I’ll concede one point: I got her first name wrong. My bad. But for having 12 shots of Cuervo*, I think the piece came out fairly well.
Otherwise, though, this blog post purporting to debunk Chris Floyd and me for our criticisms of political science professor and Nation contributor Melissa (!) Harris-Lacewell makes for a perfect example of the mental corruption that accompanies partisanship, a depressing but timely illustration of how once one political faction gains power it almost immediately starts acting like the one it just replaced.
Providing a perfectly smug case-study of the archetypal Humorless Liberal, the blog post in question begins by deferring to the power of authority, noting Harris-Lacewell — who recently suggested Tea Partiers were seditious opponents of the state’s status as the ”legitimate owner of the tools of violence, force, and coercion” — just “happens to be a tenured professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton,” whereas I am but an “independent journalist” (complete with scare quotes). There’s also the unsubtle suggestion that I could be a misogynist, and of course no mainstream liberal attack on Obama’s critics is complete without the mandatory musing that, hmm, maybe you’re just a racist.
The substance of the piece, if you will, is that I — by arguing that liberals wary of violence should focus most of their attention on the state and its prisons and wars rather than the largely hypothetical threat posed by Tea Partiers — fail to take the threat of “domestic terrorism” seriously, too caught up am I in the violence of empire rather than the rhetoric of Glenn Beck. The evidence for why one should quake in fear of an impending spate of domestic terrorism? The arrest of nine yokels in the Hutaree militia who, while probably not the kind of people I’d invite to my weekend barbecue, never actually hurt anyone and were only arrested on trumped up charges of planning to use “weapons of mass destruction.”
Facts aside, “The deaths of two dozen people in a remote village might not be as far away as Davis seems to think,” the blogger gravely writes. Of course, if George Bush were president and the accused a supposed al-Qaeda cell in, say, Miami, liberals like my critic would probably view the government showboating over their arrests with a good deal of proper skepticism (and might even recognize that when it comes to Christian militias, one should fear those employed by the state the most). A Democrat in office, however — and the right’s preferred target of poor black people replaced with liberals’ preferred target, religious hicks with guns — and that skepticism fades away.
So, seemingly, does opposition to war:
Floyd and Davis are not so much scornful of her use of the word “seditious” as they are at her failure to hop on their hobby horse, the evil American empire. Well, it is an empire, and it does quite a bit of evil. I spent more of my life than I care to think about on one small example, the crushing of elected government in Honduras. But all empires do evil. If the Chinese rise to power, one can predict that they, too, will do evil.
In other words: if it’s not Barack Obama and the USA killing and invading, it’ll be somebody else, so why all the fuss? Such a weird little hobby horse too (good thing no one’s found my blog on crystal skulls).
Then there is this:
And, it turns out, Melissa Harris-Lacewell is not the defender of empire that they paint her as. True, her writings are about her professional interests. She has not written about peace and justice issues, though she is affiliated with the Princeton Peace and Justice Center [ed. note: that’s meaningful]. Like most college professors, she shies away from advocacy in her writings.
It is also suggested that Harris-Lacewell has never “applauded” government force, and that her silence on issues of war, peace and justice can perhaps be explained by the fact she is “aware that only a small fraction of government revenues go to ‘state violence'”, a laughable claim easily proved false with a simple Google search.
Having written an entire essay — and apparently beginning every poli-sci class — with a vigorous defense of the state’s “legitimate” monopoly on the use of violence, which she by all accounts views approvingly, Harris-Lacewell’s greatest problem is not that she applauds state violence per se, but, like this critic, she assumes it, takes it for granted. Her greatest sin is one of omission: if she is deeply upset about the victims of the wars Barack Obama is expanding, she doesn’t show it — instead appearing curiously friendly toward the man directly responsible for their deaths, not deigning to mention the thousands killed under the man she once absurdly wrote is “stunningly similar to Martin Luther King, Jr.,” a statement that surprisingly has not resulted in a lawsuit from the King estate.
In that earlier piece, Harris-Lacewell argued that King, like Obama, was a “pragmatic political strategist,” noting that he worked to help President Lyndon Johnson politically despite having major differences with him. Why? Because he recognized that he “needed Johnson to pass civil rights legislation”; he recognized the need to be pragmatic, sensible, willing to compromise his beliefs when it served the greater good.
That might be all good and true, but what Harris-Lacewll left out — and what my critic and other liberals might wish to consider — is that King later rejected that strategy of compromise when he began speaking publicly and without reservation in opposition to the mass murder the American state was carrying out against the people of Vietnam; a war, one should remember, that was fully embraced by the liberal establishment of that time and tacitly accepted by many others in exchange for the promises of a Great Society at home. But as King said then, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
King recognized that, if one was serious about opposing violence, then it was the state one most oppose, and that it was the duty of the person of conscience to call out those perpetrating the violence — even when the perpetrators were liberal Democrats. In the same remarks he also quoted a statement approved by churgoers from the Riverside Church in New York City: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
The silence of Harris-Lacewell and other cheerleaders for the Obama administration is deafening.
* Joking. I would never drink Jose Cuervo.
[I initially wrote that Chris Floyd was described by the blogger as a “guy,” when in fact it was Michael J. Smith.]