Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Lesson 4: Crying “Foul!”

This is one of the more desperate attempts at a confusion of ideas. You see it in “real life” TV police shows, every time the low life says, “She hit me first!” as he is being led away. The statement is made to deflect attention from the central fact; in this case, that the perpetrator has just committed assault. Generally speaking, we recognize this obvious attempt to shift blame for what it is, and pay little attention. Why is it then, that we have more difficulty recognizing this tactic when the actions of the accused crying “foul” are less obviously criminal? This is what Congressman Spencer Bachus is doing when he accuses Bill Mahr of treason, and demeaning US troops. (Show of hands, who saw that topic coming?) For those of you not aware of this current event, the AP wire story that everyone is parroting goes like this:

“The Republican lawmaker from Vestavia Hills believes the comic insulted and demeaned US military personnel when he characterized troops as "low-lying fruit."
The remark was tied to a comment Mahr made about the Army's failure to meet its recruiting goals. The show aired May 13th.
Bachus said he sent a letter to the board of directors of TimeWarner, HBO's parent company, asking them to cancel the show. The Congressman also said Maher's statement was in bad taste, especially with American men and women risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. “

And the entire blurb can be found here WSFA TV Montgomery, AL - Alabama Congressman Criticizes Bill Maher , among other places.

Now, on the face of it, it looks like a legitimate rant, but let’s break this down. Imagine that you own an apple orchard. You hire two apple pickers. You set them to work in different sections of the orchard. At the end of the day, one picker gives you slightly more bushels of fruit than the other, and you think, “this guy worked harder”. Then you notice on the next day, the tables turn. The picker you thought was working less hard gives you the same number of bushels as the day before, but the one that seemed more productive gives you less on the second day. What happened? Picker #1 picked all the low-hanging fruit the first day, then had to work harder the second. Picker #2 worked the whole tree before moving on. Was there any problem with the low-hanging fruit? No. It was virtually indistinguishable from any other fruit. The problem was with the picker, who had to move the ladder twice to pick the same tree. The same is true with Bill Mahr’s statement. The low-hanging fruit to which he refers is the inner-city and poor rural communities targeted by the army recruiting machine. The people in these communities have more incentive to join the military by virtue of the fact that they have fewer options than the more affluent kids of middle and upper-income families. (May I never refer to these as “class”, because in my experience, they are equally likely to have none.) The fault lies not in the “fruit”, but in the picker, and this, I am sure, is what Bill Mahr was criticizing.

Congressman Bachus is attempting to raise public ire by misdirecting the attention from the recruiting practices to the troops themselves. Echoes of Archie Bunker: “He called youse a fruit! Are youse gonna take dat?”

Giving more affluent Americans a pass when it comes to “serving your country honorably” is nothing new. See for instance, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York . Bill Mahr does not need me to defend him. This is just a good example of the subtle form that “crying foul” can take. Bill Mahr criticized a real inequity in the recruiting practices of the US military, but how many people are going to stop and think in the face of Congressman Bachus’ false allegations?



At 10:21 AM, Blogger Skull_Duggery said...

Excellent post! I don't think most people spend enough time analyzing what is being said, and give in too easily to the "knee-jerk" response that is the desired effect for these politicians. I've found that this "crying foul" thing extends into all walks of life, unfortunately. It's understandable in a 4 year old, but should not be the default for mature adults and public figures. Notice I say mature?

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

Yes, this is a great post! You explained how the Congressman is trying to use smoke and mirrors to setup a strawman of Bills criticisms and then attack him.

I think that when a Congressman tries to silence free speech and dissent, it is not the dissenter who is committing treason, but the Congressman, by way of attacking the principles we hold dear in America.

All positive change starts with the dissent of one man (or woman).

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