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Why outrage is dead

May 9, 2013, at 11:30 PM

Republicans want to know where the outrage is hiding.

Why aren't Americans angrier about the (a) cover-up (b) conspiracy (c) lunacy (d) evil-ness of how the Obama administration responded to the events in Libya?

Aside from blaming the media for a failure to cover the loose ends, which is a charge that belies any actual analysis of news coverage, many partisan conservatives have settled on the explanation that there is no outrage anymore. This argument's intellectual pedigree is an extension of William Bennett's book-length essay, The Death of Outrage, which was published after Bill Clinton's impeachment. He argues that Democrats and liberals have so conditioned Americans to be non-judgmental and to inure themselves to moral absolutes that people are incapable of arguing for the good and electing the better.

Another explanation is that Republicans have defined outrageousness down. If everything is an outrage, then nothing is an outrage. When the rapper Common visited the White House, it was an "outrage" to Sean Hannity. When union workers were called in for Sandy repair in New York, that was also "outrageous." Heck, Hannity found it awful and outrageous that Obama's daughters would dare take a spring break during the sequester. I'm literally going down the Google search results for "Hannity" and "outrage." Replace Hannity with the talk radio host of your choosing.

It's the flip side to Bennett's argument: If you judge motivations always, you will not really be able to truly apply the force of judgment to genuine moral deviations. Your shame supply will dwindle.  

Liberals suffer from the same affliction. Jokes in poor taste, in particular, seem to outrage liberals, as do various diction choices by Republicans. This I recognize and find uncomfortable too. At times, it was hard to find a thing about the Bush administration that didn't outrage liberal polemicists during the twilight of his second term.

Today though, Republicans shoulder the brunt of the responsibility for the outrage they're not finding.  

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