A Philosopher's Blog

GOP “Victimology”

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 6, 2009

I recently saw some clips from CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) that seemed to show signs of what is sometimes called “victimology.”

To be more specific, some of the conservative speakers seem to have joined the “culture of victim hood.” This involves reveling in one’s status as an (alleged) victim and using this status to gain sympathy and explain failures.

The most common occurrence of conservative victim hood is when it is claimed that conservative are victims of the liberal media. This ranges from the general claim that the media is biased against conservatives to explicit claims that the media somehow stole the election from McCain and Palin.

This sort of explanation strikes me as victim hood. After all, the media is presented as the cause of the conservatives’ problems and failures (that is, the media has been used as a scapegoat) and the role of the conservatives themselves is conveniently ignored. Blaming others for one’s own failures is, of course, a classic sign of embracing victim hood.

Naturally, it might be objected that the conservatives are not embracing victim hood. Rather, they are merely pointing out the facts that the media is against them and stole the election from McCain and Palin.  If these charges are true, then the conservatives would be real victims and merely saying how things are. The question is, of course, are these charges true?

The best evidence seems to be that these charges are not true. While it could be argued that the media influenced the outcome of the election, it seems unlikely that it was the most important determining factor. To claim this is to ignore such facts as the incredible unpopularity of the Bush administration, the way the McCain campaign was run and the way the Obama campaign was run. Further, even if some people in the media are biased in favor of Obama and the liberals, clearly Fox News and conservative talk radio are not. As such, the idea that the conservatives are helpless victims of the liberal media is implausible.

To be fair, some of the speeches did note how the conservative movement did contribute to its own failure. The main theme seemed to have been that the Bush administration strayed from the true principles of conservatism and this cost the GOP Congress and the White House. Interestingly, such criticism was lacking during the eight years of the Bush administration. In fact, Bush was an honored guest at the 2008 CPAC (people even chanted “four more years”).

While it is true that the Bush administration strayed far from conservative ideals (they abandoned fiscal responsibility, seemed to have little respect for the rule of law, and so on), blaming the Bush Administration seems to also be embracing the culture of victim hood. After all, this seems to be placing the blame on others when, in fact, those placing the blame were willing participants.

Mitt Romney also tapped into the idea that conservatives are being persecuted. He remarked, jokingly, that he was worried about being arrested for practicing capitalism. Obviously, this is rhetorical hyperbole designed to appeal to the fears and prejudices of the audience. However, it does send the message that capitalists are now victims of an administration that is out to get them. This, obviously enough, ignores the facts.While the economy has been wrecked by capitalists, they seem to be in little danger of being arrested-even those who had  a direct hand in wrecking the economy. In fact, the government has been dumping billions into companies to help these capitalists. To express fear towards the government in this context is like being afraid of someone who is throwing you a lifeline as you are drowning.

There was also the usual claim that people want to take away our guns. While there are some people who are anti-gun, this fear that the liberals are going to strip Americans of their guns is far out of proportion to the facts.

While it is reasonable to be concerned about infringements of the second amendment, raising up the specter of the liberal anti-gun threat and casting gun owners as victims is one more example of embracing the culture of victim hood. For those who think I’m an anti-gun liberal, I am not. I’ve been shooting since I was old enough to hold a gun (started with a Marlin .22 rifle and a single shot .410 shotgun) and I’m still pro-gun today. I just don’t see myself as a victim or potential victim of the anti-gun folks. After all, anti-gun liberals are  unarmed.

Given that the conservatives have long attacked the “culture of victim hood”, it is beautifully ironic that they are now card carrying members of that culture. With any luck, the ACLU will be helping them out soon.