Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Fall Guy, The Scapegoat And The Strawwoman

Sounds like the company Judy Garland had on her travels in the Wizard of Oz, but these are really creatures in the political games. I made the last a strawwoman in the interest of feminism, by the way.

All three creatures wear funny clothing and sing catchy tunes in an old movie in my mind, but underneath all that surface gaiety is something menacing or at least mean-spirited. If you place the three side by side in the order of my title, then the first one on the left, the fall guy, is at least partially guilty of something but not the mastermind of the crime or other deplorable deed. A fall guy/gal might be someone like Private Lynndie England , sentenced for torturing people at the Abu Ghraib prison. She obviously did it, but it is very unclear whether she just got the brilliant idea of having some fun that way or whether she was following orders. If the latter, then she is the fall gal, one to take on the guilt of all others. Like Scooter Libby, perhaps. Fall guys and fall gals are always less powerful than the masterminds who get off scot-free.

The scapegoat is the person in the middle of my title. A scapegoat is innocent and that is how he or she differs from the fall guy/gal. Traditionally a scapegoat was burdened with the crimes and sins of all residents of an area and then brutally killed or driven out of town. This was believed to appease the blood-thirsty divinities (though we divines prefer chocolate). We don't go quite as far today in most cases. It's usually enough to destroy the reputation of the scapegoat.

Political games are often about whether a person is a fall guy or a scapegoat or the incredibly powerful mastermind of some heinous deed. Poor women on welfare were the scapegoats of a lot of societal anger in the 1990s, laden with every accusation that could be thought and driven to the outer margins of acceptable society. A way of cleansing our own consciences. Disgusting, too.

The last person in my title, the one on the very right edge, is the strawman or strawwoman, something made out for the very purpose of being accused. There is a link to the scapegoat here, because strawmen have in the past also been burned in symbolic killings of some idea or cause, but strawmen are not living creatures at all.

The political game regards it morally legitimate to try to turn other players or their ideas into fall guys, scapegoats or strawwomen. So now you know.