Something Lieberman got wrong: How victimhood works. It’s not enough that he was attacked by liberals, even if it got personal. That’s just standard. But who gives a shit? So he got attacked. So what? If he can’t take it, he shouldn’t be in it. No, what he did wrong was that he kept speaking of himself as the victim. Tom DeLay started making the same mistake. As did the Enron guys and many others.
And the problem with using the victim thing is that they can’t be the victim. It’s not “I’m under attack”. It’s “We’re under attack”. And “they’re out to get us”. That’s how you play victim politics. It’s as if Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man sang about how he was in trouble and needed River City’s assistance, rather than vice-versa. (Though in Professor Hill’s defense, he really did supply the town with the needed equipment and uniforms, unlike the no-bid conmen currently bilking the American taxpayer.)
And so when you want to alienate your enemy and get people to support you for your efforts, you’ve got to explain what’s in it for them. You gotta explain how they’re under attack. It’s Christians who are under attack. Or “real” Americans. Or American jobs. Or American lives. But whoever it is, the voters need to be told that they’re being victimized, abused, and taken advantage of. That’s how it works. People like to be victims and they are likely to vote for you if you explain how the other side victimized them and how you will protect them. People will do almost anything to convince themselves that their problems aren’t their own fault, and Republicans have built a dynasty on the fact.
Sure, the politician can be under attack too, but their primary role is that of the savior from the aggressors. And even then, the politician is supposed to play the part of the person who is enabling the victims to help themselves by voting on Election Day and contributing money. That’s how it works. They can even be a lightening rod for the attacks, like Rush Limbaugh. So that whenever you attack Limbaugh, the dittoheads also feel under attack. But again, the supporters have to feel like the victims, not the saviors.
Woe is Me
And so when Lieberman complained about wild lefties attacking him, who cares? That’s not how it works. Because it’s not the voters who were being attacked by Lieberman’s foes. It was Lieberman. And while it is possible to argue how Democratic voters were also under assault, it was kind of a stretch. In fact, Lieberman himself was attacking the position of many Dems in that primary. If anything, he was victimizing them. So his cries of wacko extremists attacking him did little to protect him.
Same goes for Tom DeLay. It was easy for him to claim to be yet another Christian victim of the liberal assault against Christianity, when that’s the topic. But it’s a little more difficult to explain how campaign fraud and golf junkets are part of a liberal assault on the voters of Sugerland. And as long as he’s talking about the subject, it’s not too difficult for his enemies to show how DeLay’s illegalities actually hurt his constituents. And the more he insisted that he was under attack, the more he highlighted how he was under attack…and why.
So rather than wooing voters to his side, he only made himself look more selfish and manipulative. The longer and louder he put up his defense, the more he buried himself. And the same went for Lieberman. While the rally-cry of victimhood can win supporters, it doesn’t work so well when it’s the voters you need protection from.
Imagine George Bush worrying publicly how the religious right is trying to force him to ban abortions. Wouldn’t happen. Instead, he pays them lip service while insisting that liberals are to blame for the mess. Liberals are, in fact, victimizing babies and Christians and that we need to elect more Republicans to fix this. This would be the equivalent of Joe Lieberman telling liberals that it’s the Republican’s fault that everything is screwed up and that he could fix things in Iraq and elsewhere if only we’d elect more Dems.
But wait. That’s Lamont’s line. And Joe was blaming his own party; some of the very people he was trying to court. Joe got it backwards.