The Pottery Barn rule is an expression that was used by Colin Powell when cautioning President Bush about invading Iraq. He said, “You break it, you own it.” Of course, the “you break it, you own it” rule has been used to warn others about a political action they may later come to regret.
Several commentators have proposed a corollary expression: “You chant it, you own it.” Bring a tape recorder to any protest or even to a parade. You will probably hear lots of extreme statements and chants. This has especially been true of the many environmental protests, along with the many race protests after the death of George Floyd.
In the past, we have been told to ignore the shouting and hyperbole. Protestors may call for us to “defund the police,” but they didn’t really mean that governments were supposed to defund the police. Then we saw certain cities and states do just that.
Environmental activists chant: “No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil.” But we were told they really didn’t mean we should decarbonize the country. Then we found out they were serious.
Last month was Pride Month. The pride parade marchers in New York City chanted: “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children.” News commentators tried to assure us that “it’s all just words” and that such chants have been used for years in pride parades.
Frankly, that is a very poor excuse. If you want people to take you seriously, then don’t say things you don’t mean. I can’t imagine a news commentator brushing off chants and slogans used at an alt-right event. But we are supposed to ignore all the provocative things said by leftist groups.
I have a better suggestion: “If you chant it, you own it.”