The political industry requires the constant generation of pseudo-outrage. Pseudo-outrage is in a different category than normal political disagreement, and even hyperbolic political disagreement, because political disagreement revolves around issues that at least somebody in politics cares about. Mitt Romney may make up a bunch of falsehoods about how President Obama launched an apology tour or wants to eliminate all differences in income. But these are merely genuine differences about the proper level of income inequality and foreign-policy nationalism, blown up into the form of outright lies.
Pseudo-outrage, on the other hand, is outrage that nobody in the political industry actually feels. It’s not an exaggerated form of anger, it’s a pure creation.
For instance, at this moment the Democratic Party is trying to get women to believe that the chairman of the Republican National Committee compared women to caterpillars. The cycle began when RNC chair Reince Priebus, asked if Democratic claims about a GOP war on women were hurting Republicans, replied:
Well, for one thing, if the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars, and mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we have problems with caterpillars. The fact of the matter is it’s a fiction …
“Reince Priebus’ comparison of Republican attempts to limit women’s access to mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and contraception to a ‘war on caterpillars’ shows how little regard leading Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have for women’s health,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.
No, it doesn’t show that. It doesn’t show anything. And it’s not a “comparison,” it’s an analogy. Nobody was comparing women to caterpillars. He is merely asserting that his party is not waging a “war on women” — which, merits aside, is not an inherently offensive thing to argue — and using an analogy to make this case. Stephanie Cutter understands this perfectly well. Her calculation is that some segment of the Democratic base will not understand it and can be gulled into intensifying its support for the party on the basis of that misunderstanding.
Meanwhile, Republicans are whipping up pseudo-outrage over the Democratic National Committee’s appointment of Dani Gilbert:
The Democratic Party’s newly appointed Jewish outreach liaison is pictured on Facebook in a series of provocative photos with her friends holding dollar bills and referring to themselves as “Jewbags” and the “Jew cash money team.”
The story here is that the Jewish chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, perhaps redundantly appointed a Jewish outreach coordinator, who of course is also Jewish. As a college student she posed with a group of Jewish friends for photos that ironically played with anti-Jewish stereotypes, which is a thing minority groups like to do sometimes. The result is that Politico is now running stories headlined “Officials questioned hiring of ‘Jewbag’ staffer,” which explains that some of Obama’s campaign advisors worried that Republicans might be able to fool some Jews into being outraged over the Jewish DNC chair’s decision to hire a Jewish outreach staffer who had goofed around with her Jewish friends in college.
Pseudo-outrage can take any form, the more trivial the better, but identity politics provides the most fruitful environment for it to blossom. Pretending analogies are comparisons is an important subgenre of the pseudo-outrage industry. (Politicos: Never use an analogy to explain your point.)