20 November 2009

The Conservative Victim Mentality

Cal Thomas is an often infuriating reactionary columnist, but he contributes something useful to conservative discourse: a disillusioned ambivalence about politics itself. Once little more than a spokesman for the Moral Majority, Thomas ultimately decided that politics was not the means to achieve the moral reforms he desired. He'll still use his column to lecture readers on the subject of Christian morality, and he'll appeal to politics when he feels that religion is under attack, but he seems to have accepted that government dictation is no substitute for the churches' real work of converting people one at a time.

Thomas's ambivalence comes through in his newest column, in which he respectfully refuses to get on the Sarah Palin bandwagon. He assumes that he'd like Palin as a person, since they seem to share so many interests and values, but he sees the rush to embrace her as the Republican savior as an unseemly manifestation of something usually attributed to liberals -- a tendency to see themselves as victims rather than autonomous, responsible individuals. This victimization mentality, Thomas suggests, is blinding many conservatives to Palin's obvious flaws. He takes last year's interviews with Katie Couric as his example. Palin herself apparently believes she was set up by Kouric and victimized by her in the editing of the interview. Palin's supporters accordingly see her as a victim of the liberal media. Thomas isn't buying it.

I thought Couric gave her ample opportunity to reveal herself and to let viewers see if there was substance behind Palin’s attractive exterior. Couric legitimately tried to find out what shapes Palin’s worldview and what she reads. Palin couldn’t name a single publication. Oprah gave her another chance, but she never followed up to ask about books or a newspaper from which she gets information, ideas and inspiration.It is true that conservatives are often asked questions that are never asked of liberals and in ways that seem condescending and superficial. But that is an opportunity to give an answer that can skewer the questioner while making the point you wish to make.

If Palin looked like a deer in the headlights under Katie Couric's scrutiny, Thomas implies, the Alaskan has only herself to blame. He thinks that Palin is capable of "sharpen[ing] her intellect" with the help of "the best and the brightest tutors," but the important thing is that he admits bluntly that Palin needs them. Too many conservatives, he worries, think that Palin is fine as she is and only a victim of liberal persecution or misrepresentation. In Thomas's view, they should get over it. "The victim thing is getting old," he writes; conservatives are not as excluded from the cultural elite as they have long claimed. But the movement (perhaps catering to a fundamental paranoia that Thomas doesn't acknowledge) prefers to be defensive, to pretend that they are under siege. Thomas sees this as a self-fulfilling attitude:

Victimization plays well with the conservative base and that’s a problem. If conservatives don’t rise from the muck of feeling excluded, disrespected, ignored and mocked, they will continue to suffer all of these things. There is nothing like proving the worth of your ideas to put the mockers in their place. Victimization can raise money, sell books and get one face time on TV, but it doesn’t advance the ball.

Thomas thinks it imperative that Palin make an effort to improve himself, because it may be necessary for the Republican party to have her, or someone who has her endorsement, on the national ticket for 2012. "Sarah Palin is a force the Republican establishment must reckon with," he concedes, "If the party ignores [her] base and nominates another candidate in 2012 who is part of the inside-the-beltway crowd, it could lose." At his most optimistic, he hopes that "If she can sharpen her intellect ... she won't be mocked; she will be feared." But for the moment it's Thomas who fears that Palin is making a mockery of the conservative movement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The ironic thing is that if conservatives are excluded from the rolls of the "elite", it is of their own choosing. How can you expect to be embraced by the very group of people you continually villify and attempt to mock? I don't believe that all conservatives are stupid people, but I'm pretty sure that most stupid people are conservative.