Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Aesop's Scorpion and Frog: A Cautionary Tale for These Times and a War on Women

I often think of Aesop’s fable about the scorpion and the frog. You remember it, don’t you? The scorpion needs to cross a body of water and appeals to a frog with the good sense to wonder if it should help a scorpion, but the scorpion reassures the frog, vowing that it will not harm its good Samaritan because if it does, they will both drown.

Thus persuaded, the frog lets the scorpion climb aboard and begins to swim to the opposite shore. Before they are safe, however, the scorpion stings the frog whose last word, before he slips underwater, is “Why?” The scorpion answers, “It’s my nature.” The lesson then is that frogs should beware of scorpions even if they promise not to harm you. A scorpion is a scorpion; its nature has been proved throughout history.

Recent events have brought this fable to mind almost daily. Some of the very people protesting in Wisconsin surely helped elect Scott Walker as their governor. Did they ignore his record or just convince themselves that his nature would not harm them?

Prior to becoming governor, in his role as Assemblyman and later as County Executive, Walker worked to privatize government services and reform the laws governing labor disputes between government and workers. He was also pro-life and supported legislation to protect pharmacists who did not wish to fill certain prescriptions if doing so violated their religious convictions. He was the state’s choice for governor until his platform stung.

I suspect that social issues masked the economic ones in many voters’ minds. Indeed, many voters confess to being single-issue voters, preferring to hand over power to men and women whom they deem to be of like minds morally and spiritually rather than to men and women who set civil liberties and the needs of all as their highest priorities. In Wisconsin, this proved problematic.

Union workers who had praised Walker now found themselves disenfranchised, unable to affect their wages and working conditions through collective bargaining. In time, they began to collect signatures for a recall ballot, and it seems on track for May 2012. Some, however, believe a “do-over” in democracy is as toxic as the scorpion’s sting was to the frog. These believers are trying to rewrite the rules for recall in the midst of a recall battle.

I simply ask: did the governor’s nature change quite suddenly, or did voters fail to take note of his stinger until they began drowning? I think it’s a question worth asking and answering for yourselves. Then, ask this one: what is in the best interest of the greatest number of people? Surely that is what we ask of government: to serve the many, not the few, with all the divisiveness, debate, and drama that this may incite.

Another event that made me think about scorpions and frogs was Rush Limbaugh’s sustained ad hominem attack against Ms. Sandra Fluke, but it has been Mr. Limbaugh’s nature for many years to insult women: First Ladies, Secretaries of State, and the philosophy of women as co-equals, fully qualified to compete, fully deserving of equal pay for equal effort. He is a man who changes his voice to lisp or imitate exaggerated stereotypes in order to enhance the vitriol he spews. He has called women of power and intelligence “Feminazis” since his program first aired. He has consistently belittled women.

Why then are sponsors, citizens, and radio stations now aggrieved? Limbaugh’s stinger was in full view. Why weren’t those sponsors and stations sensitive to women and their issues before now?

Some answers are obvious, of course. Rush never before picked on a young, convicted woman who is not already a celebrity or public figure. Ms. Fluke was unaccustomed to a national spotlight and public censure for having an opinion. She merely wished to speak in behalf of all women regarding health care for women, and for offering her point of view, she was demeaned, mocked, and stung. Almost no one believes she deserved any of it.

What saddens me is that some women think she did. Phyllis Schlafly did as did Patricia Heaton, the actress who played Ray Romano’s feisty wife for many years on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She tweeted with as much rancor as Limbaugh and offended both genders, only later to apologize for her judgment. What seems so ironic is that her current TV character in “The Middle” is a harried, good-hearted, very middle class mom who would have come to the defense of her awkward daughter if she had been hurt or denigrated by someone. We’ve since learned that the real Heaton might not.

Let us give Ms. Fluke credit for initiating a backlash against vitriolic talk radio. Let us hope that the sponsors and radio stations do not return to his fold after a brief and very public suspension, only to renew negotiations after public attention turns to chase another noble or ignoble human. Let us try to be vigilant and above all, civil in our appeals to those sponsors and radio stations because it is our duty to speak in behalf of those downtrodden. Let us beware of stingers when examining those who submit themselves for public review as office holders, but let us not turn on each other.

As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” If we fail, we are no better than any other scorpion. Let’s be frogs instead: the Good Samaritans and our sisters’ keepers.