Ever since Sarah Palin complained about the “lamestream media,” victimhood has become an attribute of hard-core conservatives. Indeed, fellow conservatives who refuse to complain about their lot in political life and urge Republicans to learn to live with certain facts of political life (e.g. most media is liberal) are considered to be sell-outs and/or dupes. Unfortunately, the right-wing grousing is endemic — in conservative media, among activists and GOP candidates and elected officials.
Conservative favorite and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II now whines that his opponent is a “bully.” Terry McAuliffe’s great offense? Pressuring a business group not to endorse Cuccinelli. (The horror!) Cuccinelli sounds more like the kid whose lunch money was stolen than the next governor.
Heritage Action and its blogging acolytes are forever furious that the GOP rejects their gambits. They complain that they were sold down the river in the last two presidential primaries. (By, umm, voters?) These right-wingers insist they are victims of the dastardly machinations of supposedly squishy Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.); it’s not clear how squishes manage to be so Machiavellian and why the “real” conservatives get beaten time and time again.
If anyone on the right has reason to complain it is Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who must corral the destructive elements in his caucus, or McConnell, who must lead right-wingers oblivious to the fact they are making the case for never, ever giving the GOP control of the Senate. The most embattled GOP leaders understand however that complaining is useless or worse, counterproductive to the goal of unifying the party an winning elections.
It’s human nature, I suppose, to point the finger at others. Few if any fired workers tell their boss on the way out, “You’re right! I really have been a cruddy worker!” Blaming colleagues, “miscommunication” or the “system” is the norm. And for political extremists it is much more convenient to claim sabotage than to consider whether their tone and views are off-putting to most Americans.
Moreover, it’s not very, well, conservative to wallow in victimhood. Conservatives are supposed to believe in personal responsibility, understand the world as it is and disdain a sense of entitlement. (Who told them they get a vote on every harebrained idea like defunding our anti-terrorist capabilities?)
Nor is victimhood a selling point with voters. Right-wingers may think ideological purity is what counts at the polls, but in fact voters, including conservatives, respond to positive, confident leaders who overcome adversity and don’t bemoan their own plight. They want politicians to console and assist actual victims, not claim the mantle of victimhood for themselves. (Maybe that is why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continually leads in, albeit premature, 2016 presidential polling while Texas Sen. Cruz is barely ahead of Rick Santorum.)
In this regard, as in so many other instances (e.g. internationalism, immigration policy), the conservatives who consider themselves true interpreters of Ronald Reagan are the furthest from his ethos. Reagan laughed at liberals (“The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”). He teased the press (cupping his hand as he made his way from the helicopter acting as if Sam Donaldson’s voice couldn’t be heard). He welcomed support from less conservative Republicans (my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy). To whine about any of them would have been considered unmanly and beneath the dignity of his office.
Ironically, the most put-upon president we’ve had of late is none other than the right-wing nemesis President Obama. From day one he complained about the slightest media criticism and wailed about his defiant opponents. He complained that he was saddled with George W. Bush’s legacy and economic “headwinds.” It is inconceivable that FDR would have spent time complaining about Herbert Hoover or Abraham Lincoln about James Buchanan, yet complaining about his predecessor has become an almost expected part of the Obama presidency. In fact, in the vilification contest no one was on the receiving end of more barbs than Bush, who faced without complaint an attack on America following an era of unseriousness about jihadist terror. Come to think of it, not many presidents are handed a robust economy, a period of world peace an a time of national unity — goodness knows, Obama’s successor won’t be.
If right-wingers feel victimized by the media, so does Obama. For most of his presidency the press have been compliant Obama lap dogs, yet he claimed the 24/7 news cycle was part of the burden he had to bear. (It is only in his second term that the press really has become adversarial, blasting him on everything from spying on reporters to his tone deafness in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shooting to his incoherence on Syria to his fakery on the sequester.) The White House PR squadron routinely tries to induce sympathetic journalists to complain about other journalists, as if critical coverage of the presidency is a violation of their profession.
In short, the right would be smart to stop mimicking the president’s perpetual victimhood. Elected officials and candidate need to defy media bias, not be victims of it. Conservative pundits would do better to look critically at favored candidates and long-time nostrums than divine conspiracy theories about House leadership.
One of conservatives’ principle arguments against the administration is that the president is in over his head and therefore blames everyone but himself. If right-wingers keep up the same drumbeat, the same will be said of them.