Friday, January 2, 2009

The Culture of Victimhood

One of my favorite episodes from the late and lamented comic strip Calvin and Hobbes shows Calvin, the six-year-old Everyman, exclaiming, “Nothing that happens is my fault! My family is dysfunctional and my parents won’t empower me! Consequently, I’m not self-actualized! My behavior is addictive functioning in a disease process of toxic codependency! I need holistic healing and wellness before I’ll accept any responsibility for my actions!”

Hobbes replies, “One of us needs to stick his head in a bucket of ice water.”

Calvin marches on, proclaiming, “I love the culture of victimhood.”

This seems to have been the mantra of the conservative movement and the Republican party in particular in 2008, and it will likely continue on as the Bush administration whimpers to an end. Everything bad that happened on their watch wasn’t their fault. No one could have predicted that Osama bin Laden would fly planes into skyscrapers. No one could have predicted that a major hurricane would strike the Gulf Coast and break the levees. No one foresaw that there would be a terrible backlash of terrorism and hatred against Americans unilaterally attacking and invading a sovereign country ruled by a braggart dictator, and that invading said country would need a lot more than just a few thousand troops. No one could have predicted that the housing bubble and the E-Z credit market would burst because of lax regulation and insider connections on Wall Street and bring down major brokerage houses and threaten the existence of the last major manufacturing companies in the United States. And no one could have predicted that putting politics ahead of competency would give us a government of loyalists who couldn’t run a business on their own but voted the right way in 2000.

Except, in every case, a lot of people did predict that all of those things would happen, and some of them lost their jobs for having the temerity to point it out.

This is not altogether a surprise from the party that calls on everyone else to show personal responsibility — wags their finger and shakes their jowls at everyone else for their moral and political failings — yet populates the prisons with their own senators on the take. It’s not that the Democrats or anyone else doesn’t have these failings, too, but at least they don’t go around raising money on someone else’s hypocrisy. And for a party that calls itself the bastions of more freedom and limited government, they certainly seem to have a list of exceptions that include women controlling their uterus, same-sex couples wishing to get married or adopt children, or failing banks that need a hand-out so they can still have their big Christmas party blow-out and year-end bonuses.

And yet when they’re held to account for it, they’re the victims here. Alberto Gonzales says he is just as much a victim of terrorism as everyone else and honestly can’t understand what he did to earn him so much scorn. Vice President Dick Cheney has no idea why his poll numbers are so low, but then, he says he doesn’t care about things like that. White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley can’t understand why America couldn’t see what a likable and compassionate person George W. Bush really is.

Since nothing that happens is their fault, it has to be someone else’s, right? Blame the media for not seeing the wonderfulness of George W. Bush. Blame them for not seeing the mavericky goodness of John McCain. Blame them for not following up on the truth behind Barack Obama’s birth certificate or that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s outbursts were just a clever cover-up for Mr. Obama’s true Muslim beliefs. Blame the media and the moon and the stars for causing the financial markets to melt down just as John McCain was pulling ahead in the polls in September, and blame David Letterman for making him look like a panic-striken ditherer. Blame the voters for being too stupid to see through the charade of celebrity, and that all that “no-drama Obama” was really a clever plot by the hysterical lefty blogosphere to make him appear that he’s calm and in control. But he smokes! That’s a sure sign he’s weak!

The Religious Right deserves their own pew for wailing about being the victims. They spew hatred and bigotry about gays and lesbians, equate same-sex marriage with criminal acts, pour millions of dollars into a campaign of misinformation and demagoguery to revoke a right granted by the Supreme Court of California, and then get all weepy and whiny when — too late — the provoked gay community fights back. The intolerant have the chutzpah to claim they’re the victims of religious bigotry. My, my.

People who are capable of adult behavior and mature thought processes would take the lessons that were taught them and learn from them. But apparently that’s not the way it works for the conservative mind. No, the way to really get back into the good graces of the American people is to proclaim that what we really need is more finger-pointing, more demonizing, more race-baiting — “Barack the Magic Negro” is just the curtain-raiser. We need more of Sarah Palin, more of Joe the Plumber, more union-busting, more poor people going to the emergency rooms for their health care, and more smiting down of the queers by the hand of God to really teach this country a lesson.

In one respect, I hope they cling to this mantra of victimhood because it really does make it easy to mock them and dismiss them as the infantile alibiers that they have become. As Paul Krugman notes,

Will the Republicans eventually stage a comeback? Yes, of course. But barring some huge missteps by Mr. Obama, that will not happen until they stop whining and look at what really went wrong. And when they do, they will discover that they need to get in touch with the real “real America,” a country that is more diverse, more tolerant, and more demanding of effective government than is dreamt of in their political philosophy.

Maybe what they need is Calvin’s holistic healing and self empowerment…but the bucket of ice water solution sounds good, too.