Rev. Al Sharpton, his fans, and Boolean operators

Apparently it’s not okay to take on one of our own

This was originally going to be a comment at Democratic Underground. The more I typed, the more I thought I should just go ahead and stir the pot far more broadly, but I’ll still do my left-leaning compatriots there the courtesy of linking back to this for their consideration.

See, I don’t understand why some folks there are taking issue with a NYT article as though it were a hit piece. The article? As Sharpton Rose, So Did His Unpaid Tax Bills.

It seems to me that the article was posted to DU in an innocuous enough manner. Then again, as a sometime troll I occasionally find that’s the best way to whack the hornet’s nest. “I’ma just leave this here,” walks away whistling innocently. Regardless of the poster’s intentions, however, there’s the fairly predictable binary reaction. Some see the issues and the raising of them as legit, or at least as fair game. Others seem to instinctively circle the wagons. It’s a hit piece, indicative that he must be doing something right. It’s a favorite right-wing talking point. Hell, it’s even beside the point because there’s such bigger fish to fry.

That kind of wagon circling around cults of personality and the personalities at the center of them is one of the reasons I just cannot fully feel like I’m one of them, like I belong to a lefty group. Or a righty group. Or really pretty much any kind of group. I believe in policing our own, but since I’m hard pressed to find groups that think that, there’s no our, which leaves only my, and since I’m not in a group, there’s no my own. So I just police and alienate pretty much everybody. C’est la vie.

First, let’s just assume, if only for the sake of argument, that Rev. Al is an all-round stand-up kinda guy who stands for all the things we’re supposed to stand up for, never mind some of the things that have come from his mouth over the years.

Let’s also assume that he was sincere and not just another cynical, self-serving political gasbag when he expressed regret for those words.

Fine. An otherwise awesome Al Sharpton is still beside the point. To the extent that we can or should believe that the phrase used throughout the NYT piece, “records show” is truthful, facts are facts. One commenter at DU points out that this is still small potatoes and we should be looking at the big infringers instead. How did we get to a Boolean OR from this. I’m perfectly fine with AND. Is there some reason we should not look at Rev. Al and the Case of the Mysteriously Missing Accountability rationally and dispassionately? Hell, whatever drove Mr. Buettner at the NYT to start this digging and/or muck-raking, having found out all these details, what service would have been rendered had he just thought, “oh, I’d best not report this?” Would scrapping the story have exhibited greater journalistic integrity than the publication of it? What would scrapping the story have said about NYT’s credibility?

After all, were this a “hit piece” about some right-wing poster-child, I’m fairly comfortable with the assumption we’d be all over this story like white on rice. Were NAN instead a right-wing “charity,” we’d be crying foul till the cows come home, especially when it comes to privilege rearing its ugly head. “And did you see the bit where Rich Dude used charity money to fund his hellspawn’s private education?” Were such a group and its supporters to take their own turn at crying, claiming that that evil seecrit Mooslim Obamalamadingdong (or some such equally unclever monicker of mockery) used the IRS to target them, we’d feel completely justified in leveling all our scorn at them. Were there a cabal of shady RWNJs guilty of this kind of fiscal shenanigans, and especially for this long, we’d be outraged at the long string of blind eyes turned to such egregious behavior. We’d be sharpening all our snarkswords to flay those hypocrites, the “party of personal responsibility,” for lionizing someone so clearly incapable of exercising personal responsibility, or worse, fiduciary responsibility. Yet here we are, justly and proudly raising pitchforks against the exploiters, unless and until that exploiter (of hoteliers, landlords, travel agents, and a system that must regard him as Untouchable due to a certain je ne sais quoi) is one of us.

So why are some (I’ll pessimistically assume many) on the left such blazing hypocrites that for them it’s inconceivable that any public good is served by calling out a favored public figure for such egregious, um, shall we merely say “oversights” that were any of us standard working class schmoes, you know the “little guys” that the left claims to support, to make them we’d find our living from paycheck to paycheck blue-collar selves royally and figuratively sodomized by the powers that be, whether it’s our unpaid landlords, unpaid hotels, unpaid travel agents, or unpaid tax collecting entities?

I seem to be on a roll of “meh” lately. Left, right, authoritarian, libertarian. Meh. I’m interested in seemingly simple things. Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Oh, dammit. That’s that Boolean AND again, and here it’s implications are fairly horrific. You’ve got this thing call Truth. You’ve got this other thing called Justice. Then you’ve got this other thing called the American Way, which clearly isn’t to be confused with the other two. It’s its own thing. And as I’m seeing it over and over and over again spanning decades, administrations, parties, a peculiarly American Way thing is to insist on the rule of law for them. When it’s us, circle the wagons.


Image credit: Tolbasiaigerim @ Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons. Used two articles in a row because it fits.

2 replies »

  1. Well done, Frank, and great title.

    Sharpton is a slug, and saying he’s “our slug” isn’t good enough. That’s exactly what the right does all the time, and we rightly excoriate them for it . Anyone who’s observed Sharpton from the early days knows he’s at best an opportunist. At best. And at worst a bloviating fool.

    The seamiest, nastiest part of current US politics is the emergence of political heavyweight preachers, who somehow have emerged to become representatives of the people without ever having had to go through the election process. All colors, all sides of the argument, they reek. And if there’s a common thread it’s that they’re uniformly bigots, hypocrites and usually crooks. There’s no reason to believe Sharpton’s any different from Jackson, Robertson, Swaggart, Baker, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

  2. That alienation you feel, Frank, is more widely shared than you think. It’s a main (THE main, probably) reason I quit writing about politics. I puzzled about that inability of the crowd I was inclined to agree with on issues (the lefties) to note their own shortcomings when they were so willing to rage about the other crowd’s shortcomings.

    I came to the conclusion, hard fought against and oh, so depressing, that both sides are filled with the stupid.

    That decided, my life became in some ways easier, in some ways harder. I walked away and took some time (too much, probably) off from writing bloggery. Then Sam lured me back by giving me carte blanche to write about only that I cared about – which, as we all know, is the topic of books, writing, and related stuff. In a large way I am happy because I can avoid the polemics and party line recitals of the ideologues, most of whom are boringly dense by Aristotle’s definition of an educated person (able to think rationally about an idea one does not agree with).

    I like to think that my writing about literature and writing is doing what I prize as much or more than Sam – educating people. But I don’t see results in sales figures for books I think people should value.

    I think, too, that Otherwise hits on a point that deserves further exploration. That rise of preachers as powerful political figures has awful implications for the drive toward theocracy favored by some. Between pols who tell people to hate those worse off than them for wanting a better life and preachers using religion as justification for hating and excluding, I worry that we are well and truly screwed.

    To paraphrase a Paul Simon line, at least I have my books and my poetry to solace me.