September 11, 2009

Rachel Maddow talks to Princeton's Melissa Harris-Lacewell about the latest astroturf "9-12" protests being used by the likes of Glenn Beck and FreedomWorks to exploit the memory of what happened on 9-11.

MADDOW: No right-wing fury over anything President Obama does is complete until we‘ve heard from former half-term Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin.

Her take-away from last night‘s speech on health care reform, according to her Facebook page, was this—quote, “President Obama delivered an offhand applause line tonight about the cost of the war on terror. As we approach the anniversary of the September 11th attacks and honor those who died that day, and those who have died since in the war on terror, in order to secure our freedoms, we need to remember their sacrifices and not demonize them as having had too high a price tag.”

OK. Never mind that the president‘s remark was a cost comparison between health reform and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and never mind that the Iraq war and 9/11 still have nothing to do with one another despite how inconvenient that is, Sarah Palin is staying in the news now by using 9/11 to try to score political points against President Obama on the eve of the anniversary of the attacks.

But that cynical patriotism, it turns out, is merely an appetizer before the main course of exploiting a national tragedy that this year has been prepared for September 12th by the sous chef of politics as performance art, Mr. Glenn Lee Beck.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: And the answers have never come from Washington. We weren‘t told how to behave that day after 9/11. We just knew. It was right. It was the opposite of what we feel today.

Let us find ourselves and our solutions together again with the nine founding principles and the 12 eternal values. This is the 9/12 Project.

Are you ready to be that person that you were, that day after 9/11 on 9/12?

I launched a project back in March and it comes together Saturday, September 12th, 9/12. Thousands of people are going to gather in Washington, D.C., and around the nation to stand up for the principles and the values that have made America great.


MADDOW: So, it‘s called the 9/12 Project. It‘s not the 9/11 project, presumably because 9/11 falls inconveniently on a Friday this year, not a Saturday.

Joining us now is Princeton University politics and African-American studies professor, Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Professor, thanks very much for joining us. Nice to see you.


MADDOW: Is there a statute of limitations or something on when it‘s OK to start being really blatant about exploiting a national tragedy for other purposes? Did that statute expire this year, do you think?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, you know, interestingly, our friend Keith was very critical about how the GOP deployed 9/11 even in the context of the RNC‘s nominating convention last summer. So, it‘s possible that this is already expired, that it‘s already been used in some blatantly kind of personal political ways.

But I think what I want to say here—it‘s not necessarily wrong to take a moment of great national tragedy in order to reflect on who were we, what does it mean, what was that moment of possibility. That, in and of itself, is not exploitive.

But the idea that who we were on September 12th, 2001 is who we want to be right now—people who were terrified, people whose cities were burning, people who had a vague sense of an enemy but not knowing who that enemy was, mothers and fathers still waiting for their children to come home and spouses hoping that their partner would call—I mean, is that really what Glenn Beck is calling us to be again?

MADDOW: I was struck today when I was reading about the kickoff events for the 9/12 weekend.

And Dick Armey, who‘s the head of FreedomWorks, which is a corporate-funded group that‘s organizing the march, and that is charging groups a lot of money to participate—even though it‘s supposedly a grassroots group - - he was speaking at a rally.

And at that rally, he defended the congressman who shouted down the president last night during his speech to Congress, Congressman Joe Wilson, and then the crowd, which was reportedly about 800 people, started yelling “You lie, you lie, you lie,” not because they thought Dick Armey was lying but because they thought that was a good chant to support that member of Congress who had interrupted the president.

What‘s the connection between disrupting the president in a speech to Congress about health care and the day after 9/11?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, it‘s a particularly odd connection, because if there‘s anything that we all were on September 12th, it was rallied behind our president regardless of ideology, regardless of party. You know, I sometimes mention that African-American men were in the city of New York while Rudy Giuliani was still the mayor and they were wearing NYPD hats, right?

So, despite everything that had happened on questions of race and that mayor, people were willing to, you know, really look to our national leadership. If there‘s a connection to be made between 9/12 and our current situation—it ought to be that our health care crisis is similarly facing down our country, that we are in a serious time of crisis, and so, so it‘s a time for kind of somber reflection and for supporting your president regardless of your ideology, finding the common ground on which Americans stand.

MADDOW: When we look at—ahead to this weekend, and there‘s going to be a weekend-long celebration of these events, or I would usually call it a commemoration, but it does seem quite celebratory in terms of their tone—do you think that when we look at those crowds, we should expect that they‘re really only speaking for themselves? Or is this one of those incidents where a protest movement actually reflects a larger group that sympathizes with them but is not interested in getting to Washington on the weekend to be there themselves?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: You know, it‘s really hard to tell. I mean, that—you know, as we would say in the academy, that‘s an empirical question, and I‘m not—I‘m not sure I have the answer yet. It does seem, as your first guest said, that this is a shrinking party, an exceptionally vocal, incredibly well-organized faction, but still a minority faction, even relative to what we know about the strong support for the president‘s health care plan after his speech last night.

So, I‘m going to say that for now, let‘s take it as just a group of individuals who apparently are as terrified today as they were the day after our country was attacked on September 11th, 2001.

MADDOW: And they want the rest of us to feel that way, too.

HARRIS-LACEWELL: And you‘re a truth teller, by the way. Sorry.


MADDOW: You lie!

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies of Princeton University—it is great to have you on the show. Thank, Melissa.


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