Rage Inside the Machine

Back in mid-2008, Jim Geraghty spotted the white-hot anger that Obama-supporting "progressives" aimed towards Hillary Clinton, her husband Bill, Hillary-supporting Geraldine Ferraro, and even Hillary's voters in the presidential primaries, and wondered just what was going on. This was only a year and half after the left attempted to sandbag Joe Lieberman, going so far as to picture him in blackface at the Huffington Post, just six years after nominating him to be Al Gore's veep. And it was months before Sarah Palin became a household name, in part because of the left's wrath being directed at her. One expects the tolerant, progressive, diversity-obsessed left to cling bitterly towards its anger to conservatives, but not towards each other -- and certainly not with this level of vitriol.

As Jim wrote on Friday, the Angry Left, having turned on the man they elected to the White House, came full circle this week:

Once you start marinating in this nastiness, it starts to seep into how you think and speak, and perhaps you can’t turn it off. It is now defining the Left. Michael Moore. Bill Maher. Joy Behar. It didn’t just stay in the grassroots and celebrities; it came to the halls of Congress with Alan Grayson.

We on the right hated Hillary Clinton back in the 1990s. Then the 2008 campaign comes along, Hillary is perceived to be the less liberal candidate than Obama, and suddenly Air America’s Randi Rhodes is calling her a “big [f-word]ing whore.” This is Hillary Clinton we’re talking about. Ten years earlier, almost every Democrat in America loved her, and we were the ones calling her names. But once she’s not their preferred choice, they can turn on her and denounce her in the same tone they would use to denounce a conservative Republican.

And now, finally, it comes full circle. Now they’re sneering at Obama. Their guy. The guy whom they adored, perhaps as much as any party has ever adored its leader, in 2007 and 2008. Now they say, “[F-word] him.”

Hey, pal, that’s the President of the United States. Show some respect.

(How did it come to the point where we have to be the ones to demand that?)

And of course, concurrent with that fire and brimstone rage is the desire to create messianic figures out of perfectly ordinary politicians -- witness first the transformation of Al Gore from Bill Clinton's vaguely wonkish veep and robotic board-stiff failed presidential candidate in 2000 to The Goracle, maaan, followed in very short succession by the deification of political neophyte Barack Obama. This early 2008 quote from JournoList founder Ezra Klein hints at the frenzy to come throughout that year:

Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate. They enmesh you in a grander moment, as if history has stopped flowing passively by, and, just for an instant, contracted around you, made you aware of its presence, and your role in it. He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I’ve heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.

But why has what was once called "liberalism" gone so far off the rails? How did an ideology which prides itself outwardly on coolness and a Holden Caulfield-inspired hatred of hypocrisy work itself into a constant fever pitch, vibrating back and forth between judging everything from the binary prism of SUX and ROX?

One reason is that the underlying ideology itself, whose roots were forged in the 19th century, is now increasingly sclerotic. As James Piereson noted in Camelot and Cultural Revolution, American liberalism retracted slightly in the 1950s, tamping down its revolutionary fervor, cementing its hard-won gains from the first half of the century, and attempting to create the patina of a timeless and permanent ideology. That form of establishment liberalism was of course all too quickly shattered, as Piereson noted, by the assassination of JFK by a Marxist revolutionary, and would be increasingly usurped by the New Left of the late 1960s, whose much more punitive worldview Obama has marinated in throughout his life.