RateWatch #376 – Political Rancor
October 4, 2003 by Dick Lepre

What's Happening

The biggest market mover of each month is usually the BLS Employment Situation Report
This month shows modest (57,000) job growth, a flat unemployment rate and an unusual decrease
in the Average Hourly Wage. The Average Workweek is 33.7 hours indicating that there is little
need to hire because there is some excess capacity in the present workforce.

In years past this report would have been regarded as mediocre but in the present context of diminished expectations, it sent equities up and Treasuries down (yields and rates up) big time on Friday.


I don't know where or when it started but I am troubled my the fact that the American political
process appears to be dominated by rancor. The dictionary defines "rancor" as bitter, deep-seated ill will.

Rancor was what the Clinton impeachment was all about. Rancor is what drives Rush Limbaugh.  Rancor is what drives Hollywood criticism of the Bush administration.  Rancor drives conversation in the House of Representatives to conversations such as this one:

Rep. Scott McGinnis addressing Rep. Pete Stark: "Shut up". 
Stark's reply: "Oh you think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you. You little fruitcake. You little fruitcake. I said, you are
a fruitcake."

Newt Gingrich was a master of rancor.  In a sense, the conservative talk-show phenomenon is a
derivative of Gingrich's style.

Politics is now driven by TV, opinion polls, and sound-bites.  People don't watch the news
on PBS, they watch the sound-bite divisive style of cable news.  Winning political office is not
about selling your case but convincing the voters that the other guy is a bigger jerk.

In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger announces his candidacy on late-night TV.  He expresses
no real agenda but merely disses Gov. Davis. On Tuesday, in the latest chapter in the California
gubernatorial recall Arianna Huffington goes on Larry King to announce that she is withdrawing
and "I'm pulling out and I'm going to concentrate every ounce of time and energy for the next
week fighting to defeat the recall because I realize that that's the only way now to defeat
Arnold Schwarzenegger."  She did not suddenly become convinced that Davis was the man for the job that she was aspiring to the day before. She just doesn't like Arnold.

Maybe it started with Lyndon Johnson.  He replaced the iconic Kennedy and many did not like
him from day 1.  Vietnam added to the ranks of the rancorous opposition.

Maybe it started with Nixon.  It seemed that a lot of people really hated him.  Watergate started out with some guys trying to rip off files from the office of the political opposition and wound up with Nixon resigning.  Clinton got into trouble because he lied about his womanizing and wound up impeached.  Both were the victim more of the rancor of their political opponents then they were their own misdeeds. In both cases, rancor worked hand-in-hand with cover-ups to penalize these two men.  It will be interesting to see if this Bush administration, faced with the post-2000 election rancor and the strange "who said what about the CIA woman" story can actually avoid the cover-ups which would lead to political disaster.

I don't think that elections can occur without a certain amount of negativity.  In the present political scene it is necessary for Democratic candidates to treat Bush with a certain amount of disdain.  I mean, none of them is going to get elected without eroding Bush's public image. 

The problem that I see is that politicians, whether in D.C. or Sacramento, cannot get over the rancor that they have for the opposition and realize that they all work for us.

When I watch NHL hockey I understand that "bad blood" and the physical behavior that goes
with it are integral parts of the game.  But, I know that when the game is over the fighting stops and these guys all go out and, I guess, get drunk.  It would be nice if, after elections, politicians were as civilized as hockey players.

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