Joe Scarborough, the shouting ex-Congressman from California and a nicely made-up Man of the People, smirked into his show’s MSNBC’s cameras Sunday night and lied. “He did not return our calls,” he said about me, oozing contempt at yet another supposedly anti-war leftist Yale professor who’d bullied Scarborough’s two freshmen guests by calling them Stalinists and Fedayeen Uncle Sam in an April 14 Yale Daily News column.
But no one from MSNBC ever called, e-mailed, or contacted me. That was lie number one, and in their five minutes of fame, James Kirchick ’06 and Eliana Johnson ’06 joined Scarborough to tell three more.
Consider what I do for a living, as Kirchick and Johnson must hope you will not. Run a Google on Jim Sleeper, to explode their second lie: I am not the leftist they say, but a scourge of the left, with body scars to prove it. (By the way, I also cannot abide the right.) The first Google item concerns my book “Liberal Racism,” which was mentioned also in my offending Yale Daily News commentary, as Kirchick and Johnson won’t tell you, any more than they will that the “anti-war, leftist” column’s first sentence explains that I support the war. Lie number three.
Consider now their cry that I’d bullied them with ad hominem epithets — a big hook on which their handlers hung me for their conservative “blame and shame” ritual. But Johnson and Kirchick weren’t named in my column, which has only one sentence on their work for the online Frontpage magazine and Campus Watch, an organization devoted to exposing and silencing traitorous anti-war professors. These freshmen wrote that Yale professors at an April 9 anti-war forum exhibited “vicious prevarication,” “lunatic conspiracy theories,” “vituperative rage,” and “smug self-righteousness.” Am I wrong to call that ad hominen? I’d call this lie number four.
When I wrote that these two came to Yale “primed to attack professors in public,” Johnson knew what to do. She e-mailed me questions/complaints about things I hadn’t written about her and her co-author but which she clearly thought it to her advantage to insinuate that I had. I got the eerie sensation someone was watching our exchange and counting on me to lose my temper or backpedal fast.
I thanked her for writing, explaining that “what I object to is not vehement criticism of the (often foolish and, yes, sometimes hateful) things which anti-war advocates, including professors, may say, but criticism that is ‘wired’ to interests and agendas that range far beyond what is acknowledged and that are presented in venues devoted more to propaganda than to the kind of dialogue a liberal education should commend. The sometimes pernicious nonsense of the anti-war left should be countered in the communities where it has been presented, not rendered behind the backs of its purveyors in ‘reports’ to off-campus venues that — preach to the converted.”
Johnson replied that I hadn’t substantiated the charges which I hadn’t made against her. “With all due respect, Professor Sleeper, I think you owe me (and Jamie) an apology,” she wrote, in effect giving notice that henceforth I’d be handled by her handlers as well as her. But every time J and K go on a talk show, they prove they’re primed as I said. As they dragged my name from Frontpage to the Weekly Standard to MSNBC and beyond, I thought of a little block on Manhattan’s East 6th Street with five Indian restaurants. The joke is that they all have the same kitchen.
“Stalinism” is something I don’t joke about. It’s a way of organizing politics and public opinion that antedates the worst of the USSR and reaches beyond. Truncheons and gulags exist thanks not just to dictators but also to smart, bitter, frightened little people who prowl neighborhoods and workplaces reporting enemies of the people to Party-run media and commissars. Some are hard-wired to foment a manipulable hatred against those they snare. It’s their idea of movement-building. J and K tried it on professor Glenda Gilmore, who describes it in “What Glenda Gilmore Really Said,” on www.historynewsnetwork.org. I don’t share Professor Gilmore’s politics or style, but Yalies need to read her brief remarks now.
The biggest Stalinist network was the Comintern, or Communist International. Call our fledgling imitation the Con-intern, whose Conservative handlers are interning the “Young Spies” of Orwell’s 1984. The Con-intern will now prove this with a shock-and-awe assault on me: maybe even Rush Limbaugh will pick this column like a piece of lint off his pelt and, with mock incredulity toss it to some Fedayeen Uncle Sam listeners. Did I mention that within 12 hours of Sunday’s Scarborough show I got 20 hate e-mails from viewers and two death threats?
Let no one harass or insult J and K or crimp their scurrying around to report all they please. What matters is whether other dubiously ambitious Yalies, scenting power, as some do so well, will believe what these two and their Con-intern mentors report. It also matters whether better students “detect and reject the very few who wear the colors of high purpose falsely,” as Kingman Brewster Jr. put it, and help them outgrow their handlers.
Jim Sleeper ’69 teaches a seminar on “New Conceptions of American National Identity.” He is a former political columnist of the New York Daily News.