Monday, January 5, 2015

Who's Angry?

I have to say that as one who considers himself moderately conservative, I cringe when listening to some of the major voices on talk radio. Some conservative talkers too often sound shrill and angry. I thought of this the other day reading a piece by James K.A. Smith a philosopher at Calvin College and the editor of the journal Comment. I like Smith's work and have enjoyed and profited from reading several of his books, but in the course of his editorial in which he made the case for redeeming and refashioning conservatism as a more sunny sort of ideology I felt vaguely miffed.

Smith wrote (subscription required):
...those Christians who trumpeted their 'conservatism' just seemed so, well, angry. Their demeanor felt more like reactionary warfare than charitable hospitality. In many ways their moral crusades demonized the people we went to college with and the causes our friends care about. What they decried as ominous threats and menaces had names and faces for us: they were our classmates, our teammates, our roommates - and we liked them, loved them. For a host of reasons, then, we shouldn't be surprised that the default posture for a new generation is leftish, perhaps without realizing it.
When I asked myself why I was bothered by this several thoughts came to mind at once. First, it seems like the only people on the ideological spectrum who are ever described pejoratively as angry are conservatives. If a black liberal or a liberal woman is angry, then their anger is "righteous." If the talking heads at MSNBC look like they're about to burst a carotid artery, well, they have good cause to be outraged considering what those right-wing extremists in Congress are trying to do to our sainted president's agenda. Indeed, has Smith never read the writers and academics on the left who talk about "hating" Republicans, conservatives, and George W. Bush? Who on the right talks that way? When someone like Ann Coulter traipses close to the line she's repudiated and reproved for it by other conservatives.

A second reason I was somewhat consternated by Smith's criticism is that although it certainly does apply to two or three radio talkers, there's far more humor and good cheer on the contemporary right than on the left. Think of the work of Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, P.J. O'Rourke, Jim Geraghty, and many others and compare them to the utter desert of mirth that is liberal/left journalism. Has Smith never opened the pages of the Nation which is the most humor-deficient political magazine on the American newsstand? Car and Driver is funnier to read. For that matter, has he never listened to a Hillary Clinton speech and compared it to, say, a Mike Huckabee peroration?

Third, Smith unwittingly insults his friends and loved ones whom he claims are driven left, not by rational analysis of the ideologies of right and left, not because they've taken the trouble to think seriously about the ramifications of liberal and conservative policies, but because they're put off by personalities, of all things. Smith makes these people whom he says he loves sound like they have the maturity of a bunch of middle-schoolers.

Finally, it occurred to me that if some conservatives are angry, just maybe they have good reason to be. Are we not assured that if women and African-Americans are angry their anger is totally justified because they see themselves treated like second-class citizens, they see their "rights" under assault? Yet conservatives see the country they love being dismantled and the values they cherish being discarded and presumably they're supposed to put on happy faces and yuk it up with the people doing all the damage.

As I said above, I agree with Smith that the tone of people like Mark Levin or Michael Savage is counterproductive, and I agree that it's not something a Christian should be comfortable with, but it's hardly a problem unique to the right, and I find it a little annoying when it's insinuated, implicitly or explicitly, that it is. If he keeps writing like this it may push me toward being a little "leftish," perhaps without realizing it.