Monday, January 07, 2013

Rule of thumb

I wrote briefly last week about a somewhat intemperate screed by one Donald Kaul, an apparently dyspeptic Iowan who offered this charming suggestion for resolving the gun control debate in a way that might be somewhat persuasive:
I would tie Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, our esteemed Republican leaders, to the back of a Chevy pickup truck and drag them around a parking lot until they saw the light on gun control.
Not surprisingly, that approach didn't go over so well with the readership at the Des Moines Register, so this week Kaul is back to patiently explain how he was just kidding:

Gun owners seemed particularly upset at the suggestion that Boehner and McConnell be dragged. The tactic, which dates back to the days of lynch mobs, became a more modern nightmare in the wake of the 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd by white supremacists in Texas. Many of the people I heard from said I should be arrested for threatening federal officials, and one said he had personally reported me to the FBI.

Let me say this about that: That wasn’t a suggestion to be taken literally. I don’t believe Boehner and McConnell should be dragged. I was using it as a metaphor for making politicians pay a price for their inability to confront the gun lobby. It’s a literary device.

Think of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” written 200 years ago, in which he suggested that the Irish famine could be relieved if babies of poor families were confiscated at 12 months and sold to rich people, who could eat them.

Swift, an Irishman, didn’t mean that literally. It was a satiric device to underline the misery that had been visited on the Irish by their English landlords.

So too with my dragging of the Republican leaders.
I think there's a rule of thumb here -- able satirists have other people who compare their work to Swift. Crappy satirists compare their own work to Swift.

I've often suggested in this space that particularly excitable people ought to try the decaf. Perhaps Mr. Kaul might want to consider trying the Kaopectate.

1 comment:

Bike Bubba said...

Kaul forgets that for satire to work, it needs to be preposterous. If Englishmen had in fact been eating Irish babies, "A Modest Proposal" would not have worked at all.

Maybe he's suggesting the weakness in journalism school that Ernie Pyle would have told you--all too often, it's the easiest way to get a degree, and doesn't teach you much worth knowing. Kaul is a poster child for this, sad to say.