The Blog

Anger Management

A look at how the Democratic spinners got on message on recall night, and how they see the future.

8:10 AM, Oct 9, 2003 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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DNC CHIEF Terry McAuliffe trotted out the Democratic talking points on last night's recall vote with twenty minutes to go before the polls closed: "The signal coming out of California would be, with the economic conditions there, George Bush should be very nervous. People are angry in California. They're angry all over the country because of the economic conditions that the Bush administration has brought on." (This, it should be noted, was in the same interview where he said, with a straight face, "I still have high hopes that Gray Davis is going to pull this thing out tonight.")

Mark Leno, a Democratic California assemblyman, got the memo too: "What I think is going on here is that Californians are fairly frustrated. And they're taking it all out on Gray Davis. They're angry and frustrated because we've lost 10 percent of the three million jobs that have been lost since George Bush took office. . . . I'm saying that there's an angry mood among voters, and it's part of a national recession. In the past five years since George Bush has been governor, we've lost 300,000 . . ." He kept talking, right through the Freudian slips, but you get the idea.

Democrats hope to accomplish two things by playing up the "angry voter" theory. They want to characterize Schwarzenegger's success as the product of irrationality. Californians are so blinded by their rage, say McAuliffe and his colleagues, that they aren't thinking straight, and somehow wound up with the Terminator as governor.

Second, they want to whip up more "anger" and give it direction. Democrats are banking on being able to convince California--and the rest of the country--that the real target for their anger should be George W. Bush in 2004.

CNN's Jeff Greenfield attempted some analysis along these lines: "The empowerment argument is precisely the argument that Howard Dean is using so far with some pretty good success in a very different way in the democratic process. Through the Internet, through his speeches, he's saying to people, don't be helpless about this. If you're angry, do something about it. You have the power."

Jesse Jackson, as always, was on-message and off-topic, offering another reason for Californians to be angry--there weren't enough polling places. Despite record turnout, Jackson (who spent election day in Davis's vicinity) fretted about disenfranchisement. When Chris Matthews suggested that if anyone was to blame for bad decisions about the number and placement of polling places, it would be Davis, Jackson was dismayed: "Chris, Chris, it doesn't matter who screws it up."

Jackson's message is familiar--the actual wrongdoing is irrelevant, the point is that things are going wrong around here, and people should be angry about it. Watch for more finger-pointing at Bush about unfair election practices in the near future.

Amid all this fury, Ben Stein offered a refreshing point of view: "Look," said Stein discussing life in California, "it's fabulous. I love every bit of it. I love seeing palm trees out my bedroom window. I love seeing the sunshine even in January and February and March. I love the wealth of job opportunities. I love the fact everybody is in a great mood and that everybody's upbeat. I love it. . . . I'm not that angry, frankly."

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.