Here's the photographic juxtaposition that American Power calls "a genuinely sick comparison":
It was the front-page teaser for this "Week in Review" piece by Benedict Carey. Carey is a medicine and science writer for the newspaper, and his topic is the public display of anger in American politics. He's looking at the long history of demonstrations, and it's a great concept to put up a 60s "Days of Rage" photograph with a man yelling and gesturing along with a present-day Tea Party photograph with a man yelling and gesturing in just about the same way. That the man in the 60s photo is Bill Ayers is a fabulous bit of irony. It's a perfect illustration for Carey's topic, Carey's topic is a good one, and the newspaper succeeds in attracting readers.
Now, I understand the right-wing anger — hmmm — at the juxtaposition. The 60s protesters are Weathermen, and the Weathermen advocated and practiced violence. They murdered people. The Tea Partiers, by contrast, are engaging in the highest form of freedom of expression: assembling in groups and criticizing the government.
But people on the left admire and respect the 1960s protests. They wish there was more expressive fervor on their side today. To have the passion and vitality of the 60s is a good thing. And the air of potential violence, especially in the absence of any actual violence? I think lefties love that. They may not admit they do. But there's a frisson. Remember, the NYT readers are aging liberals. They — we — remember the 60s as glory days. Yes, there was anger, and yes, it spilled over into violence sometimes, but the government deserved it, and these young people were idealistic and ready to give all for their ideals. They are remembered — even as (if?) their excesses are regretted — in a golden light.
Now, let's look at what Carey says:
Each party charged the other with fanning the flames of public outrage for political gain.Sounds pretty balanced!
But ... [w]hat is the nature of public anger anyway, and can it be manipulated as easily as that?...See? He's a science writer. He's mining the sociology of anger. Carey first notes that "lone-wolf" actions are more likely to occur. But what of the notably non-loner types who go to demonstrations?
At a basic level, people subconsciously mimic the expressions of a conversation partner and in the process “feel” a trace of the other’s emotion, recent studies suggest....
And in groups organized around a cause, it’s the most extreme members who rise quickest, researchers have found....
Protest groups that turn from loud to aggressive tend to draw on at least two other elements, researchers say. The first is what sociologists call a “moral shock” — a specific, blatant moral betrayal that, when most potent, evokes personal insults suffered by individual members...So there. Carey concludes with a calming message about the link between vocal protest and real violence. Now, there is a bit of a warning:
The second element is a specific target clearly associated with the outrage. A law to change. A politician to remove. A company to shut down....
Given the shifting political terrain, the diversity of views in the antigovernment groups, and their potential political impact, experts say they expect that very few are ready to take the more radical step.
“Once you take that step to act violently, it’s very difficult to turn back,” [Kathleen Blee, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh] said. “It puts the group, and the person, on a very different path.”
If a group with enduring gripes is shut out of the political process, and begins to shed active members, it can leave behind a radical core. This is precisely what happened in the 1960s, when the domestic terrorist group known as the Weather Underground emerged from the larger, more moderate anti-war Students for a Democratic Society, Dr. McCauley said. “The SDS had 100,000 members and, frustrated politically at every step, people started to give up,” he said. “The result was that you had this condensation of a small, more radical base of activists who decided to escalate the violence.”That appears near the end of the article. But you can easily see the message: Democracy. As long as the political process seems to work, people won't cross the line into violence. And the size of the Tea Party movement is a safeguard. In Carey's scenario, it's only if the masses of people — the ordinary, pretty conventional people — cool off and go home that we ought to worry about violence. You have the "radical core" left. That's what you don't want. So this NYT piece, after teasing us with the similarity between Tea Partiers and Weatherman, draws a decisive line separating them.