Anger and power in politics should not mix

Over the past several years the background to many of my writings has been about power and anger and the political influence that these two behaviors have on our lives here in Carson City and anywhere angry political behavior occurs.

For example, a dispute between Jim Rogers, Chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education and Board of Regents member James Dean Leavitt recently forced its way into public attention. Although the acrimony between the two is long standing, this episode started when Leavitt questioned Rogers' decision to hire unsuccessful Democratic congressional candidate Tessa Hafen as a $100,000 taxpayer-funded lobbyist for the university system.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that Rogers thought that Leavitt was questioning his integrity and "yelled" at him on the telephone. Known for his anger and abuse, Rogers sent a letter to Chairman Bret Whipple threatening to resign if Leavitt was elected as board chairman or vice chairman. Whipple forced his hand and Rogers sent Whipple an e-mail with a childish "I quit." Rogers later rescinded that resignation.

Six organizational management experts interviewed by the Sun questioned Rogers' judgment and maturity, anger-management skills and possible narcissistic tendencies. One of them said "This guy is acting like a child and he is using his anger to manipulate others to get what he wants.

From a leadership and management perspective it is completely irresponsible behavior."

Then, Chuck Muth, a local blogger, wrote an online petition to the Board of Regents objecting to Hafen's hiring. The result was hundreds of identical e-mails received by all the regents including Ron Knecht. Knecht became furious with Muth, judging by the entries on Muth's blog, Nevada News and Views. He was clearly displeased about all the e-mail messages sent by concerned citizens, calling them "spam."

Flash back to a recent editorial I wrote in the Nevada Appeal. Just as Socrates observed that a statue infers the existence of a sculptor, I asked inferential questions about the possible cause for the election of a local conservative candidate for the school Board. Knecht became enraged and telephoned me.

During the call I was appalled at the severe verbal abuse so intense and irresponsible and spiked with such peculiar accusations and invectives that I hung-up.

Other members of the angry right also responded with like rancor and invectives, both in print and privately, with claims of injustice done to a conservative winning candidate.

Attacking a person so as to sidestep an issue is often done when a clear and just argument cannot be made. The attacker is simply angry based upon perceptions of injustice that do not excuse assaults on a person nor do such violations contribute to the veracity of an argument.

Locally, I am reminded of the venomous rage exhibited by those thrusting shovels in the face of Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mary Pierczynski at her public performance evaluation during a school board meeting.

Yet Jim Rogers and Ron Knecht are not alone. On the national level two presidential hopefuls, Hillary Clinton and John McCain are well known for their anger. They are in the running to receive higher recognition for their angry assaults on those that don't submit to their need for power.

Starting with her announcement for President, Hillary made a great effort to appear less abusive, even softer. But this contrived persona does not change her underlying character. Even though John McCain's anger is more excusable due to his confinement and torture as a prisoner of war, he, like Clinton, Knecht and Rogers is obligated to find ways to eliminate their abuse of power. Claiming a real or perceived injustice does not vindicate their responsibility or assuage their guilt. Fortunately, most readers recognize the absence of facts and dismiss such arguments

It goes without saying that power and anger are a deadly combination. Yet political success and power are a natural state in our constitutional republic. Still, when such anger is unresolved, citizens are in deep trouble.

Is there a resolution? Perhaps. Anger is a fundamental human emotion needed to defend against real, not simply perceived threats. It seriously interferes with our ability to think accurately.

Even though there are sometimes real threats, these angry responses most often provide no justification for the hurt they levy on a recipient and the damage done to public decisions and policy. Is this the kind of public official we want to make critical decisions about our welfare?

•Dan Mooney is a Carson City resident and frequent contributor to the Nevada Appeal Opinion page. He may be reached at


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