Indignation has become the favorite defensive tactic of politicians. Newt Gingrich blows up his candidacy on “Meet the Press”; his first response is, in effect, how dare David Gregory set me up! And how dare they (who’s the “they,” by the way?) call me a racist!
President Obama springs a surprise on the Israeli prime minister and lashes out at the media and critics who allegedly didn’t relay accurately what he said. (“There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. administrations. Since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday — not what I was reported to have said.”)
The tone from these and other pols is huffy. How dare you question my motives! Don’t you appreciate . . . [how anti-establishment I am or devoted to Israel I am]?
Sometimes it is a group effort by the pol and the defenders. Sarah Palin and her devoted flock are the quintessential example. She hollers at the “lamestream media,” and her supporters descend en masse whenever one questions her seriousness or propensity to say and do things (such as riding with the bikers) that reveal her to be more a pop celebrity than sober political leader. (Matt Labash’s parody letter perfectly captures this phenomenon.) It’s not exactly “nuance ’r’ us” for the Palin World crowd.
The indignation phenomenon, I would suggest, is not merely tactical. (“The best defense is good offense.”) Many politicians who tend to surround themselves with adoring staff, hand-picked audiences and cooing donors begin to believe that criticism is an aberration, that opposition must be based on bad faith. The critics aren’t simply wrong or unfair; they are heretics.
The media have many shortcomings, but reporting Obama’s dreadful Arab Spring speech and relating Gingrich’s answers to an obvious question aren’t among them. Likewise, Palin has been wrongly vilified on many fronts, but questioning the propriety of her “blood libel” spiel or her about-face on national security is certainly fair game. Unless, of course, Palin and her followers come to think of the ordinary discourse of politics as inherently illegitimate. Well, in that case, maybe they shouldn’t be in the political arena.