More on Spite

Note: I put this post up yesterday and then took it down. It came across all wrong, reading as if I were calling conservatives spiteful and stupid, when in fact I think we’re all spiteful and stupid. What I was really talking about was maturity and childishness, and the pressing need for mature leadership in a childish society. Republican politicians, for whatever reason, are not providing that leadership, and neither are the Democrats.

I’ve rewritten the post extensively, and I’m still not happy with it, but for now, here it is:

Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones, recently made this observation on the right-wing war against Michelle Obama:

So that’s where we are. A first lady campaigning against obesity and in favor of breast feeding is now the target of all-out war from the right. I imagine that if she were taking on illiteracy, teenage drug use, or planting flowers, the Republican Party would suddenly find itself opposed to reading, defending Mexican drug cartels, and in favor of vacant lots. And yet we’re supposed to take these people seriously.

And then there’s this, from the Washington Post:

In the first move toward phasing out part of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) “Green the Capitol” program, polystyrene cups were reintroduced this week as an option for coffee drinkers in the Capitol Carry-Out, the building’s mini-cafeteria.

In an earlier post, I speculated on the role of spite in political and social affairs, saying, in part:

It seems to me that a lot of the people who call themselves “conservative” are driven less by political and economic theory than simple spite: resentment of their perceived betters and a desire to bring them down.  This explains, to me, the right’s anti-intellectual and anti-science stance.  This explains, to me, why the right goes against its own interests in embracing corporate and big-money efforts to eliminate unions and well-paying jobs with benefits … [b]ring ‘em all down to our level.  That’ll show ‘em.

You’d think spite would turn conservatives against our corporate overlords.  You want to bring your betters down, is there a fatter target than the wealthy?  Do they not have it better than we do?  Do they not thumb their noses at the rest of us?  We pay taxes, and most working people would agree we pay more than our fair share.  Corporations and the well-connected wealthy don’t.  I have more money in my wallet than Bank of America paid in taxes last year.  I think that’s outrageous, and I resent it.  Don’t you?  Hell, who wouldn’t?

The right, that’s who.  Republicans, Tea Party members, conservatives in general.  They’re all for the wealthy.  If progressives and liberals think Bank of America and Exxon/Mobil should pay their share of taxes, then the right has to take the other side … to spite the left.  If the left is for protecting and cleaning up the environment, then the right has to be for pollution and non-degradable styrofoam cups.  If the Kenyan usurper and his wife are for … well, anything … then the right has to be against it.

There’s a little more to it than that, of course … there are forces exploiting the right’s resentments, directing their spite toward political ends … but that’s something for another post.

I believe spite and the accompanying urge to strike back or get even are hardwired human traits, base impulses we all suffer from and sometimes succumb to.  But so is the desire for money and sex, and yet very few of us are criminals and rapists.  One of the defining characteristics of maturity, as opposed to childishness, is a person’s willingness to think and act beyond his or her base impulses.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter to the editor in the current edition of the Tucson Weekly:

… in the absence of any evidence that Jared Lee Loughner’s motive for shooting Gabrielle Giffords had anything to do with politics, would you please stop purveying the hateful lie that her shooting is because of the atmosphere of hate created by right-wing rhetoric? The false and hateful rhetoric which comes from the left is almost, by itself, enough to drive some people to violence. You—and this paper—steadily say that the right is “stupid,” “under-educated,” “un-enlightened,” “illiterate,” “hateful,” “racist” and “crazy,” and are always and forever arguing that people who oppose your views “just do not understand” things.

Right.  Because some lefty blogger once called George W. Bush a “smirking chimp,” it’s okay to threaten to gun down Democrats and liberals.  Forever, as far into the future as anyone can imagine.

People are begging for adult leadership.  But if by “adult” we mean “mature” … leaders who are not motivated by spite and a desire to strike back and get even with anyone who has ever pissed them off, leaders who are instead motivated by a desire to do what is best for the people and the country … well, I’d be hard pressed to name a single leader on the right who could even remotely qualify … and, I will admit, very few on the left.  Maybe Michelle Obama.

Gah.  Enough.  Back to real life for now.

© 2011, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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