Monday, January 31, 2005

Passive-Aggressive Behavior in Response to Iraq Elections

From a psychological perspective it is very interesting to observe the responses to the Iraq election success yesterday [the psychologically perceptive among you will recognize by that initial statement that I like to "intellectualize" to deal with my anger--but that is another psychological defense mechansim we can discuss at a later time].

Passive-aggressive behaviors are those in which negative emotions -- often anger and resentment -- are expressed indirectly through negative attitudes and behavior that are often at odds with overtly stated motives. For instance, someone who is resentful of another person's accomplishments may be late or even "forget" to show up at a ceremony that lauds the other's success. There are many examples of this kind of behavior and it is fairly common, especially when a person feels powerless to assert their desires directly. There is one thing that all such behavior has in common:a certain way that passive-aggressive people say “Yes” that makes you crazy. Because you know they don’t mean “yes". In fact you feel they mean the opposite-- but how can you argue with somebody who agrees with you?

So, what can we observe in the behavior of several influential Democrats and media outlets? We have some classic examples "passive-aggressive" behavior. You see, it is hard to imagine that anyone could possibly be upset by the Iraqi's success (except the terrorists, of course), but in reality there are, as John Podhoretz puts it, "literally millions of Americans who are unhappy today because millions of Iraqis went to the polls yesterday. And why? Because this isn't just a success for Bush. It's a huge win. It's a colossal vindication." So, how can they acknowledge what happened yesterday without having to give Bush any credit at all and without seeming to be out of touch with reality?

Several bloggers have noted this dissonance between what is actually said and what is just as obviously meant. The Diplomad calls it "the attack of the Comma-ists" and describes it thusly:

Well, we said at the outset just about everybody is on board. There is one group of singularly anti-American types who just have had the hardest time imaginable praising the events of January 30. Who are these foul anti-Americans? Has The Diplomad taught you nothing? Why the leaders of the Democratic Party of the USA, of course! The party that has become the party of the Comma-ists. You know what we mean: the types who must always insert a comma after a ritual throw-away phrase. For example: “Of course the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were horrible [Here it comes! Listen for it!] [COMMA] but US policy in the Middle East . . ." “Of course the Iraqi elections were a good thing [COMMA] but they will not resolve the serous issue of severe income inequality in East St. Louis, or the growing gender disparity in the granting of scholarships to welding schools . . .”

Lileks was able to proactively appreciate the Damning But (DB) position (a variant of the "yes, but..." technique so favored among passive aggressives). I sit here the day after, listening to Democrat after Democrat on FoxNews cheerfully using all of the above techniques. But you can palpably feel the anger and rage just below the surface. They aren't happy that this "vindicates" Bush and his policies. Nothing will ever "vindicate" him, in their opinion. But they can't say that. They just lost the last election, and they have the mid-terms and the big 2008 one looming. They must contain their disappointment and hope no one notices.

All along these same pundits and politicians had explicitly denounced the coming elections and predicted unmitigated failure and disaster in the weeks leading up to them. In fact, one might say that they gave aid and comfort to those whose primary focus in life was to destroy the Iraqi's hopes for a democracy.

So why are they now qualifying their opinions? Well, one of the main causes of passive aggressive behavior is a fear of conflict. The more someone perceives the object of their anger or resentment as a formidable opponent, the more they’ll tend to take what feels to them like the cautious approach – the passive aggressive approach. It is much safer that way, because then they can be seen as actually supporting what is going on (the political thing to do) and at the same time they have found a way to express their hostility and resentment in the disguised format of quasi-reasonableness and civilized conciliation. What a hoot! They know how they really feel; and the truth is that YOU are perfectly aware of how they really feel and they know it. BUT YOU CAN'T DO OR SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT WITHOUT BEING UNCIVILIZED!

Except expose them for the frauds and hypocrites they really are. Sometimes I just hate being civilized.

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