Friday, February 10, 2006; 11:03 AM
Anger can be a useful instrument in public life. Think of Truman giving 'em hell, JFK calling steel executives SOBs, Reagan demanding that Gorby tear down this wall, Bush using a bullhorn to denounce the people who knocked down those buildings.
But it can also be cast as a liability by those who want to raise questions about an opponent's temperament , as if politics was played by Marquis of Queensbury rules. We saw this in the Bushian whispers in 2000 that McCain came back from the Hanoi Hilton with a few screws loose, and we see it again in the latest GOP swipe against Hillary.
It began when Ken Mehlman told George Stephanopoulos that Sen. Clinton "seems to have a lot of anger" and Americans don't elect angry candidates. This, of course, prompted a round of Is-She-Angry stories and cable debates. (How do you deny being angry without sounding, well, teed off? And is a woman in politics more vulnerable to the charge that, as Barbara Bush once said of Geraldine Ferraro, she rhymes with rich?)
My initial reaction was that the Republicans--who haven't been able to find a credible candidate to challenge Clinton in New York--must be pretty worried about her in '08. But the anger charge can always be fired at the other side, as former Clinton White House staffer Bruce Reed observes in Slate:
"My friends at the Democratic National Committee, whose job is to go after Republicans, put out two pages of talking points entitled, 'Temper, Temper! When John McCain Attacks.' Their evidence? McCain's shouldn't-have-clicked-the-send-button letter to Sen. Barack Obama on lobbying reform.
"Here's how it sounds when the DNC attacks: Senator John McCain gets angry -- a lot. McCain, 'the biggest bully in the Senate,' is known by his colleagues and staff as having a bad temper and a 'short fuse .'
"Anger is a real problem in American politics. Democrats lost the last presidential election in part because our side was so mad at Bush we couldn't see straight. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton consistently outfoxed Republicans because they hated him so much. Anger is so toxic that both party headquarters would do themselves and the country a great favor by steering their followers away from it.
"The Bright Side: There's just one big flaw in the RNC/DNC diatribes: Hillary Clinton and John McCain are not only two of the most upbeat politicians in Washington these days, but also are among those least likely to let anger drive their politics. . . .
"Indeed, the fact that they aren't riddled with anger is one of the reasons Hillary Clinton and John McCain have such political strength. If anything, Ken Mehlman is projecting: His real fear is how paralyzed with anger the base of the Republican Party becomes at the mere mention of Hillary. Mehlman and Karl Rove didn't spend the past six years inventing compassionate conservatism just to watch the pitchfork wing of the Republican party drag it back down again. McCain's appeal is that he might keep those pitchforks at bay."
Maureen Dowd says that "in the distaff version of Swift-boating," Republicans "are casting Hillary Clinton as an Angry Woman, a she-monster melding images of Medea, the Furies, harpies, a knife-wielding Glenn Close in 'Fatal Attraction' . . . Republicans think that men who already have nagging, bitter women in their lives will not want for president the sort of woman who gave W. a dyspeptic smile or eye-rolling appraisal during State of the Union addresses. . . .
"The gambit handcuffs Hillary: If she doesn't speak out strongly against President Bush, she's timid and girlie. If she does, she's a witch and a shrew. That plays particularly well in the South, where it would be hard for an uppity Hillary to capture many more Bubbas than the one she already has."
Tom Street at Bad Attitudes is pro-anger: