The Cultivation of Victimhood

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Down below, Ana gives a nice brief of today’s McCain conference call, which is the campaign’s attempt to keep the Wesley Clark comment in the news. Why, you ask, does McCain want to keep alive the idea that his military service does not qualify him for the White House?

Four words: The cultivation of victimhood.

It is not my phrase. I took it from Chris Hedges’ book “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” which recounts his troubling time as a war correspondent. In one chapter, Hedges lays out the various devices that allow regular people to go to war, often with their own neighbors.

The cultivation of victimhood is essential fodder for any conflict. It is studiously crafted by the state. All cultural life is directed to broadcast the injustices carried out against us. Cultural life soon becomes little more than the drivel of agitprop. The message that the nation is good, the cause just, and the war noble is pounded into the heads of citizens in everything from late-night talk shows to morning news programs to films and popular novels. The nation is soon thrown into a trance from which it does not awake until the conflict ends. In parts of the world where the conflict remains unresolved, this trance can last for generations.

And so McCain’s campaign is enthusiastically jumping at the chance to paint Obama’s minions as stop-at-nothing beasts who unfairly malign military service. Along the same lines, Obama has made the expected Republican slime offensive a central theme of his campaign. Here is Obama at a Florida fund-raiser a couple weeks back:

We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black? He’s got a feisty wife.

I am not saying that Obama and McCain should not respond to slights they deem offensive or out of line. I am just saying that when the campaigns do respond, they are doing a two things at once: Hitting back on message, and trying to rouse their base to dehumanize the enemy. Only then can the real bloodletting begin.

UPDATE: Grim. Grim. And kind of funny, in a sad way. Relive the Wesley Clark comment cable news calamity, thanks to the good people at TPM. Click here.

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