id(o)ling

Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on hand to document the precise wording of his sign, but yesterday I saw a lone protestor, outside a Riverwest grocery store (for Milwaukeeans – since there really is only one Riverwest grocery store – I’ve just ID’d the location exactly…), holding an enormous sign that said something like Stop Voting for American Idol and Start Voting to Bring Our American Heroes Home: End the War.

Anyone’s who read more than two or three entries of this blog knows I agree with the gist of this guy’s message…but there are just so many things wrong with his method of presenting it – and unfortunately, these things map pretty clearly to problems progressives in general have had gaining political traction.

First – and the problem that leads to all the other problems – our protestor seems to act under the impression that he’s speaking for a small minority against an overwhelming force opposed to him. American Idol is, of course, one of the most popular shows on TV; if the juxtaposition of that with “American heroes” makes any sense at all, it would be to suggest his assumption that more people are concerned with the TV show than with the war in Iraq. First problem: the two have nothing to do with one another. It is entirely possible for someone to be obsessed with American Idol and opposed to the war – even actively opposed to the war. In fact (and this is where the implied comparison completely falls apart), polls these days typically show that two-thirds to three-quarters of Americans think the war is a bad idea. Unless the audience for American Idol is drawn entirely from the pro-war minority, it’s likely that most fans of American Idol are also opposed to the war.

In other words, he’s assuming (in this case, against all evidence) that most people don’t care about the war, or support it if they do, or are apathetic, and instead would rather watch TV. There’s an implicit elitism here, too: “we finer sorts know what’s truly important – and it isn’t whoever Paula Abdul babbles and coos over.” Even if everything above were true – the minority, the concerned elite – it’s hardly an effective tactic to try to win people over by, essentially, insulting them. “Hey you, ya big slob: try using your brain for once, idiot!” That works, right?

I’ll pass over the tortured attempt to make “American” relevant in each half of the slogan, and the odd use of “vote” (while there are referenda on the war, they’re not binding – and this was a week after the elections). It’s not the populace that needs convincing here – it’s elected officials. If the sign had said something like “Tell your congressional representative you want to end the war now!” – that would have made much more sense, and probably been much more effective, not only in communicating to people who saw the guy’s sign, but also (assuming people followed up) in letting representatives know which way the wind’s blowing. (The Democrats, mostly, as usual seem in mortal terror of the Fox Squeaky Wheel Faction: the minority of rabid wingers who invariably seem more motivated to jump when their side says jump than the Democrats’ own tepid voters. Perhaps that tepidity has something to do with the fearfulness of those representatives?)

And of course, I’m sure the guy felt he was earning some sort of moral brownie points for standing out in the 45-degree cold, all by himself, stoically holding up his hand-painted sign. Perhaps he should – but it’s too bad the approaches his sign demonstrates are such a turnoff to so many. Hectoring defensively is rarely a good idea.

(PS: Tell your congressional representative you want to end the war now!)

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