“At Long Last, Have You Left No Sense of Decency?”

We won’t fool ourselves. It is not just a cruel world. It is often a monstrous one. So what is one woman’s job and reputation? Decency and honor are not the defaults among us. They are the achievements. We don’t fall from grace. We rise to it. And we have been here before, many times. Martin Luther King, Jr. was no saint, his contemporaneous and later critics tried to tell us. No, he was a man, a great man – great because he raised himself out of the tar pit of our creation, broke his head through the baseness that clings to us like primal muck, and managed to become and achieve, nonetheless, what so few of us do.

And in our modern history, it is always the same people who try to drag him or his legacy, a Shirley Sherrod, or Barack Obama down. It puts one in mind:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think that I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

When McCarthy tried to go on the attack once more, Welch stepped in again and famously rebuked:

Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch cut him off:

Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could ask – could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr. Cohn any more questions. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.

At that point, the gallery erupted in applause.

To Shirley Sherrod, the White House offered an apology.

The Obama administration formally apologized on Wednesday to Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official abruptly fired earlier this week for comments taken out of context by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.

“On behalf of our administration, I offer an apology,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during Wednesday’s daily briefing, acknowledging that the administration had not seen a full tape of Sherrod’s comments prior to Tuesday evening. “Look, a disservice was done, an apology is owed. That’s what we’ve done.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said,

I’ve learned a lot of lessons from this experience in the last couple of days.  And one of the lessons I learned is that these types of decisions require time. I didn’t take the time. I should have. And as a result, a good woman has gone through a very difficult period.  And I’ll have to live with that for a long, long time.

But the apologies came from those who were fooled, not from the fools.

A stumbling, inarticulate political pugilist, embodying in his demeanor aging, ugly, frat boy belligerence, Breitbart is just one more disgrace today’s American Right foists upon us by the microphone row and blogroll. His purist defense comes from Redstate, in a niggardly concession of error and an essential statement of the worst in democratic politics – an opposition party viewed as enemy and prey.

Collecting scalps at what cost?

That war has casualties on both sides. Ms. Sherrod is the latest. It is not fair. But that’s how the left plays and the right must fight on offense or not fight at all. It disgusts me to have to say it, but that is so very sadly where we are. As long as the left gets a pass on this all too easy game, the right has to fight back.

Indecent rationalization, Erik Erikson is thy name.

On CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, David Frum said the problem in all this, on the Right and the Left, is factionalism. That is the form of the problem, and form is indismissible, but we cannot escape the content. The Right cannot hold the Western Left to account for its anti-Semitism problem and avoid its own race problem, in the modern era as old as MLK himself, embraced now by conservatives in creepy pious retrospect. Just as the European Left, in particular, seems to grasp at accusations of Israeli racial misconception and misdeed in order to cleanse its conscience of the Holocaust, the American Right casts far and wide its projections of Black racism in order to slough off what it has found to be, in just a matter of decades, the unbearable burden of historical American racism. And because there are undoubtedly Black racists and welfare scammers – trot out whatever other rote complaint of the last forty-five years one’s aggrieved heart desires: the general store of human misbehavior is stocked with every offense in the catalogue – these, unlike other human offenses (say, Andrew Breitbart and Erik Erikson), now serve to reverse the moral charge of racism and release all the toxic chemicals.

Except all it does (the healer is a fraud) is make the Right sicker still. The first Black president is elected, and the Right becomes obsessed with establishing his un-American illegitimacy and his racism and that of every Black figure in his administration and former campaign. Wouldn’t you know the very first would be bringing with him payback to every poor white farmer and innocent middle class homeowner? Just one president, and for the white American Right every Black bogeyman fear of the Negro moved into the main house assumes human form. And validates all their complaints of these awful PC liberal years. Don’t you get it? The legacy of American Racism was overcome on June 11, 1971. Ever since, the problem has been theirs.

In just the past two weeks, we have had ACORN-style ginned up accusations about the New Black Panther party case dismissal – but read Adam Server’s detailed debunking of the various conservative charges, details a little too complex for two-minute TV segments. We have had the Right’s defensive accusations against the NAACP over Tea Party racism. Pause and consider: not the miniscule, fringe New Black Panther, but the NAACP, the epitome of institutionalized, establishment advocacy on race, and American conservatism can only stand in opposition even to that organization.

Is it possible that this national demonstration of the nature of Breitbart, and the kind of politics he represents and manufactures, will turn any kind of tide? Could we be that lucky? Do you feel that lucky? If not, we get more of this:

Breitbart’s America. It’s evening in it.



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4 thoughts on ““At Long Last, Have You Left No Sense of Decency?”

  1. Andrew Breitbart came up at this blog at the time when you remarked on a Tea Party demonstration that assaulted John Lewis with racist epithets.

    Andrew Breitbart objected that there was no independent evidence that John Lewis was called any racist epithets.

    For me, as for you, I see John Lewis as a man of rare courage, integrity, heroism. I’d believe anything he tells me. If he says people yelled insults at him, people yelled insults at him.

    And I see Andrew Breitbart as, like Joe McCarthy before him, an alcoholic with a personality disorder. Everything he says is in the context of a deep emotional disturbance.

    And it did surprise me (and it takes a lot to surprise me) that this distinction was lost on your conservative interlocutors. Given a choice between the testimony of John Lewis and the testimony of Andrew Breitbart, your conservative interlocutors trusted Breitbart more.

    And it seems consistent to me that given a choice between following people with character and thoughtfulness and integrity and following drug addicts with personality disorders, contemporary conservatives fall for the drug addict with the personality disorder.
    Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, George Bush…

    So, there is not a common vocabulary of character, honor, integrity. Though I expect it possible that it is something peculiar about the political domain that impairs their discernment. I can’t think they are all marrying drug addicts with personality disorders.

    It is rare to find a contemporary conservative who does not share Erick Erickson’s approach to moral reasoning: because other people are wicked, because I am a victim, therefore everything is permitted to me. As you say, this is not moral reasoning but rationalization.

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