Anger in Politics

In everyday interactions with friends, peers, family, and strangers, anger is usually seen as a negative quality. These individuals that express too much anger are perceived as short-fused and hot-headed. This is not something that most people enjoy being around too often. According to political analysts it may seem to be the case as well in politics. In this clip, David Shuster’s (Hardball) investigates republican’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton as an angry democrat. Angry Democrat. Although Hillary is pigeonholed into this category, in contrast to what the clip shows, it seems that overall, anger can be a useful rhetorical tactic for politicians. This is a tricky situation then since anger can be used as a positive and negative quality in politics. There has to be a balance to show both power and sanity to the public voters. Anger is a powerful emotion and can thus be translated into the public viewing the politician as a powerful individual willing to do what needs to be done.

So perhaps, even if viewed negatively in everyday rhetorical situations, anger is a necessary quality for politicians. This presents some issues in how our country is then portrayed.

If these politicians are using anger as the ethos for rallying our community together and the pathos for swaying our emotions, what is that saying about how we elect our politicians? Is anger with the previous administration or current policies a necessary tool for recruiting votes or is there another successful way to use emotions to address change?

~ Sarah Theobald

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2 comments so far

  1. julie1990 on

    It seems that there are a couple issues at play here.
    To address the first, I feel that “Angry Democrat” is probably a measured effect on the part of Hilary, herself. As a high-profile female politician, I imagine that she is particularly careful not to demonstrate what might be construed as excessive sensitivity or “weakness”. I believe that she is banking on her “anger” being representative of her passion, drive, and commitment rather than hotheadedness.
    With respect to the questions that you posed about whether anger is the most useful emotion for politicians, I feel that the emotion is over-used and that if we continue in such a pattern we will witness a sheer gridlock whereby nobody will be able to affect change. These results have already been seen, particularly since Obama’s election and the conversion of the Republican party into the “Party of No”, so angered by the democratic majority that the ability to compromise and yield has been drowned out. And the Republican party isn’t alone in this -Democrats are more than willing to join the shouting match/pissing contest/fisticuffs.
    Is there an emotion better suited to elicit a response in an audience? I believe that the short answer is yes and no. I do not believe that there is a universal emotion that can appeal to every kind of audience whether it be young or old, male or female, liberal or conservative or moderate. Anger is, no doubt, the easiest emotion to elicit, and its cousin Indignation is just as facile. Sympathy may be perceived as too soft by some audience, while Humor may be too petty for others.
    But wait… hold on just a moment. Wasn’t there something distinctly different in the flavor or Obama’s campaign speeches that got even the most apathetic of people to stop and listen? I believe that this was the case because rather than using Anger, he caused us to feel Inspiration. As hollow of an emotion as many (including myself) may perceive Inspiration to be, it clearly had a significant draw for the majority of voters.

  2. robgentle on

    While I agree that Obama’s main draw during his campaign was his inspirational speeches, many people in his liberal base want the President to show a little anger when Republicans block his initiatives. This article is an example:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/26/obama-connect-people-pain

    The lack of anger shown by Obama is seen by many people as a lack of conviction in his beliefs and timidness.

    A similar situation is happening right now with the tax deal Obama recently cut. The lack of anger shown by Obama is very upsetting to the more liberal members of his party. Perhaps if he had publicly aired his grievances with the deal his base would not be as angry.


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