Quote of the day

A critical look at the seemingly endless stream of outrage that has dominated coverage of this campaign.

Published July 15, 2008 2:24PM (EDT)

There really is a politics of outrage, and it has spread like a cancer throughout the body politic. It's become the default currency of political conversation.

Outrage is supposed to be extreme anger about an extreme and dignity-damaging insult. It has instead become the quotidian autonomic emotional register of most species of political actors, including partisans, campaign operatives and pundits. Hence: what used to be normal is now considered extreme.

Outrage is the easiest type of story for journalists to write about. We create crises when we report on aggrieved and outrage parties. and then we cover the reaction to the stories we write about...

Outrage is often phony; major campaigns contrive their outrage precisely for effect. (When I ask about these contrivances, I am told that they are "part of the game.") But outrage is often phony even if it seems real. Phony outrage is outrage for the sake of feeling outraged; it's a comfortable outrage, an outrage that serves to reinforce feelings of solidarity and get rid of feelings of dissonance...

Everyone is so outraged, outraged, outraged all the time that we're defining outrage down. If our outrage meter hits 10 at every conceivable sleight or remark, then when something really outrageous happens -- something truly morally despicable or cowardly takes place -- we're numb.

That's the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, writing on his blog about the controversy over the cover of this week's New Yorker. (In a later post, he made another good point about the condescending way in which some of the people who've been criticizing the image have assumed that their fellow Americans are too stupid to get the satire: "Everyone brags about their own ability to resist subliminal messages -- although this is quite liminal, but we assume the worst about our fellow citizens, and we assume that they can't handle the same complex images we can handle.")

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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