It Takes a Collectivist

Posted: Jul 07, 2013 12:00 AM

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Or so goes the old saying, its wisdom completely unappreciated by the folks producing MSNBC’s “Lean Forward” spots, featuring various network stars spouting lame political talking points into the camera.

Go figure — in place of paid advertisements from real customers, the network’s propaganda vignettes air quite frequently.

Months ago, in my Common Sense e-letter, I took issue with Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry — who hosts an eponymous MSNBC weekend show — for declaring, in one promotional ad, that “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

After President Barack Obama told us that we didn’t build our businesses, we then heard from Professor Harris-Perry that our kids aren’t really ours, either.

Not so fast, though. Perry certainly doesn’t want the work of rearing our children; she was merely pitching higher taxes so government could get bigger and do more, specifically in this case, spend more money on education. (Not that she doesn’t “welcome the debate” about replacing Mommy and Daddy with Big Brother.)

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have,” she argues in the ad, “because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children: Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents . . . and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility, and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”

Yeah, better investments. Like Solyndra. Or . . . the K-12 public education system for which, since 1970, the federal government has increased per-pupil spending — er, investments — by roughly 190 percent, only to flat-line test scores in math, science and reading.

“When the flood of vitriolic responses to the ad began, my first reaction was relief,” responded Harris-Perry on her blog. “I had spent the entire day grading papers and was relieved that since these children were not my responsibility, I could simply mail the students’ papers to their moms and dads to grade!”

Doesn’t Tulane University pay poor Melissa for grading those papers? And don’t the students and their awful parents pay Tulane?

Claiming to “double down,” the professor actually admitted, “Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values.”

Of course.

The following weekend on her MSNBC show, Harris-Perry was back boasting that she stood by her promo spot, adding that it had touched on “the core philosophical issue of our entire history,” that is “the balance between individuals rights and collective responsibilities.”

“This is about whether we as a society, expressing our collective will through our public institutions, including our government,” she explained, “have a right to impinge on individual freedoms in order to advance a common good."

And just so we remember it’s all for the children, Melissa posited, “Because our kids, who will inherit the nation, belong to all of us and we have a collective responsibility to them.”

For the children or not — and I do like children, especially my own, but other people’s too — neither Harris-Perry’s “collective will” nor any government has a right to impinge on our constitutionally-protected freedoms.

Melissa Harris-Perry, however, doesn’t seem terribly sensitive to rights violations. She laughed off the scandal over the Internal Revenue Service targeting Obama-unapproved applicants for tax-exempt status, telling her national audience (both viewers) that “no one was fundamentally harmed.”

According to this progressive academic, being blocked from organizing, having your rights trampled on for years — across two election cycles — is no big deal, when it’s done to one’s political opponents. What sort of “balance” between government and “individual rights” can we expect from Melissa and her collective?

Now, Harris-Perry is back with another 30-second promo. Her point? That everyone has “the right” to lots of stuff provided by others, including “to health care and to education and to decent housing and to quality food at all times.”

Still, she informs us that “Americans will always want some level of inequality, because it’s a representation of a meritocracy,” adding reassuringly, “People who work hard and sacrifice and save their money and make major contributions: we think that they should earn a little more. And they should have more resources. And that’s fine.”

No problem. You want to invent amazing new technology, develop life-saving drugs, create inspiring art, produce incredible products and deliver friendly services, manufacture great wealth and abundance? Fine. Knock yourself out.

For your “work” and “sacrifice” and frugality and “contributions,” Melissa Harris-Perry and her great and powerful and progressive “we” are willing to permit little-old-you to achieve and possesses, well, “a little more.”

Emphasis on “little.”     [further reading]