congressional committees, aides, and testifying:  Congress is "uncivil, incompetent, micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, think-skinned often putting self (and relection)before country--that was my view of the majority of the United States Congress."

Most American suspect that...or maybe only 73 percent, but Gates has given them proof positive that their right to be angy at Congress.

Go down the headlines for the last few months and people are given a lot of reasons to be angry.

There doubtless are specific matters that anger us - the dog chases the cat who spills the glass of milk, or Colorado insist on the death penalty forJames Holmes, or...  And when confronted with our anger, we always can find a handy explanation, or several.

But my concern is with what might be called "prevenient anger": we are prepared to be angry, expect to be so, and are seldm disappointed in this.  In my memory people who were routinely anger were thought to be iill, probably depressed (or just "odd").  I think of an elderly gentleman when I was a boy: my parents spoke of "shell shock, the meaning of which wa sleft to our learning [All Quiet on the Western Front] or imagination.  Today constant background anger it is " the new normal", and decribes the behavior of the powerful as often as of those dispossessed of their due peace.

Mark L.

Mark L. --

I agree that anger seems to be sort of the default emotionsl setting of the American public.  The psychiatrists say that anger is caused by fear.  So what are Americans so afraid of these days?  I suspect it has a lot to do with the destruction of  old certainties of various sorts -- for instance, of the American dream that isn't panning out for millions with the middle class even backsliding, the abandonment of the old religions, the sexual revolution that shook men's visions of their intrinsic superiority, th elosss of a war or two, the list goes on.  

Is this the Age of Uncertainty?

Curious isn't it that the one person who has every reason to be angry is President Obama, and yet.... He's not, at least in public.

In contrast, think of Rep. Darrell Issa (CA.-R) who usually looks like he's about to bust a gut during Congressional hearings, at least when they are televised.


A writer named Gabriel Sherman recently published a biography of Roger Ailes (Fox News).  In a NYT review, the author quotes Ailes friend, Joe McGinniss, as saying that Ailes told him, "I'm walking around, and I just feel all the anger.  I can't figure out where it i coming from."  As does Mr.Issa, it seems.

I suspect Ann is on the right track.   We had developd a narrative that in the recent past we lived in an age of Certainty: about what Amercia was; about what "we" stood for; about what "we" could expect.   Whether any such certainty was warranted is beside the point.   Compared to those halcyon days, our place and our world are now highly Uncertain.   And rather than work through the uncertainty, we look for, as Lincoln said in the 2nd Inaugural, "... an easier trimph, and a result less fundamental and astounding."

Mark L.

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