The Viagra of Victimhood

This week the New York Times caught the Democratic front runner for Chris Dodd’s Senate seat lying about his non-existent service in Vietnam. It reminds me a little of the fake firemen that you’d hear about haunting pick up bars in the days after 9/11.

Editorializing for Fox News (and one can’t help wondering–would Fox News have done to a Republican what The New York Times did to a Democrat?), combat veteran and pundit Oliver North rightly deplores Richard Blumenthal’s mendacity, but he tries to partisan-ize it too, concluding that the difference between Republican and Democratic hypocrites is that Republicans always own up in the end, while Democrats are constitutionally devoid of shame.

In the 1990s, Oregon Republican Congressman Wes Cooley, who falsely claimed he had served in the Korean War, was thrown out of office by his constituents after being caught up in his lies. Indiana Republican Congressman Mark Souder resigned just this week when his extra-marital affair was revealed. These men are no greater charlatans or frauds than Mr. Blumenthal. It’s hard to imagine how the people of Connecticut would want a hypocrite like Mr. Blumenthal to be seated in the same U.S. Senate with a real American hero like Virginia’s Senator Jim Webb. Perhaps Democrats just have a higher tolerance for deceit.

The Souder parallel seems especially apposite, explaining as it does why David Vitter, John Ensign, Larry Craig and Mark Sanford all swiftly resigned while Eliot Spitzer, Jim McGreevey, and Eric Massa clung to their jobs.

I saw a few minutes of Blumenthal’s press conference and it was every bit as excruciating to watch as it was when Hillary’s accounts of her experiences under fire in Sarajevo came unraveled. I know there have been stories that mitigate Blumenthal’s offense–for example, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes that the uncut version of the video that shows him lying (provided to the press by Linda McMahon’s opposition researchers) also captures him telling the truth.

But the damage is done, and if Blumenthal can survive as a candidate, it will be a testament to our poverty of diminished expectations; if he wins the election next fall, it will be because of his likeliest opponent’s even greater liabilities (click here to read about McMahon’s poorly timed push for offshore drilling in Connecticut, not to mention the kind of baggage that she carries from her wrestling days–exploiting necrophilia for its entertainment value, for example–that could be expected to suppress the enthusiasm of the family values crowd).

Blumenthal really did go through Marine basic training and he never claimed to be Audie Murphy, or for that matter John Kerry. “What Mr. Blumenthal stole wasn’t valor; it was victimhood,” writes Mark Maslan in the New York Times. “The lies cannot be explained by a hunger for glory, but by a need to be part of a traumatic past that we all share.”

The real trauma of Vietnam, one shouldn’t have to say, was suffered by the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians who bore the brunt of the conflict and the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who served there. Yes, the homeland was horribly divided and our self-inflicted political and psychological wounds are still festering… but that doesn’t put us all in remotely the same boat.

I look at a lot of anti-Semitic and White Supremacist websites in the course of my research and I see all sorts of repugnant, shocking, horrifying things–but what I also see is this incredible envy. Blacks claim to have suffered, site after site complains, but just look how everybody fusses over them and lavishes welfare and affirmative action on them and for God’s sake elects them president and nobody pays any attention to us. White people are the real victims here! Jews demand that we mourn their holohoax, but we Aryans are the real victims! To be fair, I get the same sick feeling when I read Zionist justifications for the invasion of Gaza.

You don’t have to go to such extremes either; just listen to a typical Tea Partier, whining about the crushing tyranny they live under or Glenn Beck prophesying his imminent crucifixion at the hands of Obama’s jack-booted hordes.

It’s not such a leap. A Harvard-educated Connecticut politician, with five deferments and soft stateside service in the reserves, lays claim four decades later to the glamorous distinction of being spat upon by war protesters so he can join the pity party too. It’s all so narcissistic, so….childish. More and more our politics are about our indignation about our imagined or exaggerated sufferings, and our resentment for the people who really do have something to complain about. It’s not a pretty picture.

2 thoughts on “The Viagra of Victimhood

  1. “But the damage is done, and if Blumenthal can survive as a candidate, it will be a testament to our poverty of diminished expectations…”

    I wonder if part of the problem might be that our expectations are too inflated and need some serious diminishing. Holding up politicians to be pillars of moral rectitude and spiritual exemplars and blaming them when they fall short probably makes the job more attractive to a certain specimen of vain and pompous buffoon. (I’m thinking of John Edwards as I type that, but fill in anyone else you wish.) We’ve made holding elected office more attractive to con artists and egomaniacs than to anyone else through these lofty expectations. If we instead treated political candidates like a bunch of applicants we’re thinking of hiring to do a job for us, we might get a better class of applicant. “We don’t want to hear about your war record, we don’t want to hear what a saint you are…can you paint this wall or not?”

    (I don’t mean this to be as cynical as it may come across; I mean it in the most idealistic way. And I agree with everything you say in the above post!)

  2. Here’s a link to an article that popped up on Salon about Lindsay Graham that suggests that this is a politician problem rather than a partisan one.

    And here’s a comment I received on Facebook, followed by my reply: “I don’t know, Arthur. The Connecticut voters can make up their own mind. It’s a pretty big gaffe, but he’s been AG for 20 years. I may be naive, but I think the electorate is smarter than they are usually given credit for.”

    My Reply: To paraphrase Michael Kinsley, a gaffe is when a politician accidentally reveals what he or she really thinks. As such, they can reveal ignorance or racism, a lack of charity or clarity or self-control. This one reveals a kind of smallness that’s just really… contemptible. That said, Blumenthal might be a perfectly decent Senator; a lot of Senators, like a lot of people in other fields, have less than admirable characters but are undeniably good at their jobs. But I would feel better myself if he did what Oliver North thinks he should do and steps down.

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