Roger L. Simon: Jon Soltz and the Politics of Rage

I had never heard of Captain Jon Soltz before I saw him respond so dramatically to Sgt. David Aguina in front of Andrew Marcus' pitiless video camera. Soltz leapt to his feet in high dudgeon to threaten the earnest and somewhat naïve Aguina with all the might of military justice for the evidently cardinal crime of speaking (very deferentially, almost obsequiously) at a political event while in uniform.

Whatever the gravity of the crime, Soltz's reaction was clearly out of control. He took poor, confused Aguina aside, scolding him like an errant child while glaring at the camera like a movie star whose privacy had been invaded. Anyone with the slightest media savvy (or human sophistication for that matter) would have realized a polite pat on the head to Aguina and the sergeant would have vanished into the anonymity from whence he came after a few bland words. (Instead, his visage wound up on Drudge, like Mr. Smith come to a virtual Washington.) Something had turned Soltz into an irrational bully.

It's hard to believe it was the uniform. More likely that is what the shrink's call the "presenting complaint". The problem for Soltz was Aguina's subject - the surge in Iraq and the possibility it might be succeeding. But why should someone as meek and anonymous as Aguina have the power to make a panelist/authority figure like Soltz lose control on this subject?

The answer, I think, is that politics in our society has become increasingly identified with the self. Stolz reacted like a man whose own person would be threatened if the surge were to succeed. He had to be right. The image of success in Iraq was a shock to his ego, a narcissistic wound. (That Soltz used the terminology "My military" is a give away of his narcissistic impulses, as one commenter on Pajamas noted.)

Now of course Soltz is not alone in this. We see it everywhere from the Internet to our cable news networks to the boardrooms of our most respected newspapers. And we see it on all sides of the ideological spectrum. People identify their very selves with their political views. To say this is not good is an understatement. Besides making it almost impossible for people to change their minds, it makes it exceptionally difficult for them even to talk to each other, let alone reason together. Interestingly, that was the "naïve" Aguina's point - that "good people" should be able to talk together about what was going on.

But they can't. We live in a veritable politics of rage. We no longer have a society where what would appear to be good news for our country - success for the surge - would be applauded by a decent majority of our citizens. Something has gone very wrong. And there is plenty of responsibility to go around, a whole culture of people defining each other as "moonbats" and "wingnuts," those two execrable neologisms of our times. And our politicians and media have only encouraged it.

Right now we are in the high season of the extremes of our political parties - these "ragers" - controlling our electoral process. Historically, after the nominating process, the candidates abjure these extremes and return to the Great American Center. But I wonder if it will happen this time. Too much water is under the bridge, virtual and otherwise. Too many statements have been made, recorded forever on hard drives, and the pathology has grown deeper. There may be no rescue.