Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Victims, Bayonets and Paying Attention

In "The Elephants of Style," I examined a couple of examples of instant historical amnesia -- cases of the news media and the public just not paying enough attention to get a story right even in the first telling. No, George H.W. Bush did not accidentally say "September 7" in a slip of the tongue when he meant to say "December 7." He showed up on Sept. 7 and started talking about it being Pearl Harbor Day. No, the powers that be did not compromise with Tonya Harding in allowing her to skate in the Olympics. They capitulated when she threatened legal action.

Well, we're still not paying attention. Take two examples from the current presidential campaign. Remember when Mitt Romney called 47 percent of the American people "victims"? Yeah, no.

What Romney said in the leaked cellphone video of a speech to wealthy campaign contributors was that the approximately 47 percent of working-age Americans who do not pay federal income tax "believe that they are victims." The implication, of course, is that they are wrong to believe such a thing: Not only did he not call people victims; he said, or at least implied, the exact opposite.

And yet many news organizations focused on people being called victims, and some angry YouTube responses even insisted "I'm not a victim!"

I can see how one might feel belittled at the general aura of being called a victim, had Romney actually done that, but stop and think for a minute: Whatever you think of this line of reasoning, isn't a key component of the argument against Romney, and the Republican Party in general, something along the lines of "I am a victim"? If you lost a big chunk of your retirement savings and you think Wall Street shenanigans were to blame, aren't you saying you were victimized? If you lost your house and you think mortgage-lending high jinks were to blame, aren't you saying you were victimized? If you lost your job and you think outsourcing or profit-chasing or excessive executive compensation was to blame, aren't you saying you were victimized?

Then there were the bayonets.

Whatever you think of President Obama's debate zinger -- "You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets" -- you cannot honestly think you are debunking that remark by pointing out that bayonets still exist, and that the U.S. military still uses them. "Fewer" does not mean "none." Partisan outlets do what partisan outlets do, and I understand that, but even mainstream news organizations seemed to be reacting to something Obama never said.

Now, if indeed the armed forces have more bayonets than they did 96 years ago, as some are reporting, that's a debunking.


Unknown said...

Question: Do we know from where this 47% statistic originated? It may have been mentioned at one time or another without my knowledge...

But how was that number acquired? Did they search for 100 people not paying their federal taxes, call them up, and ask them if they feel like a victim, and 47 of those who answered said they felt victimized? I think a definition of "victim" in this situation would be helpful. How were they victimized specifically? And ... Well, you get the point, right? It's all set at a politicians' dinner table, where promo-egos and random self-supporting numbers are flying freely...

Gregory Lee said...

The discussion of the 47% as victims seems confused. No, of course Romney doesn't say they're victims, because a victim is one who is treated unfairly, and Romney evidently thinks the 47% are worthless moochers who don't even deserve what little they get. Actually, it's the fatcats who are treated unfairly, and accordingly feel much put upon that they are taxed to support the moochers.

Romney's meaning is obvious to 47%ers, and when they protest that they are not victims, here is what is meant: Though Romney says we believe we are victims, he is wrong, because we do not believe we are victims.

Now do you understand?

By the way, you could have made the general point better, IMO, by taking up the interpretation of what Romney said about not concerning himself with the 47%, who would never vote for him. I thought that what was meant was that he would not seek contributions from the 47% for his campaign, not that he would not represent their interests if elected. After all, the context was a fund-raising dinner.