I’m following up here on a story I initially posted on Facebook. Last week I posted a video which Glen Beck showed on Fox News of Anita Dunn, President Obama’s Communications Director, his Toby Ziegler, in which she quoted Mother Teresa and Mao Tse-Tung, calling them her favourite philosophers.
Ms Dunn has responded, saying that she got the quote from Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist in the 1980s.
Her response is not good enough. In the discussion following my Facebook posting, someone commented that people often quote historical figures, such as Caesar or Oliver Cromwell. Yes, Joan Burton, Labour Spokesperson on Finance, did quote Cromwell addressing the government a few months ago, saying “In the name of God, go!” But from that simple statement, no one claim that Cromwell was one of her favourite political thinkers. Ms Dunn does use that expression.
Her statement, presumably written after she quickly searched for any reference of Republicans and Mao, also makes reference to the fact that President Bush recommended a book on Mao to Karl Rove. Whatever about quoting someone, reading a book a biography does not make one an enthusiast. Indeed, if it was Mao: The Untold Story by Jung Chang, it might have been where Glenn Beck got his figure of 70 million deaths attributed to Mao.
Further, Lee Atwater, whom she quotes was party for one of the most insidious electoral strategies of twentieth-century American politics, the Southern strategy of the Republican Party, the effort to secure the votes of racists whose votes had previously been sought by the Democrats. Mr Atwater was an advisor to Sen. Storm Thurmond, a Democrat who left the party to run on a segregationist ticket in the 1948 presidential election, winning four states. Sen. Thurmond became a Republican in 1964, in what was to become the most shameful period in that party’s history.
Over the weekend, I also had occasion to listen to an episode of D.J. Grothe’s excellent podcast, Point of Inquiry. In it, Jeff Sharlett discussed his new book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. The Family is a religious political group which preaches biblical capitalism and celebrates power, even to the extent that despite claiming to be a conservative group, they praised the methods of dictators such as Mao. Sen. Thurmond was himself a member of The Family. Ms Dunn says, “The Mao quote is one I picked up from the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater from something I read in the late 1980s, so I hope I don’t get my progressive friends mad at me”. They would clearly be justified in being so.
I don’t mean to praise the methods of Fox News, or to cast general aspersions on President Obama’s administration. My point here is that it is no defence on Ms Dunn’s part to point to some of the most despicable campaigners who also thought that we should “Fight our own fight” as Mao did, and she should be held to account her statement. She is either incredibly naïve and misguided, or truly has no problem praising the ideals of one of the worst tyrants in recorded history.