In February VTDigger published an article by Becca Balint in which she cites a school district in Tennessee “banning” a holocaust book as evidence of a “tide of hate” that she, Balint, intends to stand against.
But here’s the problem. Becca constructs a narrative to appeal to the biases of her perceived supporters, while misrepresenting the facts. Truth – who needs it – when you can rely on a narrative that serves you, right Becca?
I will substantiate my claim with exactly the facts misrepresented or omitted in her article. But I will also demonstrate that this tendency to err toward convenient (self serving) narrative, instead of messy reality, is a pattern Balint has fallen into repeatedly. It’s a pattern voters should be very well aware of before they choose who represents Vermont.
But before I do, I want to acknowledge that Becca is an earnest person. I don’t think she even realizes how she unconsciously exploits narratives to serve her persona and her agenda. I also think she has a genuine care for other people at the root of everything she does, including her unconscious manipulation and many of her ill-advised policy positions.
Lastly, she’s an excellent writer. Which makes it easy for the audience to overlook the actual substance, or lack thereof, of her arguments.
So, let’s get to the meat of it. Becca explicitly begins the piece by saying it won’t be about the so-called banned book. But the bulk of her letter goes on to repeatedly refer to that subject, and uses it as the premise for her argument. Then, Balint’s defacto assumption, the foundation of her entire article, is that the book’s removal from a required reading list implies evidence of a “rising tide of hate.”
But how, Becca, does that narrative of hateful book banners square with the reality that the same school district replaced the book with another holocaust book? Was it hate, or just their more conservative values about what is appropriate content for eighth graders? I don’t share those conservative values, and I would prefer they keep Maus on the reading list, but neither do I misrepresent conservative values about nudity and graphic language with hate or holocaust denialism.
To her credit, Balint says something quite true, “It [building relationships with people of different values] takes a belief in our ability to tell more complex stories of each other.”
Which makes it more painfully ironic how she failed to do exactly that in her letter.
But is this just a one time mistake, or does Balint habitually traffic in the convenient narrative over often unpopular reality? I argue it is habitual, evidenced by her positions on both climate and on Covid.
On Covid, Balint was a ferocious proponent for imposing mandatory masking of children in schools, and removing local jurisdictions control over how they respond to that question. The problem is, as Johns Hopkins professor Dr Marty Makary and many other impeccably credentialled public health scholars would argue – there has been as few as ZERO healthy children who have died from Covid. And there is no dispute that many times more children die from the flu. Not to mention that all the teachers, (and most of the children) can be vaccinated. So what, other than appeasing the narrative her constituency prefers, or a profound ignorance of the actual data, explains why we would ignore the reality that masking children for Covid makes no sense unless we also think flu should require masks – which no public health official has ever argued for?
It’s easy to advocate for things that prove you’re on the “right side”, even when what we should be doing is telling more complex stories. It makes me wonder, does Balint even consider listening to dissenting opinions when it is politically expensive to do so?
And on climate, Becca doesn’t point to the root causes of our sustainability crisis, because it is a pretty damn uncomfortable truth for most politicians -i.e. it is a narrative to avoid in favor of what she believes her audience wants to hear. Or, worse than it being too uncomfortable, it may just be a good faith total misunderstanding of the nature of the problem. Becca’s perspective in a recent debate, on what is preventing action on sustainability indicates a stark contrast to what I, as the elections only M.I.T. award winning renewable energy professional thinks. Take a look for yourself:
Becca Balint: “Our biggest challenge on climate change is not Congressional roadblocks. It’s not inaction… It’s despondency…”
Liam Madden: “A root cause of our sustainability crisis is never ending economic growth which is built into a monetary system that is based on interest bearing debt.”
I urge us all to do what Becca calls for and yet fails to live up to, which is understanding that reality’s complexity, and the narrative that serves our interest, can diverge sharply.
The author is an independent candidate for Congress