Why They're Mad

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009; 9:41 AM

Maybe journalists have been asking the wrong question.

In probing why a chunk of the country seems so ticked off at Barack Obama, we've explored possible motivations ranging from racism to programmatic concern about the public option. We have examined whether Obama is trying to do too much and whether he's on TV too much.

But perhaps the sense of anger and unease is more deep-rooted than that, and not limited to Glenn Beck conservatives.

Take the average Joe or Jane who doesn't follow Beltway infighting all that closely. Maybe they supported Obama and maybe they didn't, but they can't have missed the often-glowing coverage of his campaign and his inauguration.

Now, eight months later, how have their lives changed? Unemployment is still rising, despite the passage of a $787 billion stimulus package (the argument that things would have been worse without it, while true, is a tough sell). Health care is still a mess, and Obama's complicated plan sounds a bit scary. We're sending more troops to that quagmire in Afghanistan (although, as Bob Woodward reported yesterday, the top U.S. commander has privately warned that without even more forces the war "likely will result in failure").

What's more, the big Wall Street banks that crashed the economy seem to be rolling in dough again, with no tough new restrictions on their bonus-happy conduct. And the housing market is still in the toilet, with foreclosures wrecking many communities while relatively few homeowners get relief.

Let's say you've lost your job, or you're afraid you might, and you can't afford health insurance, and you owe the bank more than your house is worth. Why wouldn't you be mad at those scoundrels in Washington?

Obama was never going to fix all the problems he inherited in eight months, but he's the head of a government controlled by his party. Of course he's going to be the target of ire and frustration, and not just from rabid Republicans.

Frank Rich makes the important point that this goes well beyond right-wing wackos:

"We are kidding ourselves if we think it's only about bigotry, or health care, or even Obama. The growing minority that feels disenfranchised by Washington can't be so easily ghettoized and dismissed. Many of those Americans may hate Obama, but they don't love the Republican establishment either. . . .

"Democrats shouldn't be cocky. Over the short term, the real economic grievances lurking beneath the extremism of the Beck brigades can do damage to both parties. A stopped clock is right twice a day. The recession-spawned anger that Beck has tapped into on the right could yet find a more mainstream outlet in a populist revolt from the left and center. . . .

"Unlike liberal critics of capitalist inequities, of course, Beck and his claque are driven by an over-the-top detestation of government. Washington is always the enemy, stealing their hard-earned money to redistribute it to the undeserving and shiftless poor (some of whom just happen to be immigrants or black). Though there is nothing Obama can do to stop racists from being racist, he could help stanch the economic piece of this by demonstrating how a reformed government can at times actually make Americans' lives better."


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