Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Tale of the Victim Bully

I recently ran across the term "victim bully". It's an excellent descriptor for a distressingly common creature, one who can be found in all walks of life but is most frequently sighted in the political sphere. Here is a brief description:

Gunsalus distinguishes between traditional, assertive bullies, who throw their weight around with bluster and force, and 'victim bullies,' who use claims of having been wronged to gain leverage over others.(pp. 123-4) Unlike simple passive-aggression, victim bullies use accusations as weapons, and ramp up the accusations over time. Unlike a normal person, who would slink away in shame as the initial accusations are discredited, a victim bully lacks either guilt or shame, honestly believing that s/he has been so egregiously wronged in some cosmic way that anything s/he does or says is justified in the larger scheme of things. So when the initial accusations are dismissed, the victim bully's first move is a sort of double-or-nothing, raising the absurdity and the stakes even more.

Or, if you want a more contemporary description keeping with recent events, this one will do too:

Republican lawmakers held a press conference today to continue their push for a "Minority Bill of Rights" in the new Congress.

"The Minority Bill of Rights gives [Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-CA)] a chance to lead with integrity instead of rule by force," Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said, ignoring the Republican-controlled 109th Congress' reputation for strong-arm tactics.

"Washington, D.C. has just enacted a smoking ban, yet somehow Nancy Pelosi and her liberal colleagues have found a way to lock themselves in a smoky backroom in the Capitol to make deals for the next two years,"
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) added.

Even House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), who as one of the top Republican leaders in the past two congresses was as responsible as anyone for the Republican majority's penchant for backroom deals and hard-nosed legislating, got in on the act, issuing a separate statement on the Democrats' diabolical intent:

In their first one hundred hours of governance, House Democrats will renege on a pledge to fully debate policy alternatives, denying the citizens of this country an open, honest discussion of the issues.

Please note: the new session of Congress has not yet started, and the Republicans are already pretending to be the victims of Democratic meanness.

By the way, if you want another, possibly even more absurd example of victim bullying, the Sternberg saga provides it in spades.

Edited to add: Ed Brayton has a post on this and has argued that because Nancy Pelosi proposed a Minority Bill of Rights back in 2004, she is thus obligated in the name of consistency to cave in to this unseemly theatrical display. I disagree. One can both believe that a MBR is a good idea and still tell the Republicans to shove it as concerns their victim bullying. Here are the basics of my argument as I've laid them out in comments on Ed's blog:

The Republicans are not doing this because they're actually afraid that the Democrats will mistreat them, but rather because the accusation itself serves as an attack on the Dem's integrity. The merits of a Minority Bill of Rights isn't even an issue. The issue is that the Republicans are playing victim bully. The absolute worst thing one can do in this situation is to tacitly agree with the accusers by giving them what they want. That just guarantees more of the same. (If you want a familiar example, remember Larry Caldwell and his frivolous lawsuit against the NCSE?) The proper thing to do is to dismiss faulty and irrational accusations as being faulty and irrational.

A Minority Bill of Rights is a good idea in principle. The Democrats should pass one, but they should do so on their own terms and preferably with strong bipartisan support. But they absolutely should not pay any heed to this particular bit of chicanery.

I will probably leave things at that.

Edited to add again: This article in The Hill explains things further. While the Democrats completely rebuffed (and even laughed at) the Republican whine-fest, they instituted a number of rules changes that addressed the issues they raised back in 2004, including preventing the majority from holding votes open past their time limit and making sure that minority members are allowed to participate in conference committees. This was, as I argued, the proper thing for them to do.