When Barak Obama addressed the situation in Afghanistan last year, he said, "we’ve got to get the job done there, and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages, and killing civilians”. Our over reliance on air power has indeed resulted in a lot of civilian casualties, but Sara Palin recently insisted that this remark should disqualify him for the presidency because it was insulting and demeaning to the troops. Indeed, the primary rationale for invading Iraq was that any lack of support for military action would hurt the troops’ feelings and make them feel denigrated.
Meanwhile, we are told that what motivates the terrorists, and Islamic radicalism in general, is the sense of humiliation they feel in the face of military and cultural domination by the West. And we all saw how the Muslim world erupted in a violent rage because they felt that a cartoon published in Denmark was an insult to their religion.
All too often these days, reasoned discourse is being replaced by complaints that one side is insulting—not to mention denigrating, condescending, and humiliating—the other. Political correctness—minority group-based hypersensitivity to perceived slurs—is a well-traveled minefield and rich fishing ground for political points.
Racial and cultural groups can point to a history of discrimination in which unflattering portrayals, unwanted attention to attributes, and other gestures meant to inflict humiliation were part of the process. This lends credence to complaints that any unwanted reference or bit of scrutiny is more of the same, and therefore the speakers are prejudicial villains whose political side deserves to suffer the consequences.
Religious groups too have learned to play this game well. Issues revolving around the existence of God, the origin of man, and the rules of morality are red-hot matters for public debate, yet religion also defines the heritage of cultural groups. So any disagreement or criticism of the religious side of an issue is taken as denigration of their beliefs and therefore their culture. And so in debates they’ll scour their opponents’ rhetoric for any hint of flippancy that they can complain about in order to change the subject.
And lately we have this gimmick about “liberal elites” whose existence is looked on as an insult to Middle America. People who are better educated or have a broader outlook than the average small town resident or Joe Sixpack, are portrayed as arrogantly looking down their noses at them from their ivory towers. They make it sound like the very purpose of acquiring a good education and landing a job that makes use of it is to lord it over others and make them feel bad about their relative position in life. It’s the adult version of the old nerd/bully dynamic from middle school. You feel humiliated because one of your classmates is getting much better grades, and so you must retaliate as though he’s doing it deliberately.
I think it’s ironic that our current foreign policy is driven by those who wax resentful about the arrogance of “elites”, even as it is resented abroad as a load of American arogance.
Now then, what other examples of are there of people fishing for insults in order to score political points? And is there a term for that kind of thing that I’m overlooking?