Column: Cut the political outrage

By Brian Pierce

My mother watches “The O’Reilly Factor.” It’s a difficult thing to admit, and I’d thank you not to make fun. She is a good, intelligent woman with sinful indulgences just like the rest of us.

The reason I bring it up is to let you know that when I quote Bill O’Reilly, as I am about to, it is not because I voluntarily watch his show. Sometimes, I simply have no choice. One of those unfortunate occasions arose a few weeks ago, over winter break, with the dreadful inevitability of a visit to the dentist. Only a visit to the No Spin Zone leaves a decidedly less clean taste in one’s mouth.

O’Reilly was talking about a Vermont judge who had sentenced a child rapist to a minimum of 60 days in prison. Thankfully, his Talking Points Memo was there to provide O’Reilly with the perfect platform with which to display the moral clarity that seems to ooze from his pores: “America simply cannot have men raping little girls and judges sentencing those men to 60 days in prison. Period. We can’t have this.”

Was it moral clarity I said oozed from his pores? I meant to say opportunism.

Certainly there could be no relevant facts to this case that O’Reilly omitted, or an honest debate over the best method to ensure that this child rapist did not engage in such a horrific act again. No, clearly all there is to it is that the judge in question thinks child rape is no biggie. He is, after all, from Vermont, and we all know how crazy those blue staters are.

I’m not defending the judge. He could have been wrong about his sentence. I’m not spending the focus of this column on this case, nor even on Bill O’Reilly. I simply use O’Reilly as an example illustrating the plague of outrage in this country.

Some other textbook examples of the outrage plague: the audacity of Sen. John Kerry when he says that if Democrats win a majority in the Congress in 2006 there is a “solid case” for impeaching President Bush, the indignation of O’Reilly when he says the ACLU is the “most dangerous organization in America,” the self-righteousness of a writer for the Orange & Blue Observer who gets positively horny at the chance to use the term “baby-killing.”

Outrage can be good sometimes. It can be unavoidable, it can be understandable, it can even be righteous. About 90 percent of the time though, it’s just plain irritating.

All shades on the political spectrum are guilty of exacerbating this condition; even more guilty are the 24-hour news networks that build their entire existence around being outraged by some stupid thing or another. But this is to be expected. Politicians will do what makes them look better than their opponents and news networks will do what boosts their ratings.

What concerns me is that it seems like greater and greater numbers of otherwise normal people are getting genuinely outraged by nonsense like that listed above. Anybody familiar with the controversy over the College Democrats’ bar crawl t-shirt which read “Donkey-punching our way to victory!” can see this. The t-shirt was dumb and distasteful, let’s all agree on that. But there’s a distinct difference between distasteful and morally offensive.

A lot of things in this country that could be aptly described with words like “misguided,” “inappropriate,” or “mistaken” are often described instead with words like “disgusting,” “unforgivable,” or “inexcusable.” Be wary of the users of such words; they’re probably trying to sell you something.

More importantly, exercise caution before you use such words yourself. Most things aren’t unforgivable or inexcusable. Most issues have nuance and oversimplifying them through rage is just as dangerous as oversimplifying them through ignorance.

When other people get outraged, it’s usually a sign that they don’t have a leg to stand on. Try not to look that way yourself.

Brian Pierce is a junior in LAS. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]