You know the ‘straw man’ concept? It’s the thing that happens when there’s a debate about, say, abortion and someone is like, “Well in high school there was this girl who kept getting pregnant over and over and over again because she just didn’t like using condoms she just got abortions because she liked that she got vicodin after. All the time. Don’t tell me that doesn’t happen because this girl did it. What she did is not okay. That is why I think abortion should be illegal. And if you’re pro-choice you’re pro-abortion-as-birth-control-for-free-drugs.” And all of sudden everyone is falling all over themselves to clarify that, of course, abortion is not an ideal form of birth control. And OMG! That’s truly horrible! And maybe we should legislate to make sure no one ever can do that again! Yes! Let’s restrict abortion!
And, of course, what ‘this girl’ did is horrible but now the whole debate is derailed and it isn’t about women’s rights to their bodies, rape victims, differences of religious tenants, domestic violence and marital rape, situations where the life of the mother is at risk, medical opinions in general, the 99.9% of women who are not anything like ‘this girl,’ or anything else that clearly also applies to a decades long conversation between a group of diverse, reasonable people who disagree.
It’s now all about seeming outraged with how ‘this girl’ approached abortion and how we need to stop the plague of women getting abortions for funsies and free narcotics that are draining our nations financial and moral reservoirs. That’s where a ‘straw man’ argument generally ends up.
And I’m uncomfortable with the general level of ‘straw man’ in the air.
Recently I’ve been mulling over why I feel so uncharitably towards Rick Santorum when so many others don’t. Dana Milbank wrote an insightful editorial for “The Washington Post” on Tuesday that I think hits the nail on the head. “Rick Santorum Cries Nazi.” Again. But, hey, it’s okay because it’s not like that one Nazi comparison was so unusual. He does that all the time. And that’s the problem. He employs that type of hyperbolic, inflammatory rhetoric frequently only it’s about stuff that reasonable American voters disagree on all the time and have done for decades.
To me Santorum’s rhetoric makes it feel like you’re at the end of one of those “OMG, how did this drama even get so ridiculous?!” threads you see all over the internet where what started out as a question about healthier lunch meat ended up as a venom laden shit storm that implies eating a ballpark frank is pretty much akin to denying the holocaust.
And it irks me that a candidate who is often the guy who Godwins the conversation is a) out there in the first place and b) actually winning some primaries. It irks me that Godwin’ing can garner substantial support at all. I mean, I get that that’s how it goes but it still irks me.
Your traditional Godwin guy (or girl) is That One Person who has an ax to grind and a chip on their shoulder both at the same time and instead of having an introspective moment where they’re like, “Dude? Why am I e-yelling all the time?” they’re like, “Oh look! When I e-yell I get attention so I’m going to double down on that one thing I said and also adopt it as my cause because then I’m a crusader for a cause so I e-yell because I care, not because whenever I go out to a bar I wear something I know I won’t mind getting blood on since I know a fight’s coming.”
I find myself writing over and over again how much Godwin-ing, Mommy Wars, and the general state of civil discourse bugs me. It’s been suggested to me that I’m just not that great with conflict or anger but I don’t think that’s it. At least not entirely. For example, I think more people, women in particular, should be riled up about how contraception is being framed as somehow about religion, not women like it’s this purely theological issue that just happens to intersect with actual uteruses so, shush, ladies. Let the men folk talk.
I feel angry about how the contraception issue is being framed but I don’t think that means people who disagree with me are ‘just like Nazis’ or even that they’re bad people. I also don’t think it’s about how there was this one woman who was denied contraception so she died because for every “I would have died had it not been for contraception” story there’s a “contraception would have killed me” story. Stories matter but it’s not about any individual story. It’s about an issue that’s important to a diverse nation of people in many differing circumstances who all have their own individual stories.
Most issues are about that being as we’re a diverse nation of people in many differing circumstances. So we have to be able to talk and legislate within that context. Not within the ‘this one girl in high school that one time’ context.
So I’m uncomfortable with the level of ‘straw man’ and ‘Godwin’ in the room.
Are we people who just Godwin and straw man each other and whoever does it better ends up winning? Because it really doesn’t seem like that’s going to end well.