A lithe young singer, Taylor Swift, had a big hit with “Mean” four years ago.
The song is a picked-on teen’s lament that her classmates are cruel. “You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me; you have knocked me off my feet again; got me feeling like I’d nothing.”
The money line is the question Swift sings again and again: “Why you gotta be so mean?”
It’s a question some Tea-Party types might contemplate.
Their anger is understandable.
Their meanness is not.
Those on the right side of the political spectrum became super-animated after the 2008 election of Barack Obama and became super-empowered in the 2010 midterm elections. They consistently identify two sources of inspiration – Ronald Reagan and Jesus Christ.
Neither of them was mean.
Both believed in the power of ideas, the power of truth and that if you stayed calm and told the truth people would (eventually) come to recognize and trust you. Never mean. Not once.
No one should be surprised that the far right has become far more active in Mississippi and in other portions of America, including several former bastions of liberalism. While President Bush, in his two terms preceding Obama, gave lip service to smaller government and less spending, debt grew by unprecedented numbers. While the new president says he agrees, generally, that the flow of red ink needs to stop sometime, he keeps proposing all kinds of new, expensive programs and tax increases.
Most annoying to these folks are programs that provide life support – everything from farmers’ market vouchers and cellphones to food, housing and health care – to people they think are able-bodied.
Is all this exasperating to those who see the nation headed over a cliff? You bet.
Still, if a skinny teenage girl who writes and sings country music can figure out that no good end awaits those who are mean, why can’t Tea Partiers? Their anger may be righteous, but if they express it through being mean, they lose.
A 50-center term to describe this is “self-marginalization.” Taylor Swift didn’t use that. She predicted the future of mean people this way: “I can see you years from now in a bar, talking over a football game with that same big loud opinion but nobody’s listening … washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things.”
Looking at Mississippi and this summer’s Republican primaries specifically, there’s no doubt why the campaign organization supporting state Sen. Chris McDaniel decided to launch a mean-spirited assault on the incumbent U.S. senator. Identical tactics had worked elsewhere. Call Thad Cochran a RINO (Republican In Name Only), a big spender, out of touch and more. Label your opponent a “professional politician” who needs to be retired.
Given that a Rasmussen poll says 72 percent of Americans believe life would be better if most members of Congress were not re-elected, it’s a good campaign plan. The strategy was to tap into that and win, but it didn’t work.
Yet rather than wake up and smell the coffee, the McDaniel minions responded with all sorts of outbursts and continued mean-spiritedness. The Cochran camp “race-baited” by asking black Mississippians for votes? That’s absurd. It would have been racist not to seek support of all Mississippians.
Too, Cochran has always had more minority support than most Republicans. In heavily black Claiborne County in 2008, Sen. John McCain managed only 748 votes against Obama while Cochran received 964 in a one-on-one contest with the African-American Democratic nominee, state Rep. Erik Fleming. What’s racist is to assume all Mississippians vote by pigmentation only.
The summary here is short. Congress has very few fans. The president has fewer every day. But for people who think they can do better, the challenge is to sell their ideas. “Mean” should never work. Not in America.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.