In the post, How Many Rationalizations Can You Spot In This Op-Ed?, I challenged readers to read the depressingly meat-headed New York Times op-ed by a defender of Nashville mayor Megan Barry. and challenged them further to identify all of the rationalizations and fallacies it contained. Only one of you took on the challenge in its full, horrible scope, in part because not everyone pays to get past the Times paywall. Fortunately one who did take it on was the newly-minted Michael West, who dissected the essay as if it were a pithed frog.
Here is his Comment of the Day, freeing me from the obligation to post the answers to my question.
Having reviewed the Rationalizations List, here’s my go:
“Along with this confession, the mayor offered the kind of full-throated apology we almost never get from public officials: “I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his,” she said. “I knew my actions could cause damage to my office and the ones I loved, but I did it anyway.””
But she doesn’t accept full responsibility. If she did, and clearly her affair led to extreme financial irregularities which amount to defrauding the public, then accepting responsibility probably requires resignation.
“She ended her statement with a pledge: “God will forgive me, but the people of Nashville don’t have to. In the weeks and months to come, I will work hard to earn your forgiveness and earn back your trust.””
I don’t think “God will forgive me” is a rationalization. It may be an actual deeply held belief, but the State of Tennessee is a bit more hard-nosed. At best this is just poll-tested platitude, but at worst, it is meant to convince some people to forgive her also (which makes it a diversion, not a rationalization). Working to earn their forgiveness and trust is an appeal to 21A Ethics Accounting: Criminal’s Redemption. She thinks future “good works” can atone for past sins. They cannot. What atones for past sins is having that sin and its effects blotted out, which in the case of defrauding the public, the only atoning that works is resignation.
“This promise did not seem like an act of damage control. This is the way Megan Barry really talks. The language of full emotional availability is her native tongue.”
Appeal for sympathy, which is the opener for the next string of rationalizations.
“Perhaps that’s why this city loves her. She hugs schoolchildren. She looks genuinely joyful at city parades and festivals. She grieves that too many Nashville teenagers are slain by guns. When Max Barry, her own son and only child, died suddenly last summer, the people of Nashville wept with her. When she spoke openly about the drug addiction that killed him, we marveled at her courage and admired her resolve to bring addiction out of the shadows of shame.”
This is Ethics Accounting again. She’s a really great person…so it’s implied we should overlook this one thing.
“But in a red state like Tennessee, this liberal mayor also has powerful opponents, and they are not idiots. An editorial in the conservative Tennessee Star wasted no time in calling for her resignation: “Barry and the fawning, liberal Nashville media are trying the Clinton defense.””
This is a diversion away from the miscreant by accusing the accusers of bad faith motives. #48 Haters gonna hate. Her critics are ONLY demanding accountability because they want a political advantage or want to win a tactical maneuver.
“In the age of Donald Trump, conservatives have surely surrendered the right to moral outrage on this particular subject. But for those who are unperturbed by appearances of hypocrisy, a sex scandal presents a golden opportunity to halt Ms. Barry’s ambitious progressive agenda — primarily her expensive plan for public transit, but also her unequivocal support for abortion rights, gun control, same-sex marriage and refugee resettlement — and end any plans she might have for higher office.”
This is a diversion away from the miscreant by claiming the accusers tolerate the same misbehavior in their “own guy”. #26 Favorite Child Excuse. Here, the writer wants us to assume a double standard on the part of the accusers for not making similar demands of Donald Trump. There is another hidden diversion here, I can’t recall what it would be called, where the writer claims the accusers really don’t care about her affair and likely defrauding of the people, they only want to halt her progressive agenda.
“From the beginning, the mayor has insisted that this affair was a personal calamity only, that nothing about it was illegal or an abuse of power. But even for those inclined to accept the financial documents she has submitted to justify the professional nature of her travels with Sergeant Forrest, the affair itself raises questions.”
#4 Marion Barry’s Misdirection! “If it’s not illegal, it’s ethical.”
“Were those travels, and their costs to the city, merely excuses to be alone with Sergeant Forrest? Did her feelings for him influence her defense of the Metro Police Department when it was under scrutiny last year for the shooting of a black man in the act of fleeing? Did the affair put her own staff in the unwelcome role of tacit facilitators? When she recommended Sergeant Forrest’s daughter for a newly created city job, was the young woman the best candidate for the position?”
Fair Questions. That’s a GOOD paragraph.
“Already these questions, and others, are rightly the subject of public investigations by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and by Nashville’s Metro Council, and there may soon be others. We have no way of knowing whether the investigations will exonerate the mayor or reveal improprieties that are unacceptable in a public servant. Unlike her political opponents, I prefer to wait for their findings before forming an opinion about whether she should resign.”
I don’t see a rationalization or diversion here, but I wonder what her opinions are regarding Trump and the Mueller investigation?
““Please know that I’m disappointed in myself but also understand that I’m a human and that I made a mistake,” Ms. Barry said in her news conference. Many people here are upset with their mayor and angry about the way she has squandered their hopes for her political future. But I think most Nashvillians heard that statement with real compassion.”
19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”
20. The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy
38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!”
“This mayor has been beloved because she’s so human, because she works impossible hours and seems to be everywhere at once, sharing in our happiness and in our heartbreak, wearing her own happiness and her own heartbreak on her sleeve. How shocked should we be to learn that the mayor we love for her humanity is human enough to make this kind of mistake?”
This is all set up for establishing a #10, The King’s Pass. What would we do without her selfless service? This is also another #38: Miscreants Mulligan.
“I know I sound naïve. In truth, we don’t know if Megan Barry’s affair was only an error of human judgment. We don’t know if it was different in any substantive way from the kind of behavior that has already brought down so many other public servants. All we know for sure is that this is a particularly fraught moment in American history for a person in a position of power — male or female — to reveal an affair with a subordinate.”
“Only an error of human judgment”…here we are given a mix between an #1 “Everybody Does It” and a #22 “Its Not the Worst Thing”. Some conduct is a mistake…some mistakes even occur in the height of emotional passion. But a long-running affair, which results in favoritism and mis-use of public funds is well outside that window and becomes a willful and knowing act. The writer even tries to paint her as slightly heroic for revealing this affair in a “particularly fraught” time…this is almost like using #28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.” to appeal to compassion – perhaps the seeds of a new rationalization?
“Predictably, Twitter is aflame with outraged conservatives who believe Nashville liberals are giving Ms. Barry a pass simply because we share her politics. That’s a fair point to ponder. When religious conservatives in Alabama had no trouble voting for a credibly accused pedophile during December’s special Senate election, I voiced the same accusation.”
“48. Ethics Jiu Jitsu, or “Haters Gonna Hate!” backed up with an apples to oranges comparison (which in no way alleviates the disgust we can rightly have towards Roy Moore).
“People here may be keeping an open mind until the official investigations are complete, but that’s not the same thing as giving our mayor a pass. And Ms. Barry is fully cooperating with the inquiries into her behavior. The same cannot be said of, for example, the President of the United States.”
Diversion: Favorite Child or #2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse.
“In the wake of the #MeToo tsunami, the conservative coyote pack is howling that liberals would be calling for the mayor’s head if she were a Republican man instead of a Democratic woman. But so far, at least, there is absolutely no evidence that Sergeant Forrest was subject to any form of coercion. Ms. Barry’s affair with her bodyguard was both irresponsible and deeply painful for innocent people, but in all the revelations that have unfolded since the news broke, nothing has come to light to suggest that this is the liberal female version of a #MeToo narrative.”
Claiming that this was just two *equally empowered* adults, when clearly a subordinate and boss are NOT equals, this becomes the 47. Contrived Consent, or “The Rapist’s Defense” rationalization.
“This seems to be another kind of story entirely. This is a much more familiar story, a story that’s as old as humanity itself. Read Homer. Read Shakespeare. Read Flaubert. Read Hawthorne. Read Virginia Woolf. Read Jamie Quatro’s new novel, “Fire Sermon.” Read these stories, and here is what you’ll learn: People in the grip of love or sexual passion are apt to burn their lives down to the ground.”
#1: Everybody does it.
“Thirty-two years ago I, too, fell in love with a man I worked with. It started the way so many office romances start, with common interests and a sense of shared purpose, but that isn’t where it stopped. All these years later — years during which we raised three children and buried three parents and tended to the hundred thousand mundane tasks of making a life together — I still remember the way the temperature in that tiny grad-school office changed when he walked in the door, the way the heat radiating from him charged every atom in my body with desire, the way I thought I would not survive another second if I couldn’t touch his skin.”
A Golden Rule Mutation…our writer fell in love at work, so it’s ok. I wonder…did our writer also violate the trust of a significant with someone else who was doing the same, while both were violating the trust and financial stewardship their employers had in them? She ends this with 23 A. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants.” Quick test: if a man wrote this about a subordinate female staffer…how would we react?
“We all know this heat. It can reduce people to ashes. It can make us take incredibly stupid risks and give no thought at all to the consequences. Wise people know better than to put themselves in circumstances that would allow an illicit desire to flower, but people aren’t always wise. And sometimes it is when we are least wise that we are also most human.”
And here’s the final one: He Who is Without Sin, Cast the First Stone. People may not always be wise…but mayors ought to be wise enough not to do this.