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Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2002

A society of victims

February 12, 2002

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The "dueling poor boys," Byrd and O'Neill, show clearly the growing penchant to be considered "victims."

Another classic example of how so many people these days pursue and encourage images of victimhood was provided by a USA Today story with an ever-so-appropriate headline: "Dueling poor boys: Senator, Treasury chief debate origins."

And with the Winter Olympics upon us, will we encounter any profile of an athlete that does not focus unduly on all the obstacles that had to be overcome to "get where he (or she) is"? Back to the USA-T piece, which began:

"Class war erupted at a Senate Budget Committee hearing Thursday as Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., traded heated barbs over which of them grew up poorer. 'I started my life in a house without water or electricity, so I don't cede the high moral ground to you of knowing what life was like in a ditch,' O'Neill said. To avoid a possible conflict of interest when he joined the government last year, O'Neill sold about $100 million worth of stock. 'I grew up in a coal miner's home, and I married a coal miner's daughter,' Byrd replied. 'I haven't walked in any corporate boardrooms. I haven't had to turn millions of dollars into trust accounts. I wish I had those millions of dollars.' Byrd has been in government since 1946."

The clash began when Byrd took offense at a cartoon in the administration's 2003 budget document. Byrd said it implied that interests of ordinary people were too minor to warrant consideration.

What is it television, talk shows, social welfare ideologues, civil liberty and rights hustlers, spin doctors? All of the aforementioned or more? Something crept into the water supply of America some time ago that convinced thousands of people that they have to depict themselves as former wayside waifs, downtrodden castoffs, make your own choice, to show how courageous, inventive, noble and admirable they are because they have been able to succeed in something.

Perhaps it got started with the sports world, where it suddenly became fashionable to be known as a heroic retread of some sort. Again, watch the coverage of the current Winter Olympics and note how wondrously so many interviewees and profiled celebrities "came from nothing" to achieve glory.

And now we get our treasury secretary and a West Virginia senator squabbling over who had it the toughest, walked 5 miles to school, attended a one-room schoolhouse and had to pick cotton or shuck corn to survive.

This is in no way intended to demean or detract from the millions of Americans who have had to overcome amazing handicaps just to survive, let alone be elected to the U.S. Senate or gain millions in stock. But the stories of triumph about average, everyday citizens are far more worth hearing about than those of the "poor little" rich athletes, entertainers, politicians and business executives who wind up so well off.

The penchant for establishing victimhood has been a growth industry in America for much too long. Not everybody has had to struggle out of the ooze and slime, grab onto a tree trunk, fight off lions and tigers and survive on black bread and lentil soup just to get onto the road to success. Some rode a pony to school or helped with the chores around home, cared for siblings or ailing parents and actually learned, benefited and, heaven help us, enjoyed less than "silver spoon" existences in earlier years.

But just think how seldom we hear about such things anymore as one public figure after another engages in a relentless game of "can you top this," to invade the field of victimhood.

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