Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is the angry man out?

   The most amazing story of Nov. 8 was how Arizonans in a heavily Republican district ousted the state's most powerful Republican lawmaker.

   Russell Pearce, president of the Senate, was replaced by a comparably conservative Republican. The key distinction, however, may be that the man who beat him wasn't quite as angry.

    Pearce is author of SB 1020, the immigration law that tacitly made dark-skinned Arizonans suspects for a police shakedown. And don't believe for a second that would not be the case had a court injunction not left the hard-right creation to snarl and snort at the end of a junkyard chain.

   But Pearce's prideful legislative monstrosity wasn't the sole reason why he was recalled and replaced by milder-mannered Jerry Lewis, a charter school executive. As one exit-poll analysis put it, the core of Pearce's opposition cited his "divisiveness, fanaticism" and "rigid ideology" — an angry man's impulses manifested in dozens of ways.

    Apparently, what even angry Arizona voters were saying is that they don't want a lawmaker's anger to be a full-time occupation.

    Angry voters? Well, yes. And who isn't in this dreadful American slump? But anger as an appeal to voters in general is starting to show a rate of diminishing returns. Various players in the race for the Republican presidential nomination are finding that out.

     Herman Cain is so angry at President Obama that he couldn't even think through the dynamics of developments in Libya before saying the president, um, was, um, well, um, wrong doing whatever it is he did there, wherever Libya is.

     Rick Perry is so angry at the federal government for being a federal government that he can't, count, to, three.

     Enter Newt Gingrich — anger incarnate, the man who shut down government as House speaker and liked it (but didn't like it when the gambit helped re-elect Bill Clinton).

     Mean, meaner, meanest. This is electability? Check again.

     We understand that the super-angry tea party was the life force of the 2010 off-year election. So doing, the results hewed to the age-old election adage that a low turnout accentuates the negative vote. Sure did.

     We are approaching a general election when turnout will be higher. How high it is might be decisive. It remains to be seen if Barack Obama, the one who at times over the last seven months seems to have been the only adult in the room, will be rewarded for that sense of composure, or if an economy that won't be righted means anger will be decisive in ousting him.

     One point: It seems that the candidate who seems least angry in the GOP sweepstakes, Mitt Romney, is the one who keeps bobbing placidly in the water while candidates like Perry, Cain and Michelle Bachmann gasp, gulp and flail.

    Elsewhere, the anger that fueled conquest in 2010 is proving not so compelling to voters. Ohio rejected Republican Gov. John Kasich's attempt to emasculate public employee unions. Wisconsin has shown every indication that the very angry Gov. Scott Walker, who laid a big hit on public employees, will pay for it at the polls.

    In Colorado, Republicans blew big opportunities to take the governor's mansion and a U.S. Senate seat by nominating rabidly right, very angry tea party favorites instead of more circumspect candidates.

    In Nevada, the over-the-top extremism of GOP nominee Sharron Anger — er, Angle — allowed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to survive the political scare of his life.

    Don't look now, ye who wake up angry at our president, but: Obama's favorability ratings are on the upswing. More Americans are seeing him as the statesman with the public interest at heart, rather than characters like the hit man (Scott Walker), the "no" men (John Boehner, Mitch McConnell), the wolf man (Gingrich — didn't someone drive a stake in that guy?), or any number of politicians who rode a wave of venom to where they are.

       Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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