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Melissa locuta, causa confusa

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday September 30, 2009 09:08 AM

My lefty mailing lists have mostly been preoccupied the last couple of days with a frenzy of moral panic about Roman Polanski, but a few of the less Pecksniffian participants have been able to spare some time to execrate the latest gout of dribble from my favorite Nation magazine thinker -- Melissa Harris-Lacewell, she of the pretentious double-barreled name and the relentlessly referenced Princeton connection. (Melissa is shown above apparently riding in a bumper car with another highly successful merit baby; from their expressions it seems that a collision may be imminent.)

Melissa's piece is very hard to characterize accurately. To say that it is fatuous, incoherent, and frequently incomprehensible only scratches the surface. A few excerpts:

Lose the Love/Hate, But Keep the Hope.

.... Yes, we need to halt the characterizations of Obama as savior or as anti-Christ. And we similarly should moderate our memories of the Bush years as evil or perfect. Still, I believe that the Obama win is important precisely because it injects a certain emotional valence into our electoral politics: a much needed revival of American hope. Obama won, in part, by encouraging us to feel good, to be optimistic, and to believe. The problem is when we direct that hope and belief onto the character/candidate rather than investing that optimism in the movement itself.

There is a way to hold onto hard won optimism while still demonstrating emotional restraint in the public sphere. There are some ways to intervene in this moment with optimism and effort.

Within days of Obama's election, progressives began talking about "holding Obama's feet to the fire." This is an old fashioned way to approach being part of a governing coalition....

The left will get some, but not all of what it wants, and that is OK. It is better than OK, it is the heart of democracy. Winning does not give us a mandate to ignore the interests of those we defeated....

I want universal, single-payer health care. I want a federal election law requiring consistency in voting rules and technology across all 50 states. I want low-cost, widely available child care for all families with children under five. I want the appointment of federal judges who will protect women's reproductive freedom. I want full constitutional guarantee in all 50 states of the right to same-sex marriage.... [but] I will not consider the Obama administration a failure if I don't get everything I want immediately....

By retreating to outsider angst the left forgets one of the most exciting lessons of the Obama campaign: that ordinary people working for common purpose wield tremendous power....

Put down the hammer and try a screwdriver....Of course we are not throwing out the hammer, because sometimes a nail needs a good smack.

Where -- as I so often ask -- does one start?

Melissa alludes to a "movement". What movement does she have in mind? As far as I can see there was no movement apart from a giddy cult of fanship centered entirely on the person of Barack Obama. You might as well call Beatlemania a movement.

Then of course she wants to keep believing (in what, exactly? Belief itself?). But she also wants us to exhibit "emotional restraint". This is a curious topos to show up here. What the devil does it matter whether our emotions are restrained or not?

"Emotional restraint," however, seems to mean something other than its face value -- something more like refusing to draw any conclusions from the comprehensive anticlimax of Obama-ite governance. Yeah, we're gonna get bupkis from this dude, but don't let that affect your thinking. Keep that hope and optimism going, come what may!

Melissa also seems to feel that "we"(*) are "part of a governing coalition." Now this may be easier to believe from a nice old leather wing chair at Princeton, or Rachel Maddow's lemonade stand at MSNBC, than from my shabby Ikea recliner, but it's still delusional. Melissa is no more part of a "governing coalition" than I am. The "governing coalition" is still very much the usual gang, although administrators from the B-team are currently standing a relief watch on the bridge while the A-team guys sharpen their fangs in the green pastures of opposition.

She draws an "exciting lesson" from the Obama campaign: that ordinary people wield tremendous power. But this assertion rests on nothing at all, and in fact contradicts the whole basis of the essay -- to wit, the utter disappointment that Obama has proven to be, or should have proven to be, if true believers like Melissa weren't incapable of learning from experience. "Ordinary people" have no power to get what they want by participating in empty spectacles like the recent election. They have at best the ability to choose which of two hands will ply the whip on their backs.

One has to love the homely hammer/screwdriver metaphor, but again, the inquiring mind will wonder: where's the hammer? What do "we" have to smack anybody with?

For that matter, where's the fucking screwdriver?


(*) One is of course irresistibly reminded of Tonto's famous line -- What you mean 'we', paleface? -- even though Melissa's face is in fact a shade less pale than my own.

Comments (20)

Love those run-on sentences from Ivy League profs! "It is better than OK, it is the heart of democracy."

What a depressing personage...like Zero himself.

By "movement," meanwhile, I think these Ivy seekers mean their holy, hole-y selves.


Welcome back, Michael! Is the prime minister following soon?

I could take the first generation of women seeking power -- Margaret, Jeanne and Madeleine -- the bulldog brigade. After two thousand years, we men deserved to be knocked around a bit. But I dont think I can take the new generation, the kittenish, sexy, entitled ones. Why, they're no better than we are!

Is Melissa one of the God-Emperor's speech writers? That's almost exactly the same mushy feel-good empty-calorie nonsense you get from one of Barry's speeches.

Has The Nation been annexed by NPR?


hey you rough riders
where's your libido at ??

where's bam bam
the cartoonist from dc
when we need the drooling hog piping up ??

i'd marry her
hell i'd marry either of em
ifin' they'd errr..
...half me

dub dome-ic fem-banal
uber meus

they're meme doxey ....

gib me gib me gib me



in case any of you missed this center aisle party victory

white dwarf bobby R:

"Last Thursday....
the Senate Finance Committee rejected Ben Nelson's amendment to require Big Pharma to give some $160 billion in discounts to Medicare -- thereby reducing the bonanza Pharma would reap from the healthcare bill.

Not surprisingly, all Republicans voted against the amendment.

But it was defeated only because Dems Baucus, Carper, and Menendez voted with the Republicans.

Carper later explained to the New York Times why he voted with the Republicans.

The amendment, he said, would
"undermine our ability to pass" health care reform, because the White House had made a deal with Big Pharma by which the industry wouldn't oppose healthcare reform -- and White House officials had told him "a deal is a deal." The Times described the vote as a "big victory" for the White House.

Schumer voted for the amendment. He said he was "not at the table" when the White House and Big Pharma made their deal so didn't feel bound by it. But even if he had been at the table, he wouldn't be bound. No member of the Senate is bound to a deal made between industry and the White House. Congress is a separate branch of government."

only one schooomz eh ???

bert lahr with a stomach bi pass

sum up ??
same old same old

these names
wearing a white hat
nelson /schumer
black hat
next time can switch hats
to blurr their personal brand to
vital gray


Yeah, op, it's okay by me if we're spared MF in this particular thread. It's best not to have to hear about how feminists are no fun because they call you a sexist when one complains that leftist women in the US don't gussy themselves up like the hawt ones in Europe.


Ms hope-lesswell NOW !!
has a wish list for

"I want universal, single-payer health care. I want a federal election law requiring consistency in voting rules and technology across all 50 states. I want low-cost, widely available child care for all families with children under five. I want the appointment of federal judges who will protect women's reproductive freedom. I want full constitutional guarantee in all 50 states of the right to same-sex marriage"

contains her proper class POV

save one big-a-roo

where's the green garniish girl

ps as a subject of merit
perhaps father k
is an insensitive and crass
imposition on my part
of fringe cartoon of
other nation conciousness
more for ambitious unlettered types
then a prim princeton pancake


I detest superfluous interweb profanity and free-range boozy sexism as much as the next liberal arts grad -- but MH-L can eat... my shorts.

MH-L's effluvia is not that of a tortured pwog-lib conscience -- Glen Greenwald and his followers have that shtick down pat, and good on them -- but that of a very self-conscious apologist.

Jay Taber hit the mark. And, yes, it's nice to have MJS back on the scene... what there is of it.


Would a paleo-libertarian Third Republic be preferable? I'm beginning to think so, even though my green card-holding significant other would be sent packing (probably to a fate better than she could ever imagine). At least my ears would be spared picayune "the troglodytes are a-comin" bloviations.


Also noticed that MH-L's disingenuous list of wishful thinkings tellingly omitted anything that has to do with a) Wall Street satrapy and b) foreign policy shenanigans. Oh, those big-ticket items.


It did throw me for a loop that she uttered the words "single-payer" rather than "public option" even if the ultimate function was to remind us that spoiled brats have to play by game rules... she wandered off the reservation for a moment there. I guess there's a certain peanut gallery element of The Nation faithfuls that you have to pander to now and again... the geriatric CPUSA crowd.


Glue: don't stop -- you're cracking me up! I want to know, though, is MH-L simply same-old liberal apologist/opportunist, or something new, some weird new class formation of upward striving on a sinking ship?


hce, what sort of class formation would that be? Are apologist opportunists in your book strictly cynical? Because the quote from above seems too dumb to be calculated. It sounds like cognitive dissonance on a miraculous, thought-destroying level, a sort of train wreck recorded for us to watch in slow-motion over and over again...

"Has The Nation been annexed by NPR?"

Yes, long ago.

Al Schumann:


Morbid vacuity and cynical opportunism are compatible. The cognitive dissonance needed to maintain them in harmony takes time to work into shape, but once it's there, it's rock solid and proofed against anything but the most horrific life-changing experiences. Cognitive dissonance is actually a pleasant experience for people trained into it and rewarded generously. High status perception managers enjoy most self-satisfied chuckles known to humankind; even the glee of a Bernie Madoff can't compare.


"Morbid vacuity and cynical opportunism"

jon stewart

op writes:

where's bam bam
the cartoonist from dc
when we need the drooling hog piping up ??

Well, if I'm the "bam bam" you're talking about, I've been quite busy this year at cartoons and dissident newsreels, in between looking for work and downloading old Martin Denny albums; I guess it's my own fault I haven't been updating Fadduh Smiff with the latest'n'greatest. Just to catch y'all up:

"Death Panel": you mean, it's not a rumor?

"Capitalism Works Best When Left Alone": an interpretation of a placard frequently seen at the last two "tea party" rallies I covered for the DC IMC:

...and, of course, a new classic, as pissed'n'moaned and ranted about at right-wing blogs far and wide (and, inexplicably, picked up by Democratic Underground)...


(since reissued without the "coming" date for longer shelf life)

...and, a video or two or three you may enjoy:
"Atlas Heaved", coverage of the July 4 local "tea party" rally on Capitol Hill:

"Town Hell", coverage of the health care "town hall" in Reston, VA (DC burbs), featuring US Rep. Jim Moran and Donkeycratic Party "Chairman Emeritus" Howard Dean:

"America Rebukes Scary Negro Socialism", coverage of the national "tea party" rally held in Washington, DC, September 12 (banned from YouTube)
...and downloadable as mpeg4 from the DC Indymedia site at http://dc.indymedia.org/usermedia/video/4/washdcsep1209.mp4 (12.5mb)


OP, is the Jon Stewart below the quote an implication that Jon Stewart uttered the quote, or that he is "moral vacuity and cynical opportunism" personified?

I vote for the latter, after seeing enough of his joshing and palling and full-blown Hollywood glad-handing of the besuited neocon guests that provide the filler for the last part of his now dismal show.
He's our Shecky Green, and Stephen Colbert, another, more pious fraud, is now unwatchable.

MH-L will be, after the Obama administration has disintegrated after one term, history's latest non-entity. Whatever happened to Lani Guinier? How long can Ivy profs bedazzle the power-lusting undergrads merito-morons?



jon IS that quote

as for colbert i have great affection
like i have for his famous baroque name sake
the incisive mandarin

never watch the show anyhow

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