Progressives and “Manufactured Outrage”; Why We Lose Elections

An apparent specialty of the professional left and a large number of their minions is the manufacture of outrage.  Look at lefty blogs, and there is no end to the demands for outrage over something. Check out their Twitter streams; they are always fishing for subjects they think might piss you off, and get you reading them day after day. Their followers will demand that you be outraged, too. Whenever I post my comprehensive list of President Obama’s accomplishments, invariably, I’ll get a few stray “progressives” reminding me that I should be outraged that Obama killed an American citizen, and that Bradley Manning had to be naked in his cell for an hour or so, referring to that as torture because, well, the word “torture” is designed to evoke more outrage.

Outrage may make for a decent marketing tool, to attract like-minded people to your blog, but it’s useless as a political tool.

The other night, a prominent far lefty told a bunch of us that we should be outraged because an NFL investigation showed that the New Orleans Saints had a bounty program, where they were paid money to injure other players.  Apparently, this “progressive” doesn’t follow football as closely as I do, because I remember Baltimore (yes, I said Baltimore) Colts players telling me about similar instances back in 1976. But this “progressive” went so far as to demand that the team’s operations be suspended for a year.  I responded by asking him about all those people who depend on the Saints organization for jobs, but received no answer back. Obviously, the statement was a trial balloon of source, to see if it generated enough outrage. It didn’t.

See, folks, here’s the cognitive dissonance that permeates a loud and persistent segment of the progressive movement; outrage actually serves to DE-motivate the vast majority of voters. Only those on the far ends of the political spectrum, left and right, are motivated by the outrage visited upon them. Unfortunately, while the right wingers are motivated to vote for a Republican, often, the left wingers are often motivated to vote for some fringer who can’t possibly win.

Also take note: the condescending nature of many of the “outrage manufacturing” processes engaged in by some progressives actually serve to multiply the de-motivational factor.  Who the hell are you to tell a total stranger what they should be outraged about, anyway? Ever had someone advise you of what political issues should matter most to you? What is your response? If it doesn’t irritate you, then you’re not even close to normal, so don’t even pretend to know what the average voter thinks. You, as a progressive, do NOT have any special knowledge about the issues that matter than the people who live them. This should probably be another column, but suffice it to say, pasty white college-educated liberal liberals with political science degrees do NOT have more knowledge about what a working class black woman should consider to be important issues than the working class black woman does. And for you to even insinuate that you know what another voter should care about most is insulting, and does the progressive movement more damage than you know.

If you want to see the negative effect “manufactured outrage” has on the progressive movement, compare the 2008 and 2010 elections.

In 2008, Barack Obama manufactured hope, not outrage, and he won in a walk. People were scared, and they wanted Bush out of there. But make no mistake; they didn’t vote for Obama because he wasn’t Bush. Even John McCain would have been a significant change in leadership from George W. Bush. No matter how you feel about his political bent, there would have been a level of competence that had been missing for eight years, and a lot of average voters would have been okay with that. Most voters didn’t vote for Obama because they were motivated by fear and outrage, and if you believe that, you need to pay closer attention. Most voters chose Obama because they were motivated by HOPE. They were motivated by his desire to do what he could to make their lives better, and they were motivated by what they perceived as supreme competence. And the progressive movement actually helped him “manufacture hope” instead of “outrage.”

But once he was inaugurated, they reverted back almost immediately. Within a month or two, this strain of progressives started “manufacturing outrage” once again:

  • The stimulus wasn’t big enough.
  • Obama wasn’t magically canceling all defective mortgages and letting people stay in their homes for free.
  • Obama and the Democrats weren’t punishing the banks enough.
  • Obama wasn’t working hard enough to transform the health insurance system to single payer.
  • Obama wasn’t ending the Iraq war fast enough.
  • How dare the Congress fund both wars!
  • Democrats were pussies.
  • Blue Dog Democrats were making it impossible to pass anything.
  • Obama was continuing the same foreign policies of the Bush Administration.
  • Obama and the Democrats are a disappointment, because the world didn’t magically change overnight.

That’s just the tip of the "manufactured outrage" iceberg. None of the above is even close to rational, to begin with. But just as importantly, the above “narrative,” which was overwhelmingly pushed by the loudest contingent of the lefty “media” dovetailed nicely with the Republican message.

You want to know why we have a Republican House that is preventing the president from getting anything substantial done? Look in the mirror, if you’re one of those who pushed any of the crap above, or any of the other outrage manufactured in 2009-2010. We needed 2-3 fewer Republican Senators. Instead, progressives’ “manufactured outrage” gave us the damn Tea Party. All those Blue Dogs you “outrage manufacturers” blamed for so many horrible things were replaced by teabaggers.

How’s that working out for us? Is it making things better?

The number one electoral strategy the Republican Party employs in every election cycle has to do with depressing turnout, since it’s the only possible way they can win, being a distinct minority. One way they do this is by “manufacturing outrage.” Here’s a hint; they don’t really think Obama is a Kenyan Socialist Muslim Marxist. They also know the man was born here. They don’t really care about abortion, and they really have nothing against blacks or gays, per se. They don’t really even like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Roger Ailes. Hell, for that matter, they don’t even really like the simple-minded, often racist followers they depend on for votes. But by manufacturing outrage, they aim to depress turnout among reasonable people.

Therefore, when our side does little more than “manufacture outrage” and engage the right wing in their “manufactured outrage,” we are actually helping them. We are actually helping the Republican Party to motivate a large number of voters to stay away from the polls. If you want to know why Democrats are always having to play defense? Again, look in the mirror, liberals.

Outrage is not a motivating factor for most voters; it’s just the opposite. There is already plenty of outrage out there as it stands; there is no need to make more. Most voters don’t vote for their outrage; they want to vote for someone who can solve the problems that cause their outrage. When both sides of the debate are trying to push their sense of outrage onto the electorate, they get frustrated and stay home.

So stop manufacturing outrage, progressives; there’s already a glut. What we need – and what will motivate more voters to our side – is more hope. 


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  1. If those are your complaints, you’ll have to do better than that.
    Start with the NDAA, probably the biggest non-issue “progressives” complain about. The NDAA was 567 pages. The detention section was about a page and a half. Much ado about nothing, for several reasons.
    1. The previous detention section was FAR WORSE, and the House version of the section was absurd. Obama used a veto threat to weaken the hell out of it.
    2. The final version of the detention section of the NDAA adds absolutely NOTHING to the law. Nothing.
    3. If we hadn’t worked so hard to trash Democrats and help put the GOP back in charge of the House, that language would never have appeared in the NDAA in the first place.
    4. The complaint that he shouldn’t have signed it is silly. Not only did the bill pass with a veto-proof majority, but a veto might have shut down areas of DOD for a while, if the veto was miraculously upheld. During a difficult recovery from a recession, having to postpone, delay or cancel a number of DOD contracts could have had a devastating effect on the economy and the politics.
    As for “increased drones,” all I can say is, progressives need to make up their minds. You don’t want war, but the FACT is, there are bad people out there who want to do harm to the United States, and something has to be done about it. Do you want full on attack, or do you want drone strikes? I happen to see another major advantage to drone strikes in that it strikes fear in the hearts of terrorists, since they don’t know when or where they will strike. I don’t like the collateral damage, but thus far, that seems to be very light. As I explained in another blog post, the average number of civilian casualties is about one per strike, which means MOST strikes incur no collateral damage.
    As for the so-called “escalation,” the number of drone strikes peaked in 2010, they were down by a third last year, and for 2012, they’re on track to be about half last year’s number. That doesn’t seem like an escalation to me. Obama promised to wipe out al Qaeda, and he’s doing just that, while limiting civilian casualties.
    If you’re going to criticize, the first thing anyone needs to do is to make their case. Make sure that your criticism is valid. If it is valid, make sure it’s something important, and criticize, keeping the criticism in perspective. For example, Bush and Obama both claimed to be trying to eliminate al Qaeda, but Bush’s attempts cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan lives, while Obama’s use of drone strikes has resulted in around 200 civilian deaths. I prefer the drone strikes. (Especially since I have a son in the Army who has had to do two tours in Afghanistan because Bush screwed it up.)
    If Bush had opted for drone strikes and focused on al Qaeda when he was supposed to, all of this would be over a long time ago. Complaining about Obama on drone strikes misses the point entirely.

  2. Appreciate your blog Mr. Shook. But where do we draw the line on criticism of politicians? Obviously you want to give credit where credit is due, but you also dont want to be a passive citizen who doesn’t seem to care what the politicians do. Who gets to define what should be criticized and when? I think Obama has done an outstanding job in some areas such as the bailouts, job creation, setting the date for withdrawal from Afghanistan, etc. I am concerned, however, about him signing NDAA into law – 10 years after 9/11 and after the Death of Bin Laden – as well as the escalation of the use of drones. Do you think there is a way to be critical of a President without throwing him under the bus?

  3. Amen, Amen, oh yeah! That is exactly what got us those 8 golden Bush years. Anyone think it was worth it? If so that person is as crazy as the teabaggers.

  4. Right on the money, Milt. I was myself outraged the other day at Markos Moulitsas’s outrage over the decision of Bob Kerrey to throw his hat in the ring for Nelson’s seat. Markos said “fuck him” and ranted about how Kerrey is no progressive and doesn’t deserve the pristine votes of unicorn hugging purist progressives such as himself. Never mind that Kerrey’s the only Democrat with a snowball’s chance in Hell of actually keeping that seat. No, Markos promised there would be no help coming from the emoprog blogosphere. The next day came an e-mail from Daily Kos asking me to sign a petition denouncing Limbaugh. I unloaded on the sender and told her that an organization run by someone as self-destructively stupid and egotistical as Markos Moulitsas doesn’t need my signature on any petitions. Of all the outrage I could feel about any number of things, nothing outrages me more than the pathetic imbecility of these morons who’d rather see a Tea Partier take a seat in Congress than allow it to go to a Blue Dog.

  5. Just a little thought experiment in common sense tells you it is so. Imagine you are at a party, and there is one guy who is ranting about how the chips are full of preservatives, the dip has rat hair in it, etc., etc. Maybe he’s got one or two fellow ranters all worked up and some hangers on who find this interesting. But the rest of the party wants to go home, unless there is some lemonade-making fun person (the best of Ned Flanders and Homer Simpson in one package) there to make up for it. Even the hangers on (I’m picturing myself in this role) are likely to get tired and want to leave.
    Meanwhile, the rat hair guy is going to find the lemonade-maker frustrating. But that’s just one disappointed rat hair guy, and maybe a few fellow ranters.

  6. Milt, I cannot agree enough. I’ve been saying this for years. It always comes up when my mother says, well, both parties are the same…” No, they’re not, we’re just more naive at how they play the game. Like Will Rogers said, (and I know you’ve heard this) “I don’t belong to any organized political party, I’m a Democrat!” It’s still sadly true to this day. I always think of a line from an ALABAMA song, “Daddy was a vetr’an, a southern democrat, ya oughta get a rich man to vote like that..” SONG OF THE SOUTH

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