Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Democratic Party as an Abused Spouse

Mathew Gross recently posted some thoughts by Mel Gilles, an advocate of domestic violence victims, on the similarities between a dysfunctional family and the current U.S. politics. For example:

Watch Dan Rather apologize for not getting his facts straight, humiliated before the eyes of America, voluntarily undermining his credibility and career of over thirty years. Observe Donna Brazille squirm as she is ridiculed by Bay Buchanan, and pronounced irrelevant and nearly non-existent. Listen as Donna and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer take to the airwaves saying that they have to go back to the drawing board and learn from their mistakes and try to be better, more likable, more appealing, have a stronger message, speak to morality. Watch them awkwardly quote the bible, trying to speak the new language of America. Surf the blogs, and read the comments of dismayed, discombobulated, confused individuals trying to figure out what they did wrong. Hear the cacophony of voices, crying out, "Why did they beat me?"
And then ask anyone who has ever worked in a domestic violence shelter if they have heard this before.
They will tell you, every single day.
The answer is quite simple. They beat us because they are abusers. We can call it hate. We can call it fear. We can say it is unfair. But we are looped into the cycle of violence, and we need to start calling the dominating side what they are: abusive. And we need to recognize that we are the victims of verbal, mental, and even, in the case of Iraq, physical violence.

The lefty blogosphere appears to agree that Gilles has a point, that something can be learned by viewing the Republican-Democrat interactions by using the framework of domestic violence. In particular, the wimpiness of establisment Democratic politicians fits neatly into the model, and the whole comparison presses some deeper emotional alarm buttons in many of us. How many of us have not complained about the way the Republicans compare our questions or protests to treason or terrorism? How many of us have not noticed how aggression from the Right is just but aggression from the Left is vitriolic? And it's hard not to notice that though the post-election speech of the wingnuts has been about cooperation their actual deeds have been deeply divisive.

But there are some very clear differences between the situation of an abused spouse and the political situation of the Democratic party, and perhaps taking the analogy too far is insulting to the real survivors of abuse. For one thing, many Democratic politicians are choosing their wimpy responses because they want to be re-elected, because they want to have their cut of the power and money; not because they have been brain-washed into compliance by years of violence. This sounds more like co-conspiring than victimhood. For another thing, liberals and other Democratic voters are not powerless in the same way as a truly oppressed abused spouse is: we have the option of largely ignoring the wingnut rantings and ravings, of turning off from politics altogether. - Still, there is something to the analogy that is helpful in understanding the odd slant of many of the political talk-shows and opinion columns, and I believe that it is the similarity between the utter selfishness of an abuser and the grim determination of the Republican party to remake the world in its own image.

I therefore decided to consult an expert in domestic abuse about what the liberals should do next, given that leaving is really not an option for most of us (though it's interesting that both leaving the country and seceding some parts of it have been semi-seriously discussed by many on the left). After chuckling over my explanation about who the victim of domestic abuse is in this case, she recommended one simple policy of resistance: "Call it as it is. Don't use the abuser's framework for discussing anything. Use your own terms and call everything by the true names. Don't back off." She said compromising and trying to build bridges would be pointless as all such attempts are interpreted as surrender by real abusers.

So Democratic politicians, now you know what to do. And she didn't even charge you for the advice.