Monday, February 20, 2012

Why do conservatives position themselves as victims?

Many commenters over the last few years have noted that conservative talking points are incoherent: Obama is a ruthless tyrant AND a spineless wimp AND an idiot who can't speak without a teleprompter AND an elite snob; climate change is a hoax AND it's a natural process; Obama is an atheist AND a radical Muslim AND belongs to a black supremacist church. Some of this might qualify as double-think, where the person holds two opposing ideas at the same time, but mostly I think this is just a smorgasbord approach to political belief: take whatever you need at a particular time.

My personal favorite incoherency is their self-view: Republicans/conservatives are the only tough guys who can deal with America's enemies BUT they are also victims suffering mainstream calumny who can't fight back against the Democratic machine.

I originally thought that the self-positioning of conservatives as victims had to do with America's love of the underdog, of the myth of the average man pushed too far (constantly on display during Tea Party conversations). They see themselves as intrepid rebels who are courageously speaking truth to power, saying what other people are too scared to say (even though everyone else is saying it).

But recently, Scott Eric Kaufman nicely pointed out something that helps flesh out this rhetorical positioning (even if he misreads for comedic effect). That is, the rhetorical positioning of conservatives as victims places them as defending the natural.

When I studied the 19th century, I would find these sort of things all the time, for instance, in the Ron Paul-esque debate on gold vs. paper money: Gold is the only natural money, therefore we have to enact laws saying that Gold is the only natural money. Or in discussions of race: Blacks are clearly inferior by nature, so we have to enact laws saying that Blacks are clearly inferior.

So with our current debate about gay marriage: Marriage is always between one man and one woman, therefore we need a law. There is something sweetly sad about the way they give up the game as they try to win it; after all, if X was truly X, we wouldn't need a law about it.

The other benefit to this rhetorical positioning (we are defending what should need no defense) is that the enemies of conservatism are always outsiders: they are Northern abolitionists stirring up the happy black slaves, or they are Jewish financiers undermining the economy, or they are simply demonic violators of natural law.

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