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Platters of sugar cookies bearing the likenesses of President Barack Obama, left, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are available for sale on the counter at the Oakmont Bakery on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 in Oakmont, Pa. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

If you’re like me, at this point you’ve pretty much fully surrendered to the syndrome known as Election Psychosis. And if you’re also a lefty like me, some of your less politically inclined friends are ready to put you on suicide watch.

It’s happening all over the country, as Mitt Romney — having successfully rebranded himself as a sympathetic human being in Denver — continues his unlikely surge toward the presidency.

But it begs a basic question that comes up, in some form, every time we hold an election: Why, as a general rule, does the left react to losing with despair, while the right reacts with rage?

I’m going to offer a few theories that hopefully will unite both sides in thinking I’m an idiot.

To begin, let’s look at the right: my own sense is that modern conservatives have constructed what amounts to a shame culture. They react to losing not as an invitation to reexamine their beliefs, but as an assault upon them. I believe the millennial philosopher Sarah Palin put this most piquantly in her brief philosophical tract: Don’t retreat—reload.

Why, as a general rule, does the left react to losing with despair, while the right reacts with rage?

In 2008, as Barack Obama pulled away in the final weeks, the conservative base became increasingly agitated, by which I mean hysterical and self-victimizing. They did not wring their hands. They burned Obama in effigy.

And when he assumed the presidency, they did not accept him as the essentially moderate technocrat he so obviously is. Instead, they viewed him through the lens of unremitting rage and paranoia: he was a foreign-born socialist determined to kill granny, and (if not for our eternal vigilance) enslave white people.

This is not how all conservatives feel. But it represents the basic dynamic. If they lose, it must be because somebody cheated or lied. To them, politics is a zero-sum game. To give the opponent credit for anything — whether it’s killing Osama bin Laden or getting the unemployment rate down — is to admit you were wrong.

Conservatives believe they don’t need any help from the government, because needing help constitutes an admission of dependence, or weakness.

I’m reminded here of a conversation I had recently with a conservative homosexual who explained to me, quite indignantly, that hate crime legislation actually imperiled gay people by giving them the false sense that the government can protect them from harm. The only thing that really does that, he argued, is a gun.

A gun, I thought. Eeek!

Which brings us to the left. We, too, spend a lot of time blaming the other side. We see conservatives as greedy and childish and deluded. To put it more bluntly: we’re monstrously condescending.

The era of hyper-partisanship will only diminish when (and if) the ragers on the right become more self-critical, and the mopers on the left more outwardly courageous.

But we’re also incredibly conflicted and guilt-ridden. I want to say this is because we’re more tolerant and self-aware. But really, most of it has to do with just being frightened of our own aggression.

This is why we’re so hard on Obama for not being a fighter. We see him as the embodiment of our fundamental wimpiness.

And thus, when we’re upset we comfort ourselves with nightly doses of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. We feed upon the latest Rush Limbaugh rant like a sour short rib, then sit around earnestly lamenting the fallen state of our nation.

It’s easier for us to feel sad, because feeling sad makes us feel noble without actually having done anything noble, such as taking political action.

This is why we’re so quick to dismiss the Tea Party as a bunch of corporate-funded dupes: because they’ve converted their civic distress into actual civic power.

My own sense — and I say this with no joy — is that the era of hyper-partisanship in this country will only diminish when (and if) the ragers on the right start to become more self-critical, and the mopers on the left more outwardly courageous.

In this sense, the real question isn’t who wins on Nov. 6, but whether we can emerge from the campaign with a deeper sense of our own flaws, and potential, as citizens.

Tags: Barack Obama, Election 2012, Mass. Senate, Mitt Romney

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  • Cat2727

    As one who has ventured on to many controversial threads and oft put my head on the rhetorical chopping block, I can assure you, the left rages just fine, thank you. Instead of discourse, I get the latest lefty talking points (that is, if it’s a good day). Mostly, I hear about how I’m selling out my body parts, or worse yet, am subjected to the most vile, filthy insults, not only to my character, but to my existence as a human being. I’ve learned to let most of this slide off my back, but the last interchange left me feeling like I needed a bath — all this, because I dared to see the world differently. Perhaps when you’re calling on people for self-examination, you should look to minions on your own side. The rage and mindless repetition there is boiling over.

    • SantaFe Conservative

      When I try to engage with members of the Left, they accuse me of the same things I think about them (but don’t actually express because it would be rude and disrespectful): That they base their beliefs on broad, stroke understanding of things, swallowing a party line hook, line and sinker, without taking the time to research the facts. Caught up in the lie of identity politics. Of course, I’ve long ago learned not to provide sources for my information upon request, because those sources are then attacked. What could possibly be the point?

      Personally I think the industry that will really profit from this whole national exercise in frustration is the sheetrock industry. We have all been so busy banging our heads against walls trying to talk to each other that there’s going to be a lot of repair work on the books in the near future.

    • http://www.facebook.com/carl.chapman.sr Carl E Chapman

      All one needs to do to verify that Cat2727 is correct in her assertion of the vile, nasty attacks of liberals upon conservatives is to visit twitchy.com and look at liberals tweets re conservatives.

      • SantaFe Conservative

        Excellent point Carl. Let’s start with Eva Longoria, co-chair of the Obama campaign and the charming things she has to say about those who have decided that Obama is indeed not awesome.

  • Bob the Pool Boy

    Seems to me that the author of this article has a confused idea about the role of “Rage” in politics. If you are fired up, filled with rage, you should first learn how to successfully sell your idea. It is very obvious that Obama has had very little actual sales experience. I know he has no lemonade stand experience but that is another matter for another time. Selling requires a certain “rage” within your mind – there is a strong need to get an idea across to others and win their support. It seems to me that the motor-mouthed Obama needs to learn to sell, not dictate, not push through 1/6 of the economy health care laws without bipartisanship. In the words of Sarah Palin it’s time for the Lefties to “reload”.

    • orbitboy

      All we need is a salesman for president? Lord help us.

      • Bob the Pool Boy

        You say “salesman” like it’s a bad thing.

        • orbitboy

          Generally speaking, it is. Particularly in politics. I’ll present as Exhibit #1: Mitt Romney. Someone who will say literally anything–no matter how factually inaccurate or contrary to one’s previously stated opinions–just to close the deal. Obama already has an uncomfortably high level of bs in him as it is. He doesn’t need more.

          • Bob the Pool Boy

            Do you think JFK was a good salesman? He sold “getting to the moon” as a disguise for learning how to send a missile anywhere we wanted. Reagan was a also a master salesman. Reagan combined unusually lofty goals – “Tear down this wall!” – with facts, humor and humility. He was called “an amiable dunce” by the Left.

            “Nothing happens until someone sells something”. Obama couldn’t sell his way out of a wet paper bag or some other metaphor even worse.

          • massappeal

            Really? Then how’d he “sell” the nation in 2008 on electing a skinny, big-eared, relatively inexperienced guy with a funny name over an politically experienced war hero?

          • Bob the Pool Boy

            The fact that he was horribly skinny, had dumbo type ears and was totally inexperienced at anything other that whining and organizing other whiners was certainly discussed. In my opinion Obama will never get elected to anything again. McCain won his earlier elections by using as a sales strategy his patriotism, his excruciating years in Hanoi to his advantage. Nobody wanted to be again reminded about the bad things associated with war, People were tired of the war. They didn’t need to feel good about themselves by helping a war hero. They felt better about themselves this time around and voted for the alternative.

          • massappeal

            Thanks for the response.

            Just for the record, prior to his election as president, Barack Obama enjoyed modest success as a young community organizer, was elected by his peers and served as editor of the Harvard Law Review, worked as a practicing attorney, taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, was a (successful) published author, and put together a short but accomplished record as an effective and bipartisan legislator in both the Illinois and United States Senates.

            Pres. Obama may not get elected to anything again. However, it takes a certain perspective to look at Barack Obama’s resume and conclude he “was totally inexperienced at anything other than whining and organizing other whiners”.

          • Bob the Pool Boy

            Prior to his election he was also being discussed somewhere, somehow as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was that good.

  • Tired of it

    Depressing negativity. Not worth printing, or reading.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LiminalFiction Richard Bon

    Though there are plenty of exceptions on both sides, I agree with the general sentiments expressed in this article about liberals and conservatives alike. If anyone reading this article enjoys very short fiction, here’s a micro story I posted today that you might like: http://liminalfiction.com/2012/10/libby-and-connie.html

  • Caleb Powell

    “We see conservatives as greedy and childish and deluded. To put it more bluntly: we’re monstrously condescending.” – Great line, saved this article, but still, this article demonstrates this condesding attitude with the ol’ “fallacy of imitative form” by saying that the right has to temper its vice, and the left has to augment its virtue.

    • rocinante2

      Thanks, Mr. Powell.

      As often as I have seen liberals/progressives issue a mea culpa, then promptly turn around claim the moral high ground in their narrative and frame, that last blew past me completely in my haste to agree with Mr. Almond.

      “Fallacy of imitative form” goes in the ol’ rhetorical quiver.

      • Bob the Pool Boy

        What do you mean? Lost you somewhere in the first sentence.

        • Bob the Pool Boy

          I lost you again. Tell me what you said so that a pool boy like me can understand what you want me to think about.

  • rocinante2

    Kudos, Mr. Almond. I think you got it about 90% right.

    There are ragers on the left and mopers on the right, but they are a minority in each case.

    • Cat2727

      A very tainted perspective not reflected in reality….

      • Cat2727

        Read the article again… incorporates every twisted stereotype about the right which, in fact, further encourages the depth of the divide the author superficially purports to eliminate

        • orbitboy

          I was raised by Republicans in what is now a solid red state. I grew up around other children who were also raised by Republicans and I was educated primarily by Republicans all the way through high school. In college I worked one summer in Washington DC for a Republican senator—an office filled with other Republicans, as you might imagine. I still live in a red state, but have spent valuable time in blue states as well. I have considered myself to be a progressive for over 25 years now, and became one because somehow along the way I learned critical thinking. But it wasn’t in Sunday school, I can tell you that much. This shift occurred against all odds, some might say. And much to the consternation of the rest of my family. Obviously I am quite familiar with Republicans/conservatives and the way they think because it’s in my DNA. And in my experience, the twisted stereotypes you speak of are also freakishly accurate. Sorry, but sometimes the truth hurts.

          • Cat2727

            Isn’t that odd… I come from a family of Democrates, whose living members remain firm Democrats. Yet I am conservative, and I assure you, I have always thought and reasoned independently. You should be sorry for your stereotypes. They stifle adult interchange and typify the mindset that I have encountered on threads where liberals think nothing of distaining their ideological opponents in nasty, provocative language, Your comment perhaps lends credence to the author’s assertion of liberals’ condenscendent high-handedness as substitute for well-reasoned argument.

          • orbitboy

            “You should be sorry for your stereotypes.”

            I assure you I think it’s nothing short of tragic. Apparently it is difficult for some folks on the left to remain calm and respectful when faced with “well-reasoned arguments” like denying certain segments of our society their basic human rights, and generally trying to roll back our society to the 1950s. Understandably so.

          • Cat2727

            Forgive me if find your comment as being more suggestive of hyperbole and hysterics rather than thoughtful analysis.

          • Cat2727

            The author bemoans a lack of civility. Now you’re attempting to excuse it.

          • Cat2727

            Well, you may be a plagiarizer, but at least your comment is well-written.

          • Cat2727

            The author bemoans a lack of civility. Now you’re attempting to excuse it.

          • rocinante2

            It’s pretty hilarious that orbitboy credits ‘criticial thinking’ for his escape from his Republican roots, because he then writes progressive talking points and stereotype/caricature of conservatives. (Which is kind of the opposite of ‘critical thinking’.) Then he doubles down on the “stereotypes being freakishly true”.

            It’s interesting how, if I said I’d found stereotypes of blacks ‘freakishly true’ I’d be labeled a racist or if I said I’d found stereotypes of Jews ‘freakishly true’ I’d be labeled an anti-Semite, but orbitboy justifies doing exactly the same to Republicans with “…the truth hurts”, which reveals far more about his own bigotry than it does anything about conservatives/Repbulicans.

            “…denying denying certain segments of our society their basic human rights, and generally trying to roll back our society to the 1950s…”

            Stop it, you’re killing me :-)

            Funnier still, he fully supports one of Mr. Almond’s points (“condescension”) with his statements.

            I’ve seen this sort of thing a lot, especially in college kids and recent graduates. They were taught a different set of frames and narratives in college, but their instructors labeled it ‘critical thinking’. These kids adopt these new (and exciting) frames and narratives wholesale, but aren’t really capable of thinking critically about them any more than they were about the frames and narratives from their family-of-origin.

            They’ve just been re-indoctrinated.

  • mbm

    Agreed with the overall premise, but I don’t think that the Right responding with rage while the Left responds with condescension is really a 1:1, nor do I think it’s entirely accurate. During both Bush victories, both of which were mind-numbingly frustrating for those on the left (for the condescension reason), there were a good number of highly visible groups who advocated such strange positions about Neoconservatism and Bush. Like how rabid conservatives are crazy for seeing Obama as anything other than a “moderate technocrat,” rabid liberals are crazy for seeing Neoconservatism as anything other than “centrist populist conservatism.” This motivated a manic-depressive social identity for the left, creating these competing visions of Bush, one of an idiot drug-using nincolmpoop who skated through life on his father’s name (motivated by the condescension point), and then the other, of a new-world-order earth controlling genius… One who rigged elections, pulled strings in far off countries, and manipulated world economies to his crypto-Nazi worldview. Most actors in the Bush presidency, for the left, fit both of these contradictory descriptions. “Crazy uncle Cheney” dumb enough to shoot his friend with a shotgun, but brilliant enough to own the purse strings to multinational corporations that had the power to control the environment; Donald Rumsfeld, diabolical genius who was remaking international relations due to his perverse neoconservative military apparatus… Yet, such a doofus that he mismanaged two low-scale military operations, turning them into decades-long war. This sort of bipolar view of Bush-era conservatives is what also turned Neoconservatism into a simultaneously far-right yet economically and internationally leftist political system. Either position could be argued legitimately on their own, but together they formed an incoherent worldview that now-elected democrats are having trouble breaking away from (hamstringing their efforts to defeat a weak Republican candidate).

    Both political spectrums, though, suffer from deeming their opposite philosophies dead after major political losses. In 2000, 2002, and 2004, the American political left was deemed dead — unable to defeat a weak president or swing congress during an unpopular war. Of course, in 2006 the Democratic party had an astounding rebound, and by 2008, that viewpoint was held about the Republican party and American conservatism, with headlines running, “The Republican party will not exist in X years,” or sentiments that conservatism would be eventually phased out. And then, the midterm elections of 2010 swing it around again, and in 2012 you have a much closer election than anybody would have projected during the Republican primary circus.

  • abuya

    I naively thought that this would be a neutral look at both sides that objectively tries to understand both. Unfortunately, the article concludes that to bring both sides together, the right must become more like the left, and the left must fight even stronger for its leftist beliefs.

  • orbitboy

    “The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” — Bertrand Russell

  • Rev Bupkis

    Bro: Nothing will be solved until we learn to pronounce “cognoscenti” correctly.

  • Pingback: Conservative Rage, Liberal Despair | Cognoscenti « Living Ethnography

  • http://www.facebook.com/sky.mkinley Sky MKinley

    Yawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

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