Say what you like about the old school right wingers they at least had the courage of their convictions and a bit of mettle. Your Roger Douglas’s and BRT types knew they were right because they had the money and the power and the strength. They’d have the argument about why they were right. Hell they welcomed opposition. And the last thing they’d want would be for someone to feel sorry for them.
Somewhere along the line though, those rich white males decided that they didn’t just want the power that comes with being rich and white and male but also needed grievance as well. Maybe it was because they realised they couldn’t win a rational argument or maybe they’ve just got lazy.
As Eyle Press puts it in the Nation:
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, authors like Dinesh D’Souza loved nothing more than to take the multicultural left to task for being overly sensitive to criticism and invoking victimhood to silence opponents. Such analysts had a point: sometimes, those who impulsively wrap themselves in the mantle of victimhood are trying to short-circuit debate or change the subject rather than engage the arguments of their critics.
Yet today, the deftest practitioners of the rhetoric of victimhood are not multiculturalists on college campuses. They are Republicans like Palin and talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who, after his quest to become part-owner of the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams was derailed back in 2009 because of inflammatory racial statements he’d made, portrayed himself as the victim of “race hustlers” and “Obama’s America.”
Fortunately this kind of rhetoric hasn’t made itself quite as mainstream in New Zealand as it has in the States but it’s likely to become more popular as it’s alive and well in the blogosphere and amongst right wing pundits (and some ACT and ex-ACT mps) such as David “OMG they’re taking away my light-bulbs it’s like living in Zimbabwe!!!” Farrar, or Mathew “Helen Clark would have suppressed the media in a fourth term!!!” Hooton or anyone involved with the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Hell even Don Brash has had a go at it and who could forget the crazy “attack on democracy” response to legislation that was *gasp* limiting people to only $120,000 worth of election advertising spend.
And, of course, we get it all the time around here when right wing trolls cry about being mistreated by the big bad lefties. Come to think of it it’s generally the ones quickest to smear their opponents who are the quickest to claim themselves victims. Must be some kind of psychological thing.
Most recently there have been attempts to use the language of grievance to stifle serious debate about Pike River including accusations that questioning John Key’s actions is tantamount to desecrating the memory of the 29 men who died in the mine. There’s also been draconian earthquake legislation passed without dissent because the government painted any opposition to its actions as opposition to the people of Christchurch and the other side of the house was too cowardly to call them on this scam.
So apart from the vaguely distasteful sight of privileged individuals having a whine about how hard they’ve got it and being taken seriously, the right’s use of victim rhetoric stifles debate and, with it, democracy.
As with most rhetoric simply pointing it out helps a great deal but the left also needs to take right-whingers to task about their crying. For some lefties this may be hard because they’ve grown up accustomed to take people’s grievances seriously. And fair enough too – the subjugation of individuals or groups based on race or gender or any other real oppression is something that should be taken seriously.
But when a powerful right-wing minority starts acting like they’re being oppressed because someone wants to tax their seven figure income a little or challenge their right to pollute or to anonymously use their wealth to influence the democratic process there’s no way they should be taken seriously, let alone deferred to.