Monday, April 03, 2006

A rhetoric of cowardice and vanity

You know, a lot of times I'll write something about "conservatives," or Right Wingers, or Republicans, or Democrats, academics, feminists, the Media Elites...Hollywood!, and it won't be based on any one thing I've seen or heard or read recently; it'll be based on dozens, even hundreds, of things I've seen, heard, or read over years and years. I'll be generalizing. Sometimes grossly, but usually, I think---I hope---accurately.

The art of generalization is a respectable one and a useful and accepted, and fair---fair as in cricket---rhetorical tool, especially when used before a thoughtful, widely-read, educated audience that can be counted on to share a breadth of learning and a body of knowledge, and even more especially when used by someone who has established a reputation for being thoughtful, well-read, fair-minded, and intellectually honest.

Ok, that let's me out.

But now and again, for reasons of time and space, you have to generalize.

Generalizing opens you up to that almost irrefutable rhetorical gambit, the well-timed, "Sez you!"

The blogging club's latest version of Sez you is called a straw man, a term I would like to see given a long rest.

Make an argument based on a generalization and someone's bound to come along and shout, Straw Man!

That's a generalization.

But it's true.

Calling straw man on somone is a way of forcing them off point. They have to backtrack to go find and produce specific examples and then make the case that the specific examples are representative. By this time, they and their audience have lost the thread of the debate.

Going into an argument, you should know this is going to happen and be prepared.

Have those examples ready. Deploy them even before the Straw Men attack.

So when I generalize I usually think, C'mon, Lance, at least give 'em one link, one good example.

The trouble with one good example is that it's one good example.

One's a little thin.

How about two?

Still gossamer. Make it three. Three's good. Three's a magic number in the arts of prose and poetry.

Takes a lot of time and energy though.

I'm lazy.

So I generalize and pray to be forgiven.

Every once in a while, however, some "conservative," some Right Winger, some Republican, Democrat, feminist, academic, Elite media pundit, or Hollywood insider will come along and drop a good example right in my lap.

Sometimes they do it a little late.

Last Thursday I wrote in a post called As if torture is justified that Bush League apologists making the case that we need to torture the bad guys always argue as if the worst possible case scenerio is the situation of the moment. They argue, I said, "as if there's a nuclear bomb buried under the White House and the person being tortured knows exactly where and has the code to defuse it."

Another generalization.

Also, true.

But as if he thought I needed at least one example and he wanted to do me the favor of giving me a really good one, Right Wing Renaissance Man, Hugh Hewitt---he rants by blog, by book, by radio, folks! A real triple threat!---tried to have it that being in New York City puts him out there on the front line in the War on Terror with his guest, a reporter who's in Iraq covering an actual war.

The reporter, Michael Ware of Time Magazine, started to suggest that Hewitt, safe at home in his comfortable radio station, might not have the best vantage point for judging the security problems in Iraq, and Hewitt interrupted him indignantly:

Hewitt: I'm sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I'm sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target. Because in downtown Manhattan, it's not comfortable, although it's a lot safer than where you are, people always are three miles away from where the jihadis last spoke in America. So that's...civilians have a stake in this. Although you are on the front line, this was the front line four and a half years ago.

I've said before, and a lot of other folks have it said before and after me, that the people most terrified by 9/11 were Right Wing bloggers.

(Links up there to digby and TBogg courtsey of The Wolcott.)

Hewitt tries to qualify what he's saying to make it sound like he's not saying what he's clearly saying, but, basically, he feels that he goes to work with a target on his back in a building flying a flag that says in red letters, "Terrorists, bomb here!"

He wants a battle star for having the courage to walk the streets of New York City.

You and 8 million other people, pal.

The Crooks and Liars post about this is headlined Hugh Hewitt: Cowardly Lion, a good title as this seems very much a case of Hewitt pulling his own tail. You'd think that to say what he said, to believe what's implied by what he said, that he's in as much danger as someone roaming the streets of downtown Bagdad, Hewitt would have to be scared out of his wits.

You would think.

As loyal and obedient propagandists for the Bush Administration, Right Wing bloggers have felt a duty to scare the beejeebers out of the rest of us. Now, a lot of them were quaking in their boots themselves and were desperate to prove that their own terror ought to be shared by all of America. And a lot of them have managed to scare themselves, like Cub Scouts telling ghost stories around a camp fire.

But I think all of them, just like the Cub Scouts, enjoy being scared.

They enjoy it because after they're done giving themselves goose bumps, they get to defy their own fear. They get to be brave.

They can scare themselves silly and then immediately start swaggering around as they've just walked up to a fe-fi-foing, grinding Englishman's bones to make his bread giant and spit in his eye.

To live in fear as if the possibility of another terrorist attack is the same as living under the hourly threat of one is a mark of cowardice.

But to say from the comfort of your radio studio back here in the United States to someone who is in Iraq at that very moment, essentially, "Hey, bub, don't talk to me about danger! I'm the one knows from danger! I got your security problems right here!" isn't just cowardice.

It's conceit.

How in love with yourself do you have to be to boast of your courage when all you've done is pick a fight with a straw man?
Please help keep this blog up and running by donating to my Tip Jar in the upper right hand corner, using either PayPal or Amazon or you can just click here to go straight to Amazon. Thanks for your support. Also be sure to visit our advertisers and consider buying an ad yourself through The Liberal Prose at BlogAds.


Post a Comment

<< Home