Power Line – Puzzlement (Followup)

May 29, 2005

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Re: Puzzlement
Date: Sat, 28 May 2005 22:03:02 -0700
From: David Barrett <dbarrett@quinthar.com>
To: Power Line <powerlinefeedback@gmail.com>

You bring up an excellent point, and by doing it demonstrates you agree
with the heart of the original artist’s complaint — that the United
States has been stuck in the unfortunate position of supporting Middle
Eastern dictators against the people’s will. I believe this is the
“abuse” to which he refers.

As for who is responsible for this abuse, I personally believe it’s more
than any single party or industry. However, the artist is pinning the
blame on the oil industry, which I hope you agree shares at least some
of the blame due to their overwhelming interest in (and effort put into)
maintaining the current, disfavorable status quo in order to maximize
oil extraction at the lowest possible price.

Where you probably disagree with the artist is in Bush’s share of the
blame. Obviously he’s associating Bush with this abuse; you clearly
disagree. But whether or not you agree that Bush is to blame, you
should at least acknowledge that the abuse has occured (and is still
occuring). And you could have also turned this opportunity to your
advantage by highlighting to the reader (and to the artist, indirectly)
why those who share this anger should further support Bush. After all,
the artist is surely not alone in this view, and some of your readers
might share it.

So with the benefit of hindsight, I’d have preferred that you said in
your original post something like:

“I agree with the artist in that historically — such as under the
Clinton administration — we have been abused by our relationship by
Middle Eastern dictators. But the artist seems to blame Bush for this,
despite Bush working hard to roll back 50 years of this abuse. And the
artist further blames the oil companies in isolation, when in fact they
are just one of many parties involved — and not all for bad reasons.”

What you actually wrote was:

“I’m a little puzzled, though, by what the show’s organizers considered
to be a “relevant political message,” i.e., how the oil companies
“abuse” the United States. That would be, I suppose, by providing
petroleum products that allow us to go places, heat our homes, have
offices and factories in which to work, and operate equipment so that,
instead of living like the ancient Egyptians, hauling blocks of stone
around with ropes, we can sit at desks and do things like operate
computers. Is that how the oil companies “abuse” Americans? I suppose
the idea is that without the oil companies, oil and gasoline would
spring magically out of the ground (pollution-free, of course), and into
our gas tanks and furnaces. For free.”

This seems to imply that no only does the artist have bad tastes (which
I’m sure we can all agree upon), but that you see no merit whatsoever to
his linking oil and American abuse, and no legitimate political
overtones to the art itself.

My reason for pressing on this is to challenge your tactics, not your
message. I agree the painting sounds stupid and tasteless. And I agree
his anger is misdirected. But I’m asking that you confront his anger
and tell the reader why his anger is misdirected, rather feigning total
unawareness of the anger’s source.

By pretending you have utterly no clue why the artist is angry, you
encourage your supporters to completely disregard the artist as a whole
(even though in reality, you partially agree with him), just as you
reinforce to your detractors an image of either stupidity or deviousness
(neither of which serve your interests).

My goal in this discussion is to encourage you to use tactics that
actually get to the heart of the debate so as to inform the reader and
contribute to the debate, rather than manipulate the reader and cloud
the debate.

Thanks for responding!


Power Line wrote:
> David, I find your email mystifying. You appear not to have noticed
> that the central feature of the administration’s policy in the Middle
> East is abandoning the 50-year-old policy of supporting tyrants for
> the sake of stability, and, instead, taking the risk of supporting
> freedom and democracy. That’s what the war in Iraq is all about.
> The scenario you lay out is a reasonably accurate critique of the
> Clinton administration, but I stiill don’t see what the oil companies
> have to do with it.
> Thanks for writing.
> John H.
> On 5/28/05, David Barrett <dbarrett@quinthar.com> wrote:
>>Hi there. You said: “I’m a little puzzled, though, by what the show’s
>>organizers considered to be a “relevant political message,” i.e., how
>>the oil companies “abuse” the United States.”
>>I doubt you are truly as puzzled as you state (feigning ignorance is a
>>powerful, albeit deceptive tactic), but in case you are I think their
>>basic argument goes as such:
>>1) Oil companies are very reliant upon stability in the Middle East for
>>2) Middle-eastern stability is currently maintained only through harsh
>>authoritarian governments.
>>3) These authoritarian governments remain in power due to a combination
>>of the US turning a “blind eye” to their tactics, or even through direct
>>US military aid.
>>4) The “abuse” the author might have been referring to is forcing the US
>>to support governments that violate the core tenets that the US holds
>>dear. In other words, the American people are abused because their
>>money funds people who violate their principles.
>>5) The US endures this abuse because (ie, supports these governments
>>against the principles of the American people) because if it didn’t, at
>>the very least oil prices would suffer, and at worst there would be
>>chaos caused by the region imploding.
>>Now, you could argue that it’s not the oil companies who are abusing the
>>US people, but the authoritarian governments in the middle east. But
>>given the tight relationships between those governments and the oil
>>companies, it’s not wholly unreasonable to associate the two.
>>Incidentally, I’d like to ask you the favor of trying to give the
>>”childish leftists” a bit more professional treatment. Even if you
>>think they are stupid — and even if they are — it’s your
>>responsibility to go learn why they think the way they think. Touting
>>your ignorance only highlights your unwillingness to learn the opposing
>>position or, even worse, your inability to debate in a rational fashion
>>(which involves understanding both sides of the argument).


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