Sunday, May 25, 2008

John Edwards, Coulter, and Second Life: High School Forever!

Migrated from the now defunct Confessions of a Jersey Goddess. Originally posted there March 5, 2007.

Over at BlogHer.org, Professor Kim of Professor Kim's News Notes, calls Ann Coulter, "a right-wing motormouth." However, her post is not about Coulter. It's an articulate run-down of recent attacks on John Edwards, like Coulter's slur and the virtual bombing of Edwards' virtual headquarters at the website Second Life.

Reading about these attacks on Edwards made me think of the movie Mean Girls, which is about teenage girls in high school and their vicious natures. We'd like to think it's only high school, but in reality adults, both men and women, still operate this way, and when election time comes 'round it's back to the schoolyard. In the movie, the main character discovers that if you use mean girls tactics to beat mean girls, you become just as nasty.

As for the website Second Life, I'm not surprised by what goes on there. It's just one more website that reminds me of Red vs. Blue's old animation "Real Life vs. The Internet." Whatever behaviors manifest in our brick-and-mortar world intensify online. As we can see from Coulter's antics, nastiness thrives first in flesh and blood; virtual worlds manifest our ugliness.

Some people call Coulter provocative. When they say this I suppose they mean "provocative" as in to simply "provoke," which could be to provoke anything, disgust, anger, laughter. I don't associate her with being provocative in the sense that she provokes deep reflection about the content of her rhetoric. Does she say anything important and constructive? Ann Coulter strikes me more as someone who practices "high-schooly-clique, Queen B bithcery," which is why this post, like Professor Kim's post, is not about Coulter. It's about human nature, the psychology of bullying, and John Edwards' political mistake.

I think it was a mistake for Edwards to put up video of Coulter's slur in an attempt to raise money because the human psyche moves in mysterious ways. Society tends to blame the victim. So, the more he draws attention to how much he's being attacked by the likes of Coulter and virtual opponents, the more likely it is that people will wonder about his nature instead of those of the obvious dirty players.

If this keeps up, voters will never know where Edwards stands on issues but will perceive him as someone who needs protection from the bullies. Sadly such a perception translates to 'Edwards is weak,' and not very presidential, and folks will start to wonder to themselves, "So, what's wrong with Edwards?"

I believed that Edwards was making a mistake by promoting his being attacked and attempting to literally capitalize on being a victim even before I read the following in a Net post that claims the Second Life hackers have been unmasked.
A post on the John Edwards blog claimed credit for an attack on his campaign HQ in Second Life — saying that “We simply did it for the lulz… The fact you were so bent out of shape to make a blog post on the OFFICIAL JOHN EDWARDS BLOG about how some people placed a bunch of shittingdicknipples on your lawn is mighty telling.”

The post was deleted from Edwards blog.
Who knows if the person posting the confession is actually one of the people involved in the virtual headquarters bombing? Regardless, the poster's comment illustrates what I know of humans and what I said earlier: Those who bully and abuse tend to blame the victim. Later, so do witnesses to the abuse blame the victim. People in general start to speculate that perhaps the victim deserves bad treatment.

We see the "blame-the-victim" mindset arise in dealing with racial matters, where the minority underdog is perceived as both weak and deserving of hatred. We see it in rape cases where sometimes even those supportive of the rape victim's rights will still find fault with the victim, saying things like "While I believe rape is wrong, I do wonder what she was doing in XYZ part of the city." It seems to be part of human nature. The Edwards camp should consider human nature when determining the best approach to answering attacks.

Those who suffer the arrows of racial injustice and the trauma of rape cannot afford to distract attention from their plight because they're in for the long-haul and have time to affect changes in society and should affect change in attitudes. By comparison, those who run for political office are on a short run. Society's not going to change its mentality toward those it perceives as victims by November 2008. Edwards cannot afford to draw attention to his being bullied in a way that reinforces an image of him as victim.

Does he want to win sympathy or win the election?

Perhaps Edwards sees placing Coulter's video on his site as one of the ways he can seem more aggressive, but that's not the way this strategy comes off (A more aggressive John Edwards?). The way it comes off is "Look how mean these people are being to poor me." Reminding the public of the attack is not the same as addressing it.

A better tactic for handling this particular type of attack would be to leave it to others not directly associated with his camp to voice their outrage at Coulter and Second Life hackers, while he maintains an aura of presidential dignity, a straight back. He should keep the nonsense off his own website except in the form of strong press release responses. A strong response containing a few pithy retorts for benefit of reporters and pithy retorts that he repeats on camera when asked directly about the attacks would be a more effective strategy. Putting up video of Coutler's insult and appearing to beg for money and sympathy votes was imprudent.
The bigger challenge for Edwards, though, is to get the press to pay more attention to what he's actually saying, and not just what other people are doing for or against him. (from Professor Kim's News Notes)
Professor Kim is right: Edwards has a big challenge. So, I'll say it one more time, "Studies about the psychology of bullying indicate that not only does the bully blame his/her victim, but so do peers of the victim." In a democratic system, your peers are not only other candidates, but also voters. While it would be wonderful to discuss and debate how crazy we humans are for blaming victims, the presidential campaign is going on now, not in some distant Utopian future in which most humans will excel at critical thinking. Until we reach higher ground, presidential candidates must ensure that they are not perceived as a victim.

Links
  • Bullies
  • BlogHer.org
  • Coulter, Edwards, and the Impact of the Insult, NPR

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