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May 2, 2004 - Selling ersatz personal responsibility to the masses...

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Thoughts on selling ersatz personal responsibility to the masses…



Here’s another item from James Benjamin, Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Science at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.  Yes, a minor school in an odd state.  But the man is a psychologist, for whatever that is worth.  Some readers know that my surly cat Harriet – and photographs of her appear regularly on this site – was named after a prominent psychotherapist here in Los Angeles – the author of Lethal Lovers and Poisonous People: How to Protect Your Health from Relationships That Make You Sick.  The trendy psychotherapist Harriet is no longer with us, and the feline Harriet is no psychotherapist.  But Benjamin is, indeed, a psychologist. 

Anyway, here are Benjamin’s comments on George Bush.  Of course he’s discussing how the mantra of the right, the conservatives whom we have gladly chosen to lead us in these troubling times, is personal responsibility.  The essence of political theory, economic theory, and of morality, is contained one core concept - owning up to one's choices.  Benjamin comments that time and time again, we find this is all pretty much empty words. 

Here’s his point -


Maybe it isn't so much that Bush failed to finish his commitment to the National Guard.  Maybe the issue is broader: that the man has a consistent pattern of behavior that makes him far from presidential material.  That pattern: using family and friends' influence for personal gain, failing miserably, and then getting said family and friends to bail him out.  Over and over again. 

If Republicans want to claim that character counts, that's cool.  But, here's the rub: their guy in the White House has an enormous character flaw.  He cuts and runs when the going gets tough or if it interferes with nap time or his golf game.  And he hides behind his friends, expecting them to fix whatever he broke.  In the lingo of counselors, psychotherapists, social workers, and leaders of self-help groups there is a word to describe those who consistently bail this guy out time and time again: codependent.  Makes for very dysfunctional family dynamics.  As we've seen these last four years, it also makes for very dysfunctional governing. 


Ah, spoken like a true psychotherapist.  GWB as codependent.  Curious. 

Benjamin then quotes John Kerry on the MSNBC show “Hardball” this week speaking on such matters:


"I've never begrudged people the choice that they made, but once you've made a choice, I think you have a responsibility to honor the choice that you made."


Say what? 

There’s something strange going on here.  Kerry, what with volunteering for Vietnam and doing his duty, was acting the way George Bush says "good people" should act.


Bush, and Cheney too, by ducking the Vietnam business in spite of their enthusiasm for that war, were not. 


But most people see Bush (and Cheney) as paragons of accepting personal responsibility (perhaps because they chat up the idea so much) – and thus Bush is sure to be elected to another four-year term.  He says what he means.  He does what he says.  No one can change his mind – because of his rock-solid convictions and deep Christian faith.  He knows he is doing God’s will. 

The fellow who actually did what he said he’d do and didn’t ask for any favors?  He’s the fellow with no “personal responsibility.”  He even (gasp!) now than then changes his mind.  He ended up thinking that war we had in Vietnam was a really bad idea.  But he went, and he did his duty.  Irresponsible?  That's how he is being defined. 

So Bush is responsible and Kerry is not.  We’ve all seen the flood of television advertising telling us that.  And people buy it – with relish.  A neat trick. 

How did that happen?  This is just one of the wonders of careful, targeted advertising and well-thought-out public relations.  It works. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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