Tuesday, June 4, was a bit bizarre up on Capitol Hill. We had Tea Party victims who hadn't actually been hurt—who actually got the unjustified tax exempt status they sought—testifying against the IRS in one hearing, where the IRS, by law, was not allowed to respond. In another hearing we had ZERO victims of actual criminal sexual assault and rape testifying, where only the leaders of the command structure that failed them were heard from. Together, the two hearings exemplify a fundamental fact of American politics: Conservative claims of being victimized are wildly out of all proportion— both compared to any actual suffering they've experienced, and compared to the actual suffering of others, whose voices really are suppressed.
This fact was further underscored by the same-day story of the ACLU report on marijuana laws, calling attention to the long-standing massive racial discrimination in the application of such laws. The [dis-]connection is an obvious one. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell even used the contrast with Tea Party pseudo-victims to set up his segment on marijuana laws.
The are obviously many more examples we could cite, but a couple of years ago I stumbled onto a much more vivid and precise way to demonstrate what's going on with the conservative victimhood racket--a "conservative victimology ratio" comparing the sense of conservatives' own victimhood to simple basic facts. It began with the role of the US religious right in promoting “kill the gays” legislation in Uganda. When pressed by Rachel Maddow and others in the media, Rick Warren put out a defensive press release, which included the claim that hundreds of thousands of Christians were martyred every year. Specifically, he said:
There are thousands of evil laws enacted around the world that kill people (For instance, last year, 146,000 Christians around the world were killed because of their faith.). In this case, I knew the Archbishop in Uganda, so I did what I could, but my influence in that nation has been greatly exaggerated by the media.
I first wrote about this at Open Left in a post “Uganda 'kill the gays' story underscores--bearing false witness lies at 'Religious Right's' core”. Immediately after quoting the above, I wrote:
So, is Warren saying that 146,000 Christians were killed because of their faith in accord with "evil laws"? What laws, exactly would those be?
I never did get an answer to that question. But that's a topic for another day. This is about getting all numerical, and toward that end here's what I wrote next:
Open Doors is a decades-old organization identified as "Serving persecuted Christians worldwide." It produces an annual World Watch List of the 50 worst countries in terms of persecuting Christians world-wide, but its literature is remarkably free of any sorts of mass murders on the scale one would need to get anywhere near 146,000 martyrs--as I explained to Warren's PR flack, who at first seemed pleased that I was referring to this site.
They do have a page, Christian Martyrs, which informs us that "Hundreds of Christians Martyrs around the globe are dying for their faith." And while I ferverently believe that one person dying for their faith is one too many, there's an enormous difference between "hundreds" and "146,000," as I also pointed out to Warren's flack.
Furthermore, despite Open Door's claim of “Hundreds of Christian Martyrs”, their “Martyrs Page” with specific examples totalled in the single digits—for more than one year.
I did a follow-up post, “Rick Warren and the martyr mythology of the religious right”, in which I dove into the nature of martyr mythology, and, among other things, observed, “Murdering people because of their religious beliefs is utterly heinous, but it is not state action, and not the least bit comparable to the sort of law being contemplated by Warren's purpose-driven fans.”
I also noted that the 146,000 number strained credulity in another way, since the worldwide murder totals around 700,000 per year. If roughly one in four murders worldwide was a Christian martyr, wouldn't we be hearing about it on a daily basis? Wouldn't it be all over the news all the time?
Clearly, someone's sense of victimhood was being wildly inflated. And you could put a number to it: being extremely generous, and saying that, per Open Doors list of identified “martyrs”, the number killed annually was actually about 5, the exaggeration ratio was 146,000/5, or 29,200-to-1.
I did this calculation in a follow-up diary, where I compared it with another ratio calculation, based on GOP strategist John Feehery's claim on The Ed Show the Citizens United ruling would simply 'level the playing field' since Move-On raised so much money in the previous election cycle. Since Citizens United legalized all corporate spending, the potential this released was the total of corporate profits--$1,109 billion—which, I explained, “is 29,089.98 time the amount that MoveOn contributed in 2008--almost exactly the same as the figure from the martyrdom example, 29,200.”
The closeness of these two ratios was unnerving, to say the least. I really didn't expect to come up with a single figure applicable across all examples, but I did sort of suspect that something in the range of 10^5 to 1 was likely to show up in other places as well. I decided to go looking—and although I did get distracted and never followed through with a systematic search, I did turn up another very significant example (detailed in this diary): the rightwing voter fraud myth vs. the reality of voter suppression, which the voter fraud myth helps to justify and perpetuate. (Note: The assumption here is that if conservatives were right, then the degree of voter fraud would be roughly comparable with the degree of voter suppression they justify. This assumption can be debated either way, as an overstatement or an understatement, but it does seem to provide a sensible starting point.)
Voter suppression is an extremely broad, multi-level phenomenon, and I chose to examine it in a like fashion, explaining the background for the date used in each case. In its broadest sense, it applied to historical declines in voting which were once on a par with where most modern democracies are today. There is, in fact, a considerable literature about how and why these declines were brought about. Of course the racially-motivated declines in the South were the most extreme and most heinous, but there were similar, if less extreme, declines in the North as well, and there's strong reason to see these declines as evidence of intentionally suppression. On the other extreme was the highly-targeted one-off example of the deliberately faulty felon vote purge which helped deliver Florida for George W. Bush in 2000. I computed both of these ratios based on acutal occurance rates of voter fraud, generously set at 8 cases per election cycle, well above the rate of convictions recorded by the Bush DOJ. My summary conclusion was stated as follows:
For historical declines in voting participation in presidential elections:
- A conservative victimology ratio of 4.75 million to 1.
For contemporary cross-state ratios of voter participation rates, depending on the benchmarks used:
- Conservative victimology ratios of 4.42 million to 1; 1.93 million to 1; and 633 thousand to 1.
For resistance to implementing the National Voter Registration Act, depending on the benchmark used:
- Conservative victimology ratios of 89,360 to 1 and 98,909 to 1.
For black felony disenfranchisement, depending on the calculation method (state level vs. aggregate US):
- Conservative victimology ratios of 144,797 to 1 and 139,191 to 1.
For ex-felon disenfranchisement:
- A conservative victimology ratio of 173,875 to 1.
For the faulty Florida felon purge list:
- A conservative victimology ratio of 22,010 to 1, resulting in the fraudulent election of George W. Bush as President.
This is the initial statistical background against which conservative victomology claims about voter fraud should be judged by any objective observer.
I'm sure we can find other ways to quantify the seemingly limitless exaggeration of conservative victimhood. But even these few examples I've already uncovered should be sufficient to establish the pattern. After all, the voting suppression figures go to the very heart of wielding political power in a democracy, while the martyrdom figures go the heart of the Christians-as-a-persecuted-minority fantasy, which is a core tenant of the religious right. What they show, quite clearly, is that astronomical exaggerations of rightwing victimhood are absolutely central to the rhetorical mobilization and exercise of conservative political power.
- “It all started when he hit me back” – The slogan of bullies and conservatives everywhere.