Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on the subject of “Anger in Politics,” inspired by artist Fletcher Crossman’s “State of Shock” exhibit currently on display at Eye Level Art, downtown. By constructing a fictional scenario in which President Obama is assassinated, Crossman’s work examines the seeming heightened rage and incivility in today’s politics and particularly what the reaction by the conservative media might be to such a tragedy, taking aim at Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report, among others. The work is certainly provocative.

So was the discussion. I was joined by Crossman, my WTMA co-host Richard Todd, fellow CP columnist Will Moredock, College of Charleston Communication Dept. Chair Brian McGee, Charleston Tea Party representative Mike Murphee and New York Hip-Hop artist Will Gray. The panel was moderated by Washington, D.C. based political strategist Ryan Prucker.

McGee brought up the salient and most obvious first point, when considering Crossman’s work—that anger in American politics is nothing new. Pointing to not only the political vitriol commonplace in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, over everything from slavery to the New Deal, but that George W. Bush was demonized as much by the Left as Obama is now by the Right. McGee is right. Crossman conceded McGee’s points, but believed there really is something new and different happening in American politics, and that there is a new, somewhat unprecedented “anger.” Crossman is also right.

There has always been anger in American politics but what’s new is the extent to which it’s outside of the two-party machine. Those who see the Tea Party, grassroots Right as simply an auxiliary of the Republican National Committee need to take their case to recently ousted, so-called “conservative” Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, establishment Republican Governor Charlie Crist in Florida who was forced to quit the party, or even explain the landslide GOP primary victory in Kentucky of Rand Paul—son of Ron—who was firmly opposed by the old Republican guard. Limbaugh and Coulter have been just as loopy and bombastic—and conventionally partisan—as they are now, for over a decade. But it’s their traditional audience that’s changing the political narrative right now, with Rush and Ann following more than leading. All conservative pundits want to latch on to the Tea Party—even as they’re still not quite sure what it all means. Limbaugh and hosts like Sean Hannity are far more comfortable rooting for Dick Cheney and Karl Rove than Tea Party leader, Paul. This disenchantment is what’s “new,” in American politics and even extends to the Left, where a liberal president going to bat for Democratic candidate Arlen Specter did not stop Obama’s Pennsylvania base from choosing the other candidate.

With much of the discussion focusing on the rise of the Tea Party movement, it seems the primary disagreement among the panelists was over where this new “anger” comes from and what it represents. Crossman believed it was simply an extension of the Republican Party and Moredock tended to agree. Tea Party rep Murphee contended that it was born of rage over evaporating freedoms, something some on the panel and in the audience found too vague. I argued that it began with widespread backlash against the George W. Bush sponsored illegal alien amnesty proposal, was kicked into high gear by the Bush-sponsored $700 billion TARP bailout (Troubled Assets Relief Program) and fully exploded with the election of Obama and the implementation of his agenda. Liberals who immediately, and predictably, want to insist that race (our president is black, if you didn’t know…) is a primary motivator, don’t ever seem to think that a $14 trillion national debt is that big a deal. In his comments, Murphee might have been too vague, or too concerned about the minutia of local bureaucracy, but he represents a wider mainstream audience genuinely concerned about an unsustainable status quo. Talking about “taking my country back” is no less disingenuous that “make love, not war”—a sound bite used by another generation of protesters, who were also accused by their detractors of being against everything but the obvious, disastrous issue at hand.

The discussion was spirited, intelligent and a pleasure. Though much of it centered on perceptions of Left and Right—with stereotypes, misconceptions along with a few truths coming from both sides—the discussion was far better than anything you’re likely to hear on talk radio or the world of television punditry, Crossman’s primary targets. Fletcher Crossman is to be commended for his work, inspiring this conversation and Eye Level Art for hosting such an event.