Posted on | October 10, 2011 | 65 Comments
After Thursday evening’s “interview” on MSNBC, Professor William Jacobson and others were outraged by Lawrence O’Donnell’s self-righteous and disrespectful hectoring of Herman Cain.
So when the surging GOP presidential candidate agreed to take questions from reporters at his book-signing Friday at the Pentagon City Costco in Arlington, Virginia, I asked the question that many others were asking:
My question comes at about the one-minute mark of the video.
RSM: Mr. Cain, who is Lawrence O’Donnell to tell you how to be a black man?
CAIN: “It’s an absurd thing to try and do, isn’t it? I mean, for Lawrence O’Donnell to try and challenge me on what was I doing during the civil rights movement, that’s about as ridiculous as me asking him, ‘What were you doing when you were in kindergarten?’ The two things don’t even relate to one another. So, you’re right — his attempt to do that failed, in my opinion.”
While I certainly do not wish to accuse O’Donnell of raaaaacism, the way he treated Cain on MSNBC was typical of the let-me-tell-you-what-to-think attitude of elite liberalism. In the minds of liberals, anyone who disputes their pre-conceived narrative — whether about history, economics, foreign policy, race relations or anything else — is not merely wrong, but evil.
That is to say, on any issue that liberals care about, there is exactly one point of view that all people of good faith must share, and anyone who expresses skepticism toward the Official Liberal Viewpoint is presumed to be acting on secret motives of bad faith (mala fides).
So if you dispute, for example, the Official Liberal Viewpoint on “climate change” (anthropogenic global warming), their certainty of your wrongness leads them immediately to provide an explanation for why you are wrong. You may be merely too stupid to grasp the “consensus,” but it’s also possible that you have hidden motives — corporate greed! religious extremism! — that inspire your opposition to the Official Liberal Viewpoint.
This intolerance of dissent is especially characteristic of those liberals who, like O’Donnell, come from privileged upbringings where liberalism functions as a sort of noblesse oblige, and who therefore pre-emptively condemn conservatives as guilty of an indifference to the suffering and hardship of the downtrodden.
For a Boston Democrat of the My-Daddy’s-a-Lawyer variety like Lawrence O’Donnell, Herman Cain’s refusal to accept the Civil Rights Victimhood narrative — the only template for race relations that liberals understand — is a personal insult.
Marooned in Marin was at the Costco book-signing and captured my question from the opposite angle, where you can see my son Jefferson (in the red tie) standing next to me:
Marooned in Marin has lots more photos of the Costco event. Such was the reaction to O’Donnell’s insultingly high-handed lecture to Cain that O’Donnell spent a good chunk of his Friday show trying to un-dig the hole he’d put himself into. And in this video from Friday, you’ll hear a familiar voice at the 2:48 mark:
With the benefit of hindsight, O’Donnell told Melissa Harris-Perry that he didn’t “want to oversimplify the menu of choice that existed for black families in the South at that time,” although that’s exactly what he had done when he suggested that Cain “sat on the sidelines” rather than participating in demonstrations.
Harris-Perry wisely identified the problem with the manner of O’Donnell’s questions. She said that she was “squirming with discomfort” while watching the interview, and in explaining that discomfort, kindly employed the “royal we,” rather than point the finger directly at her colleague. “When we are not facing the lynchers’ noose,” she said, ”when we are not facing that imminent violence, ourselves, we have to be extremely careful about even the implication that those who did not participate were necessarily cowards.”
She pointed out that “it was always simply a minority of African-Americans who were engaged at any point in the civil rights movement because it was a life and death question.” . . .
Harris-Perry also nailed the inherently racist double-standard embedded in the Civil Rights line of questioning. “I can`t remember anyone ever asking a white politician who is of the same age where they were during the sit ins. As you pointed out in your interview, there were white students who came down to be part of freedom summer. There were white allies at every point.”
“Yet we don’t consider it a litmus test for white politicians to have had enough moral courage, ethical vision and American value to have participated actively in the civil rights movement,” she continued, pointing out that military service is a common such litmus test. “I”m worried when we don’t ask white politicians about their patriotism related to how they have or have not stood up for racial equality.”
Like Herman Cain, I am a native of Atlanta, where Henry Grady’s post-Reconstruction “New South” message of economic growth was first proclaimed, and where Booker T. Washington famously urged American businessmen not to rely on immigrant labor, but rather to “cast down your bucket where you are” by employing black workers. During the civil rights era, Atlanta was proud to be “The City Too Busy to Hate.”
Having been quite literally in kindergarten the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, my personal memories of that era are necessarily limited. However, it has always seemed to me that decent law-abiding people — working hard to support their families and do the right thing in their everyday lives — need make no apologies to anyone.
Politics isn’t the entirety of our existence and we should keep in mind Eric Vogelin’s warning not to immanentize the eschaton. Quiet acts of Christian goodwill done by such ordinary Americans are not recorded in the pages of history books, and were not front-page headlines in 1964, but nevertheless it should be obvious to anyone with common sense that Rosa Parks and Bull Connor are not the whole story of the civil rights era.
UPDATE (Smitty): Welcome, Instapundit readers!
UPDATE II (RSM): Jehuda the Rhetorican credits me with the press conference “question of the year.” Hey, just doing my job — speaking of which, there’s lots more campaign news today.