‘Who is Ray Bolger?’


The program "Jeopardy" became famous for many reasons. The primary novelty of this show was the way in which the trivia game was played. Alec Trebek would always remind the contestants to "Make sure your answer is in the form of a question!" The title of this column is written in the same spirit. Ray Bolger was born in Boston on Jan. 10, 1904. Ray was a standup comedian who also had some amazing dance moves. He played Vaudeville and Broadway before moving to Hollywood in 1936. It was in a 1939 film that he became part of American cinematic history. His dance and comedic talents earned him the role of the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." He remains to this day the favorite straw man of many, myself included. The literary definition of a straw man is a fallacy in which an opponent's argument is overstated or misrepresented in order to be attacked or refuted. When debating issues, the concept of a "straw man" is often used to shut down a discussion. One example of a straw man argument might be: "If you do not support 'Cap and Trade' efforts to stop global warming, you must not like the planet." This leaves the average proponent of responsible extraction and usage of carbon energy sources speechless and defensive. The adversary claims "success;" and the proponent will think twice before ever again promoting his or her opinion. Although Saul Alinsky did not invent this stratagem, he did however, make using it to end a debate an art form. Alinsky's acolytes reside primarily on the left. His books include "Rules for Radicals" and "Reveille for Radicals." The title of Hillary Rodham Clinton's 1969 thesis at Wellesley University was "There is only the fight; an analysis of the Alinsky model." She was offered a job by Alinsky at his new training institute whose goal was to raise up a generation focused on community organizing, she declined and went to Yale Law School. Just over 10 years later, a young political science major from Columbia University chose to cut his teeth at the "Developing Communities Project," which was inspired by the now deceased Alinsky. He later went to Harvard Law School and was elected to the Illinois Legislature. The rest, as they say, is history. Remember this article when you are at your next family gathering or company picnic. It is important not to be intimidated when discussing issues of importance. If a family member or coworker asserts, "If you do not support banning all carbonbased energy extraction from anywhere within a 1,000-mile radius of Glacier National Park, you must hate the environment!" Do not become defensive, see the words for what they are: an attempt to end the debate without further discussion. When you have regained your composure, remind the person with whom you are conversing that you are discussing responsible extraction. If the aforementioned party still chants at you, smile, knowing that your position threatens them and that a reasoned and articulate debate is not what they seek. Silence by the manipulative straw man argument is becoming more prevalent in our public discourse; this is not good for a healthy republic. John F. Kennedy summed it up best in 1961 at the annual meeting of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, "Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive." Take an inventory of topics for which you have a passionate opinion. Ask yourself this question, "Do I feel comfortable publicly defending my view, or am I afraid of being silenced by a straw man argument?" The answer to that question is of paramount importance. Whether the topic is medical marijuana, gun control or legalizing gay marriage, we as a society must be able to openly debate all topics. We have recently seen the "ramming through" of legislation at the national level which was actually diametrically opposed to the will of the people. Help prepare yourself to debate people on those topics for which you have strong feelings. If you get backed into a corner during one of these dialogues, remember your secret phrase, "I see you are trying to trap me with a straw man argument. If you must know, my favorite straw man is Ray Bolger. Now, can we get back to the real issue at hand?!" (Rick Dow, his wife and three children live in Havre.)


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