Friday, February 08, 2008

Righteous Indignation is Tired

This kind of incident is getting old. Someone makes an off-the-cuff comment in slightly poor taste and the offended party (a) takes the most uncharitable interpretation of the comment possible, (b) acts like the sole intent of the remark was to assassinate their character, (c) flails about as though their holiness has been forever tarnished and (d) makes sure that they attract as much sympathy and attention to themselves as they possibly can.

Could David Shuster have chosen his words more carefully? Probably. "Pimped out" is a bit too slangy and he should have known that using such a phrase would likely ruffle some feathers. But come on. He was, as I see it, asking a perfectly legitimate question about how the Clinton campaign was using Chelsea.

Here's a straightforward translation of what he was trying to ask: "Does it seem a bit strange to you that the Clinton campaign is using someone of Chelsea's caliber to make these groveling kind of phone calls to super-delegates?" In this context, "pimped out" just refers to the relatively base act that she was being put forward to do--to my mind, a perfectly good figurative description. He most certainly was not calling Chelsea a prostitute and any insinuation that he was is offensive. Maybe not as offensive as Romney's blatant pandering at CPAC yesterday; but pretty offensive.

The Clinton reaction is like those Euro soccer players to get touched and flop around on the ground like they are having seizures just to see if they can get a penalty called. And if the Clinton campaign is offended that I'm calling them Eurotrash soccer players, they are going to have to deal with it.


JAK said...

I agree 100%. Appearing in many guises, under different names and descriptions, the indignation of being “disrespected” has become pervasive and gotten totally out of hand in a number of arenas. Whether real or manufactured, it contributes to polarization and extremism, from politics all the way down to gang warfare. We see it being used more and more frequently to motivate, to provide “spin”, to show strength. It contributes to lawsuits and public diatribes, and (being a “good story”) it increases media sales. To an increasing degree, it has become a matter of Us vs. Them, and they are going to pay for that remark. Attitude is everything. Winning is everything.

Now, to be sure, there are those very real cases where such “disrespect” is genuine and dangerous and has to be dealt with. It is also generally true that acknowledgement of and strong reaction to it can contribute to winning in the short term. But I am convinced that overemphasis and overuse is often detrimental in the long term – unless, of course, one side winning is for the ultimate good of all. (Unfortunately, both sides usually see their side winning as essential.)

All things being equal (though they seldom are), I -- and AJK and many others, I’m sure -- do not like it. At a personal level, I am taken aback and less likely to think well of someone who overreacts or manipulates this way. More abstractly, I think it all too often presents a barrier to communication, gets way too many people focused on the wrong things, and frequently puts money or power in the hands of those who do not really deserve more of either.

Unfortunately, negative reaction to it by others can also lead to political correctness in the extreme, and that is not good either. We see less and less subtlety, nuance, creative response, and measured reaction, yet that is what the world needs more of. Otherwise we become knee jerks.

AJK said...

JAK (aka Dad)-

You and I have talked about this some with regard to sports: every team seems to take every opportunity to talk about how they aren't getting any respect and then proceed to throw it back in everyone's face when they "prove everyone wrong." Of course, when the press or fans talk about who they think is going to win a game, or who is the better team, respect doesn't really have anything to do with it.

This theme get really old in sports but is relatively harmless. It's just another tool that competitors use for motivation, no matter how manufactured. But as you point out, it is much more problematic in political or social contexts where it serves as a barrier to communication and a distorting influence on issues of real importance.

All this is to say, I agree with your two cents :-)