Whining For Honor

by digby

Paul Waldman says "let the whining begin." And I think you know who holds the world record in the sport:

Over the last eight years, many conservatives, particularly the radio and television hosts who enjoy such loud and lucrative megaphones, have been forced to navigate some difficult rhetorical waters. When your side controls the White House, the Congress (as it did until two years ago), the judiciary, and the business world, how do you argue that you're part of an oppressed group being held down by The Man? It isn't easy, but they did it nonetheless. The "elite" they bellowed at day after day is not those who actually hold power. It's obscure college professors, Hollywood actors, the city council of a town you don't live in, and nonprofit organizations who advocate for things like poor people or the environment or civil liberties. That's the source of your problems, they would say, and that's who you should be mad at.

So the coming transfer of power must make them feel light as air. Now when they begin their daily pity party, they'll actually be able to complain about the people in charge.

They seem to be getting back into full blown victimization mode with a couple of fairly bizarre fixations on issues that aren't even on the agenda. the first is this freak out about the Fairness Doctrine, which Obama has said categorically he isn't going to try to reinstate --- and this run on gun stores, which is apparently precipitated by talk radio going nuts:

They are egged on by the likes of G. Gordon Liddy, who despite being a convicted felon and unrepentant terrorist (among his unconsummated plots were the murder of columnist Jack Anderson and the firebombing of the Brookings Institution) is blessed with a nationally syndicated radio show. Liddy, who during the Clinton years told his listeners, "If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you, and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests," Today, he advises his faithful flock to break whatever laws on gun registration that might apply to them. "The first thing you do is, no matter what law they pass, do not -- repeat, not -- ever register any of your firearms," Liddy recently said. "Because that's where they get the list of where to go first to confiscate. So, you don't ever register a firearm, anywhere."

Recall that William Ayers preached armed resistance to the government 40 years ago. Liddy, 40- minutes ago.

I've been discussing the relationship between right wing victimization and Lost cause mythology for a long time on this blog. Waldman links to a recent one in which I talked a littler bit about the fact that the Republican Party really is the Southern Conservative party now with distinct regional folkways. But he also makes another interesting observation which applies to the same concept:

This kabuki of complaint is built on a running series of imaginary slights. Democrats said that being the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, isn't really an adequate preparation for the presidency? They're attacking small towns, and the people who live in them! Democrats want to get out of Iraq? They're attacking our troops! Democrats point out that the immortal Joe the Plumber would actually fare better under Barack Obama's tax plan than John McCain's? They're attacking guys with blue collars everywhere!

Not that progressives haven't spent the better part of the last eight years complaining. But most of those complaints have been about things the Bush administration actually did, not some imagined offense to progressives' honor.

This is an important insight as we look at right wing victimology --- it's based upon old fashioned notions of honor that still characterizes certain corners of southern culture, but which has been incorporated into American conservative thinking at large as it adopted these regional folkways as its tribal norms. (The book Southern Honor by Bertram Wyatt Brown explains the whole "honor" mystique in great depth and it's probably as good a guide to the victimization reflex as anything.)

I found this interesting article through Mr Google (I have no idea who wrote it, but it tracks with the points of Wyatt's book quite closely) about the southern honor tradition:

From colonial times, most southern white males prided themselves on adhering to a moral code centered on a prickly sense of honor. It was honor, writes historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown, that provided "the psychological and social underpinning of Southern culture." Such a preoccupation with honor was common among Germanic and Celtic peoples. (Scottish, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Cornish, and Welsh) from whom most white southerners were descended. It flourished in hierarchical rural societies where face-to-face relations governed social manners.

The dominant ethical code for the southern white elite derived from Protestant religion, classical philosophy, and medieval chivalry, and it depended upon a rigidly hierarchical social system, where one's status was defined by those above and below. Its elements included a combative sensitivity to slights; loyalty to family, locality, state, and region; deference to elders and social "betters"; and an almost theatrical hospitality. It manifested itself in a fierce defense of female purity, a propensity to magnify personal insults into capital offense, and in public statements such as the following toast proposed by a South Carolina corrupt: "The Palmetto State: Her sons bold and chivalrous in war, mild and persuasive in peace, their spirits flushed with resentment for wrong.


Southern men of all social classes were preoccupied with an often reckless manliness. As a northern traveler observed, "the central trait of the `chivalrous southerner' is an intense respect for virility." The duel constituted the ultimate public expression of personal honor and manly courage. Although not confined to the South, dueling was much more common there than in the rest of the young nation, a fact that gave rise to the observation that southerners will be polite until they are angry enough to kill you. Dueling was outlawed in the northern states after Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804, and a number of southern states and countries banned the practice as well--but the prohibition was rarely enforced.

Amid the fiery debates over nullification, abolitionism, or the fate of slaver in the territories during the antebellum era, clashing political opinions often provoked duels. In Virginia, a state senator and a state representative killed each other in a duel. Many of the most prominent southern leaders engaged in duels--congressman, senators, governors, editors, and planters. The roster of participants included Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Sam Houston, Jefferson Davis, William Crawford, John Randolph, and Albert Sidney Johnston.

Obviously, we haven't had a lot of deadly duels in the congress lately, but this sheds some light on why so many conservatives (who have adopted many of these archaic cultural behaviors, either from their own regional identification or because they are temperamentally inclined to it) see political opposition as a form of personal insult.

*Standard Disclaimer: I'm not casting aspersions on southerners in general or their history. Southern is just another word for "American" and I criticize all kinds of Americans for a lot of different things. I'm talking specifically about Republican conservatives in 2008 and the political culture they've developed.