In the world of persuasion, there exists the strategy of the Lesser Spokesman. When you want to appear fair, and give voice to the other side opposed to your position, but you don’t want to deal with full truth, you choose a “lesser spokesman.” As an example, it is common in the gun control debate for the pro-tyranny forces (those who seek to deny our Constitutional rights) to ignore the scores of qualified constitutional experts who would support the 2nd Amendment, instead giving the stage to a slightly literate Redneck who can barely voice his own thoughts and is easily humiliated by the confusion of questions by the interviewer.
The Lesser Spokesman can be presented in a variety of ways, including through the use of inanimate objects. On a recent episode of BBC’s Top Gear, host Jeremy Clarkson continued his anti-American diatribe using the lesser spokesman tool. The contest for the hosts was straightforward; each would choose a V-8 engined car with which to tour the Patagonia region of Argentina. Clarkson choose a Porsche 928, James May chose a Lotus Esprit Twin Turbo, and Richard Hammond chose a 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1.
The Mustang was held up to considerable ridicule, especially after its power steering failed repeatedly. The implication was of poor quality, poor design and general inferiority to the more sophisticated European cars. You couldn’t help but be a bit ashamed that our poor pony car was so embarrassed in its colonial commonness.
But perhaps the cards were stacked unfairly? Let us reexamine these contestants.
The Porsche 928 was a masterpiece by any standard. It was designed to be the new flagship of the Porsche fleet, replacing the aging Porsche 911. The 928 was a luxury touring super car, designed, from the wheels up, to compete with BMW, Aston Martin and Bentley. It was not a car for the masses; the 928 was designed for the elite of Europe for touring the Riviera. Clarkson never identified the model of the 928 used in the show, but it appears to be a 1990’s era 4S. However, even if we use the much earlier 1981 model, it is still ten years later technology and cost more than ten times as much ($38,850 MSRP) as the 1971 Mach 1 which retailed for $3,200.
The Lotus, on the other hand, was produced as a “no holds barred”, hand built sports car. James Bond even replaced his Aston Martin with the Lotus Esprit for two films. Though the show used a later model, in 1980 the non-turbo version sold for over $40,000 US Dollars. Like the Porsche, the Lotus was a specialized status car for the elite, not for everyman.
In contrast the Mustang Mach 1 was the stuff of dreams for high school and college American boys — simple, rough suspension that was cheap to build and easy to maintain. The Mustang Mach 1 had an engine that could be tuned using a paper matchbook for gauges. This was a car for everyman, and thousands of them filled American streets, as well as college dorm parking lots.
So Mr. Clarkson took two pristine examples of expensive European supercars and pitted them against a heavily modified/abused common laborer’s car that is at least ten years older in design, tech and age than either of the other contestants. It as if we put James May in the ring with Muhammad Ali – there would be no contest. Then Clarkson and May smugly derided the Mach 1 until even its sponsor Hammond had to admit its inferiority.
This is the lesser spokesman at its worst. A poor, illiterate workman is cast as equal to two Oxford Dons in debate and then is condescended to when they show him up. Watch for this cowardly technique as you see various political discussions. Is the opposition a fair representative, or a lesser spokesman?
By the way, the crew of Top Gear ignored an obvious fact. The lowly Mustang completed the journey! The shoddy, poorly built, unsophisticated, ten years older, common man’s car succeeds. Take that Europe!