Pierson: Mao is an unfair comparison

In her column last week (“You made a big mistake, America,” 11/7), Elizabeth Moore wrote that Barack Obama’s “main philosophies take active steps towards the very foundational principles that led to the death of millions during China’s cultural revolution and Russia’s Great Purges.”

I paused on reading this comparison. I read it again. Obama as a communist … not the first time I had seen that. A friend of mine has a pretty funny shirt that says “Obamunism” with a hammer and sickle integrated into the campaign logo.

But the Cultural Revolution reference deserves a closer look, since Moore equates Obama’s principles with those of a man who had no qualms about watching a country tear itself apart. Mao encouraged the snowballing purges of the late 1960s not simply out of a desire to promote leftist ideology, but primarily because dissent in the Communist Party threatened his political position. This was nothing new: In the late 1950s, Mao purged members of his inner circle who dared question the efficacy of the disastrous Great Leap Forward reforms.

Backed into a corner again nearly a decade later, Mao co-opted the resentment of Chinese youth and citizens seething over the empty promises of an increasingly corrupt and ineffective government. He established himself as above the party, a leader whose word could not be questioned. While Mao and others at the top of the party food chain maneuvered against one another, Red Guards attacked intellectuals and “rightists” with gusto as vicious infighting erupted across the country.

Defining Barack Obama’s philosophy as taking “active steps” towards “the foundational principles” of the Cultural Revolution is no small accusation. I hope our strong democratic tradition and ideals would stop any president of this country from taking such steps. Ironically, we are about to emerge from the administration that spat in the face of this hope.

Under George W. Bush’s, the president and his cabinet took every possible step to quash dissent, labeling those who disagreed with him as, at best, unpatriotic or delusional and, at worst, terrorist sympathizers. In Bush’s view, you were with him, or you were with the evildoers. Intellectuals came under constant attack for every disagreement with the party line. The result: an American public so badly misinformed that at the time of the 2004 elections, an majority still believed Saddam Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

To equate this with the Cultural Revolution would dishonor the memories of the Chinese who suffered through it. I shy from using a comparison as vitriolic and ill-founded as Moore’s. But in the spirit of the administration — splitting the world into poles of right and wrong, good and evil; vilifying intellectuals; attacking dissent at every turn — here, if anywhere, do I see shades of the Great Helmsman at work.

This spirit of divisiveness and intolerance remains infused in Moore’s column. She writes that Obama has “associations with domestic terrorists and dissenting radicals who make their careers out of defacing the United States and promoting its ruin.” Moore’s statement could have come straight out of Mao’s playbook. Replace “domestic terrorists” with “capitalist revisionists,” replace “radicals” with “rightists,” replace “United States” with “People’s Republic of China,” read and enjoy.

With President Obama, I hope for an administration that once again allows and even encourages dissent within the ranks, in our culture and in our country as a whole. I hope for an administration that does not brand the opposition as anti-American or unpatriotic.

I hope that as a result, dissent flourishes once again as a driving force in politics in this country. I hope that Republicans will act as an effective opposition party, checking Democrats when necessary, but also coming together to pass valuable legislation. I hope that together we will reach moderate solutions to the pressing issues we face.

I hold these hopes close to my heart because the Bush administration attacked dissenting voices in America with a vicious spirit much closer to that of Mao than to that of our Founding Fathers. Last week, in her small space in this paper, Moore did the same. Together, we must prove that we can be more tolerant.

Nicholas Pierson is a senior in Davenport College.


  • Red

    Sounds to me like Miss Moore's column struck a nerve!
    The truth is sometimes, how shall I put it? inconvenient!

  • Yale dude

    "The Bush administration attacked dissenting voices in America with a vicious spirit much closer to that of Mao than to that of our Founding Fathers."

    Yes, I know; this sort of line has long since been incorporated into the dominant narrative regarding the Bush Administration, along with the standard "Bush ruined our country" tropes. But be honest with yourself: is it really true? Have you even glanced at the editorial pages of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe or any other number of large-circulation newspapers in the past eight years? How many instances (besides maybe Valerie Plame) can you point to in which the Bush White House has "attacked dissenting voices" in the spirit of Mao Zedong?

    It's become a foregone conclusion among far too many who regard themselves as independent thinkers at Yale that George W. Bush has been responsible for all of the country's problems--or, worse still, that the man is just plain evil.

    I don't believe Bush has ruined our country, and I don't think Barack Obama will ruin our country either. I just wish my classmates would allow themselves to look at reality in an objective and honest fashion without recycling the rhetoric of Paul Krugman's newspaper columns. We're too good for that.

  • BK Alum

    Reasonable people can disagree on whether the Mao comparison is unfair, but the statement that Obama has “associations with domestic terrorists and dissenting radicals who make their careers out of defacing the United States and promoting its ruin” really should not be controversial. The point is not simply that Obama has associations with people with truly appalling political views, but that he has associations with unrepentent domestic terrorists. Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, as I am sure most Yalies know, were leaders of the Weather Underground, an organization that bombed, among other places, the Pentagon and the Capitol. On September 11, 2001, Ayers said that he did not regret setting bombs, but wished he had done more. And Ayers does have close associations with Obama: Ayers and Dohrn hosted Obama's first fundraiser as he was running for the Illinois state senate. This is not something that one would do for some random guy that one barely knows.

  • @#3

    Actually, it's fairly common to host gatherings or fundraisers on the behalf of distant political associations. My dad was involved with state politics for a very long time, but not all the people he worked with, or even socialized with, are people whose views he agrees with. In fact, we once hosted a fundraiser for a colleague of his who was first running for congress. But then none of us voted for him when he was up for re-election. Political associations are tricky in ways that most people don't understand.

    Obama has said time and time again that his only "association" with Ayers was that they served on a committee together. It doesn't make them BFF, and it doesn't mean Obama agrees with Ayers's views.

  • Anonymous

    Hosting a fundraiser isn't hosting a wedding. Who's to say that a friend of a friend didn't ask Ayers to help out? Who's to say that Ayer's isn't just a nice guy. Ayers isn't some small-time domestic terrorist bent on sticking it to the man anymore. He's a professor at a respectable university. He has clout -- and probably the resources to host a pretty decent fundraiser.

    Really, calling Ayers a terrorist, given the idea of "terrorist" that Americans are blasted with every other day, is a stretch of the word. He's a hippie. He was a radical.

  • Anonymous

    Well said, Mr. Pierson. I think that was very even-handed.

    As for these response letters, I think we can all agree that McCain had a much more substantive "friendship" with Charles Keating than Obama ever did with Ayers. And I think we all know people who have supported political candidates financially without ever meeting them or getting to know them very personally.

  • Weather

    Do you also condemn, with equal vigor and absolutism, all of the Illinois Republicans who had precisely the same level of professional and philanthropic association with Ayers?

  • N. Pierson

    In response to number 2:

    You raise a good point. I was really pushing it with the Mao comparison to do a cute table-turning thing. But I will say two things:

    1) I didn't say in the spirit of Mao, I said closer… I would not equate the two.

    and 2) - Solid point about Plame, but I meant something a bit different with the attacks. The assault on dissenting voices came about more in the form of ridicule and sidelining: labeling Democratic war veteran congressmen and senators as unpatriotic or un-American, the general labeling of those opposed to the administration as supporting the terrorist, and the general discrediting of non-administration narratives on Iraq prior to the 2003 invasions. That IS a concrete example: recall that before the invasion the New York Times (call it a leftist rag or whatever) was practically convinced of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

    I'm not saying that they were able to keep the blinders on the media forever, but they did have everyone on the Kool-aid for awhile (couldn't resist, I'm seeing so many Kool-aid references in these comments sections. man I want some Kool-aid)