A muttony metaphor


There was a story out of Inner Mongolia in North China last month about a flock of sheep in a farmer’s pen walking around and around in circles for 12 days.

Sheep are famous for copying the behavior of other members of the flock, which causes them to, among other things, follow the animal in front of them to avoid predators and make the individual less vulnerable.

Still, this walking-in-a-circle phenomenon was a bit extreme, leading some to speculate the sheep were suffering from listeriosis, also known as the “circling disease,” and others to suspect a hoax of some kind.

Whatever the reason, it’s a great metaphor, isn’t it?

“Not only do you idiots follow your leaders like a flock of sheep, you don’t even care that they are just taking you around in the same old circle.”

It has its limits, unfortunately. It suffers from the same weakness as the charge of hypocrisy so carelessly thrown around by political opponents.

We are all hypocrites occasionally, in that we say one thing and do another. But we tend to recognize the fault in our opponents more so than in ourselves or our friends. So when you call someone a hypocrite, all you are really doing is revealing your own political predisposition.

It’s the same with telling someone to get the flock out of here.

Our side of the aisle comprises thoughtful, analytic voters who carefully weigh the issues and come to a reasoned conclusion. The other side is a bunch of sheep who just blindly follow the party line, no matter how patently absurd it might be.

Or they might be parrots, who merely repeat what they are told, or moths heading for the flame, or the dog being wagged by the tail, or even lemmings. But you get the point.

It would be helpful for our growth as members of an informed electorate, if that is indeed our aspiration, to acknowledge that all of us are from time to time subject to the circling disease. It happens for the same reason those sheep in China were in a holding pattern — no outside influence to break the pattern. In political terms, this means there are no consequences for blindly adopting the group’s default position.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been called out for his “political stunt” of busing illegal immigrants to New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other self-proclaimed “sanctuary cities.” But what he really did was call their bluff and show them the real consequences, although on a small scale, of being flooded with needy newcomers.

They have been overwhelmed and can no longer pretend they are acting in a vacuum.

The Supreme Court did the same thing to pro-life Republicans when it overturned Roe vs. Wade. It is one thing to take a hard line against abortion when abortion is the law of the land and nothing can be done about it. It is another thing when there are pro-choice measures on ballots being approved by voters in several states. Now, there are real-world consequences that Republicans must deal with one way or another.

We can only hope our politicians, once pulled out of their patterns, will look at issues with a fresh perspective, a new set of questions and a real appreciation of the real-world consequences. As voters and constituents, we have the obligation to at least make that journey ourselves.

Do voter sheep follow the leader sheep or are the leader sheep just getting ahead of where the voters are going? A better question might be if we’re going around in a circle, how do we even tell who the leader is?

Leo Morris, columnist for Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier State Press Association’s award for best editorial writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].

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