- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I am not sure which party needs it more, but both may require a few sessions with Dr. Buddy Rydell. He is the unorthodox psychiatrist played by Jack Nicholson in the 2003 film “Anger Management.” Some Democrats seem determined to make anger the centerpiece, and in many cases, the only piece, of this November’s congressional elections — a feat no one thought feasible or effective. Yet in some places it’s clearly working. Republicans, on the other hand, seem flummoxed by liberals’ brazen nihilism and the Democrats’ amen chorus in the mainstream media.

The Washington Post, one of the loudest sopranos in the liberal choir, actually ran an embarrassingly biased story last Saturday suggesting Democrats may boost their vote totals because their candidates are better looking. Republicans can’t be faulted for needing some rage management of their own in this kind of environment. But they need to step back, count to ten and remind America that anger is not an agenda — and remind themselves what is at stake.

Can Democrats win armed only with a “rage against Republicans” platform? It’s possible, but such a “victory” would also inflict serious injury on the war on terror and the economy, and would further coarsen political discourse in America. “This is a very volatile environment,” a Republican political consultant told me last week. “The poison in the atmosphere is definitely motivating Democrats. How Republicans respond to all this anger is the big question.”

First, consider the war in Iraq. “A Democratic majority in Congress would not be able to cut off funding immediately,” a veteran of the Reagan Administration told me. “But there would be so many investigations and charges of mismanagement by the Congress toward the White House, I think support for the war would completely evaporate.”

Lacking the votes to enact a legislative agenda over President Bush’s veto, Democrats with gavels would govern by subpoena. “Every member of the White House staff may need to hire their own attorney,” another long-time observer told me, only partially in jest.

Two years of that kind of animosity between Congress and the White House would further erode public confidence in government — already hovering near historic lows. True, Americans experienced other periods of divided government, but those occurred in less polarized times. Today’s more partisan world means the cooperative waltzing necessary in the dance of legislation would degenerate into a lot of unproductive stepping on each other’s toes.

Higher taxes are another consequence of the anger agenda. Many think a divided government fight just means the status quo prevails — blocking both further tax cuts and increases. This is not true. Most of the reductions in rates on individual income, capital gains and dividends, and even the marriage penalty repeal, are set to expire and “snap-back” to higher levels after 2010. In other words, legislative inaction means higher taxes.

Finally, if the anger agenda propels Democrats to victory in one or both houses of Congress, it promises even more vitriol in American political debate. Many Democrats believe the electoral energy in America is on the political left and that lurching farther in that direction guarantees even broader political success. This election is a test of that thesis — a pre-2008 experiment that, if successful, will further hollow the center of American politics. Conservative Hugh Hewitt’s Web site recently posted evidence of this point from a left-wing blogger who argues a Democratic sweep in November means they “are succeeding by moving to the left, not to the center.” If this is the lesson liberals learn from a Democratic takeover of the House and Senate, the political consequences will be as dramatic as the policy shifts.

Some conservative voters and pundits harbor anger issues of their own toward the Republicans in Congress. They argue a loss might help refocus and re-energize the party in power that lost its way. This view is misguided. A victory for the angry left will inflict more damage to this country, and our political culture, than any sins perpetrated by the fallible humans who make up the current majority party. And conceding the battle — as some have done — because the mainstream media has already declared the election outcome is another piece of twisted logic. Buddy Rydell’s eccentric anger management therapy teaches patients they can either crawl into a shell or stand up and fight. Conservatives face the same decision this November.

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