Liberally Speaking3/19/09

Greasing the right squeaky wheels

March 19, 2009

By Steve Mount

It was recently reported that Latreasa Goodman got her money back from McDonald’s.

Who is Goodman, you might ask? She recently placed an order for Chicken McNuggets at a Florida McDonald’s, paid for her order, and was then informed that the restaurant was out of her particular culinary choice. Goodman wanted her money back; the manager offered a substitution. Goodman called 911 to report the manager’s “transgression.” Three times.

Goodman was arrested for her antics, but despite this, the McDonald’s Corporation will be presenting Goodman with an Arch Card loaded with a refund for her purchase.

The point of this is to illustrate a classic idiom (with, in this case, an unintended pun): The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Had Goodman not been a squeaky wheel, to the point of misdemeanor, her story would have been a non-story.

Historically, we have our share of squeaky wheels. Thankfully, they are often not as trivial as Goodman.

Thomas Jefferson is one example. His tirade against the King of England became our Declaration of Independence, which is considered our charter of freedom, along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But before it was released to the American public, Jefferson’s screed had to be toned down, by no less a figure than Benjamin Franklin.

More recently, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post wrote reports almost daily about a minor burglary at the Democratic National Committee’s office in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. More and more information was leaked to them, leading to more and more stories. Each new story took a small chip out of the Nixon presidency, leading to Nixon’s eventual resignation.

Sometimes the squeaky wheel has a noble goal, but because of the fervor generated by the squeaker, the means to the end can be tragic.

John Brown is a perfect historical example. Brown was an ardent abolitionist in antebellum America, anti-slavery before it was a national priority. Though his ultimate goal was laudable and noble, his methods were not.

He led one attack on pro-slavery settlers in Kansas that left five settlers dead. His raid on an armory in Harpers Ferry, Va. left 10 of his men and five defenders dead.

After the Harpers Ferry attack, Brown was captured, tried and convicted of murder, conspiracy and treason. He was hanged.

Though Brown became a rallying point for anti-slavery forces, and a song written in his honor would evolve into the well-known Battle Hymn of the Republic, his tactics cannot be defended.

Other squeaky wheels deserve no attention, and are easy to write-off. I’m thinking here of Holocaust deniers; the anti-Semitic publishing of industrialist Henry Ford in The Dearborn Independent; those still trying to prove that George W. Bush planned, or purposefully did not stop, the 9/11 attacks. In this day of instant communication, it is easier than ever for those nuts to get their message out, but at the same time, thankfully, our skepticism has also increased.

More worrisome are the squeaky wheels who sound reasonable to a bigger audience, those who appeal to the pre-conceived notions of the public, or a bloc of the public.

One, who keeps rising up like the proverbial cockroach that just cannot be squashed, is Ann Coulter. Coulter is an attention hound, especially after the publication of one of her books which, though waning in popularity, are released every couple of years.

Her good looks, quick and sharp wit and inflammatory language maintain her as a media darling. But her rhetoric does not deserve the kind of airtime she is able to extract from the mainstream media. The titles of her books alone illustrate her penchant for hyperbole: “Slander,” “Treason,” “Godless,” “Guilty” and “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans.”

Then there is the best example of all. Rush Limbaugh. He wraps his divisive rhetoric in catch phrases, appealing to the basest prejudices of the human character.

Whether calling women “feminazis” or repeating the President’s middle name ad nauseam, his broadcasts are masses of verbal bile — squeaks that many conservatives are quick to pick up and run with.

The challenge for us, listening to all the rancor, is to discern what’s worthy of our attention from what’s not. Are the squeaks leading us to needed and desired change, or down an undesirable path that only a few truly wish to follow.

It’s a conscious decision — make it wisely.


Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at