Why the Angry Mood Doesn't Worry Me

The Midterm Elections

Why the Angry Mood Doesn't Worry Me

The Midterm Elections

Why the Angry Mood Doesn't Worry Me
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 30 2006 4:40 PM

The Midterm Elections


Dear Mark,

I agree that it is arbitrary to make public a week-long fragment of our regular correspondence, most of which will not be open to scholars before 2025. But as long as we are reasonably alert, we should be able to promote our book and stay out of trouble in these days before the election. (I'm way too busy already to read or answer hundreds of flaming e-mails, or to sit through a long interrogation by the ombudsman.) For the most sensitive stuff, we can still use the supersecret Gmail account.


Speaking of staying out of trouble, my early warning system is sounding. You start out with what on the surface seems like a David Gergen/Bill Moyers bromide about the decline of civility and this "level of vitriol," and you implore the free press to be more vigilant about protecting the "electoral process." I have a hunch you are trying to trap me into something more provocative. As during the book, I'm in a quandary. I am protective of you (and of myself), especially since most of the people who attack you and The Note do so with radically misguided assumptions about your actual opinions and professional values. On the other hand, your instinct for inflaming people on both the left and right into paroxysms of (publicity-producing) anger is, I suppose, a bankable asset for us.

In any event, I'll answer your question as if it is on the surface. The "level of vitriol" is hardly new in American history; virtually every generation has seen similar episodes. As you point out, there is plenty going on in national life that is worth getting impassioned about. What I suspect is historically unique is the way that anger and division are now cultivated and marketed for publicity and profit. Polarization is an industry. It includes segments of the media (cable, talk radio, blogs, and an increasingly large number of Old Media dinosaurs), as well as many politicians. This style of politics gives the appearance of debate but is really the opposite. A debate is an argument about competing ideas and common facts. These days there are no common facts—only weapons and shields that partisans use to cast the other side as not just misguided but as morally unacceptable. Now I sound like Gergen (who I like). The reason I'm not all that glum about things is that democracy is self-correcting. We may be seeing the limits of this brand of politics already in 2006.

It is our job as journalists to play referee, and I agree that at times, our efforts to call out falsehoods are pretty feeble compared to the volume. But, no, I will not say what I would do if the Post gave me twice the budget. (I'll send you an answer on the secret Gmail account.)

Your other topics … Election ennui: I know what you mean about the glut of spurious predictions, but believe that you are lying to yourself and readers about your supposed Yoda-like calm. You would kill for the exit polls, I feel sure. Unagi: Why do you like that stuff?

My question concerns our mutual friend Mike Abramowitz and his story in today's Post. Do you feel he is attempting to refute our thesis about Karl Rove in The Way To Win or that he is borrowing liberally without proper attribution?

He had a nice line about Rove and the midterms: "Rove is just eight days from having his genius designation revoked—or upgraded to platinum status."

I'm off to a panel at the Brookings Institution on presidential elections and will be back in the office late morning to answer your e-mails and, if there is time after that, supervise the Post's election coverage.

John Harris