Anger as a political motivator?

There is no shortage of news on the Republican wave about to hit the proverbial shores of Washington, D.C. The top priority of Republicans is to repeal or defund the Obama’s health care bill. Realistically, both actions are unlikely in the foreseeable future. While efforts to repeal the bill may find support in the House (which is dominated by Republicans), it will not find a sympathetic audience in the Senate (which is dominated by Democrats). Likewise, Republicans can work through congressional committees in an effort defund the health care bill. However, the success of the such a strategy would require Republicans to literally shut down the federal government — a strategy that was not successful in the mid-1990s.

Of course, these efforts have another purpose. They keep the base fired up and united in their dislike for one piece of legislation. The focus on united opposition to health care, in short, will hopefully bind folks that may agree on little else together until the next election.

However, can anger of legislation, or anything else for that matter, create a foundation for meaningful political action in the long term? The answer, I think, is a resounding “no.” Anger is an intense emotion, but, if we believe social science research, not a sustainable one. Intense emotions can get people involved in a political action, but individuals need more (e.g., collective ties and emotional binds) to stay involved over any length of time. Angry rhetoric will only only get Republicans so far.

What will be interesting to see is how much stock the party places in this strategy. There is a five way race for the national RNC chairmanship and little agreement over what constitutes a Republican.  Reince Priebus, who is vying for the position, mixed traditional conservatism and tea party politics into his answer, noting that if you are pro-abortion, pro-Obamacare, pro-government bailout, pro-taxes …. you are not a Republican. In contrast, Michael Steele, the current embattled chair, noted that there was not a singular issue that made an individual Republican and cautioned against such labeling  (for the direct quotes see the NPR morning edition story at http://www.npr.org/2011/01/04/132643899/Steele-Debates-4-Challengers-For-GOP-Chairmanship).  While neither position may ultimately represent the new RNC chairman, the kind of rhetoric she or he adopts will tell a tail about the future strategies (and potential success and failure) of the Republican party.

 

 

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About Double take Sociology

I am a Professor of Sociology, a Research Associate in the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and an Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Community Engagement in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. To find links to my research, visit www.DeanaRohlinger.com.
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