Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Last week, NPR updated me on a no-eviction policy set forth by the Centers for Disease Control. The first time I heard about it, I was incredulous; how could the CDC make federal mandates? But NPR followed with a rationale and the caveat that renters had to “qualify,” so I calmed down a bit. The explanation is that if renters are evicted because they can’t pay their bills due to Covid, then they will move in with Grandma, Grandpa, and Great-Aunt Lucy. You’ll have more and more Americans living in packed quarters, thereby spreading the virus.
Still, this kind of control sets a terrible precedent, in my mind, of government agencies stepping out of their lanes to dictate to Americans what they must do with their property. I also think the no-eviction policy, in the guise of admirable compassion, may actually be a back door means to further control the American economy, cast property owners as villains, and increase Americans’ dependence on government to set things right. And I can’t help but point out who it was that promoted closing our economy long-term so that many of us were laid off and uncertain about how we would pay our bills. These are manipulative games on a grand scale, the economy shut down by the government, but landlords shoulder the burden if renters can’t pay their bills.
In the update, NPR interviewed a woman in Georgia who was being evicted, along with her family. Of course, her situation was legitimately awful. She and her husband had found a house they loved in a county where they wanted to live. When they couldn’t pay their rent, she appealed to the CDC policy. But a local judge would not honor it, saying the CDC did not have jurisdiction over this Georgia county and NPR interviewed the judge. What he said was coherent, but he had a Southern accent and everything. So he was probably a close-minded meanie.
This woman and her family ended up getting evicted and moved into their car for a few days until they were able to get into a motel. Thus, NPR wants me to conclude, if I care about the plight of this woman, I should support the CDC’s ability to make compassionate policy. There may be local and state organizations that want to help struggling families, but that’s beside their point. The CDC should be able to help her. Because she’s suffering right now. Wait… but what about government agencies setting policy for the whole country? How can they just do that? Isn’t that going to lead to… Never mind! Look over here at this poor lady who had to move her family into their car.
This emphasis on tangential issues, pulling our gaze away from the topic at hand with an emotional distraction, is a ploy practiced by both the left and the right. And I think it’s destructive because then we skirt the real issues and are even less informed and less able to come up with a solid policy that has a chance of solving problems. It takes only one sad story for the public to turn in their thinking card on a subject, whether it’s embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, the homeless population, funding for state programs, or any number of issues in which each side is invested. I’m not saying it’s wrong to tell a story to convince one’s audience. But first, it should not be the primary means of persuasion–that can be dangerous when we avoid exploring the whole issue and examining alternatives. And second, the story should be about the topic at hand, and not an indirectly linked event chosen to generate guilt for holding a particular point of view.
The right also uses the destructive emotional distraction when unleashing the feels is politically beneficial. When Joe Biden recently reversed the agreement on the Keystone Pipeline, the right’s reporting on social media went something like this: “Joe Biden gets into office, and right away, costs 11,000 Americans their jobs.” The job loss is a legitimate problem, perhaps part of the argument for why we should continue with the pipeline. But it should not serve as the centerpiece of the public debate. We could instead present it as Biden going back on an arrangement that would have greatly benefited us, and then mention that by the way, the price tag for this includes 11,000 jobs.
Presenting the pipeline cancelation as a job loss story keeps us from having the real discussion–why is the pipeline beneficial? Focusing on the jobs keeps us from publicly weighing out the benefits of the pipeline against the concerns of harm raised by environmentalists and Native Americans. I don’t believe conservatives promote make-work employment–where a program or effort is deemed valuable not based on whether it really contributes, but whether it will create jobs for people. But framing this story as primarily one of lost employment is making conservatives sound like they do promote jobs for jobs’ sake. Yes, these conservative memes are probably just adapting the tactics of the left (Look over there! Jobs!) to win a few disapproval ratings of Biden. But for the right, for whom logic and coherence is a strength, these tactics may help us in the battles, but they will never win the war.Published in