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Melissa Harris-Perry's Latest Outburst Isn't Doing Liberalism Any Favors

No throwaway line is safe from the identity politics of MHP.
Melissa Harris-Perry

UPDATE BELOW: Erik Wemple exposes Melissa Harris-Perry's massive double standard on "hard work."

As if we needed more evidence showing that some on the American left have become the caricature that conservatives have long portrayed them to be, Melissa Harris-Perry has furnished us with the latest installment in the ongoing series, Liberalism: Funhouse Mirror Edition.

On Saturday, the MSNBC host was holding a roundtable discussion about the all but certain election of Paul Ryan to Speaker of the House. Making the case that Ryan is a good fit, conservative Alfonso Aguilar made a seemingly unremarkable claim about Ryan's work ethic:

“If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan.”

To you or me, this is a throwaway line, and perhaps an accurate one. Whatever you think of Ryan as a man or as a politician, you don't get elected to Congress nine times, picked as a vice presidential nominee, and become chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee without being a hard worker, or without kissing serious ass. And truth be told, kissing that much ass is probably hard work.

But to Harris-Perry, Aguilar's comment was an egregious misstep that belied his ignorance of privilege. Behold this astonishing segue into the realm of identity politics:

“I just want to pause on one thing, because I don’t disagree with you that I actually think Mr. Ryan is a great choice for this role. But I want us to be super careful when we use the language ‘hard worker.’ Because I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like. So I feel you that he's a hard worker. I do.But in the context of relative privilege--and I just want to point out that when you talk about work-life balance and being a hard worker, the moms who don't have health care... we don't call them hard workers. We call them failures, we call them people who are sucking off the system... That is really what you guys do as a party."

Life must truly be exhausting for people like Harris-Perry, who view every political development or utterance as the byproduct of some Manichaean duality between privilege and not-privilege. For her, everything comes back to this eternal struggle. Witness her non sequitur of a meltdown three years ago -- the impetus for which was a guest's use of the word 'risk' to describe the phenomenon whereby businesspeople take chances to further their businesses; i.e., risk:

“What is riskier than living poor in America? Seriously, what in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America? I live in a neighborhood where people are shot on my street corner. I live in a neighborhood where people have to figure out how to get their kid into school because maybe it'll be a good school and maybe it won’t. I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No! There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you. Being poor is what is risky. We have to create a safety net for poor people. And when we won’t, because they happen to look different from us, it is the pervasive ugliness! We cannot do that!"

No we can't. But we also can't derail conversations by taking someone's innocuous use of words like "hard worker" and "risk," and apply them in completely different contexts while expecting to be taken very seriously.

UPDATE:Erik Wemple of The Washington Posthas discovered that Harris-Perry has used the term "hard work" several times herself previously, and none involved the arduous task of picking cotton. Here are his findings:

* On Aug. 9, Harris-Perry interviewed actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. from “Straight Outta Compton.” Jackson said, “This is a big-time film that could make or break [producer F. Gary Gray]. He’s not going to just let it go to just appease his friends so they put me through the ringer and all that hard work is building confidence within me, if they needed me I’d do it again.”

* On May 30, Harris-Perry addressed the corruption scandal at FIFA and took this clip from organization President Sepp Blatter: “I will not allow the actions of a few to destroy the hard work and the integrity of the vast majority of those who work so hard for football.”

* On May 3, Harris-Perry highlighted the work of a Baltimore program in which teenagers serve as liaisons to the police. Addressing the youngsters, she said, “Thank you for the work that you are doing on the ground there. Stay safe, stay positive, and keep doing the hard work.”

* On Feb. 28, Harris-Perry focused on labor issues in Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, and interviewed a union activist who attacked the governor for his policies: “He should apologize to the hard-working men and women of Wisconsin.”

As Wemple notes,

In none of those instances did Harris-Perry uncork any lectures about the historical context of hard work or hard workers. Perhaps that’s because those discussions didn’t fit into the framework of “relative privilege,” which the host cited as the trigger for her outburst against Aguilar. Some clarification on just when guests on Harris-Perry’s show may reference hard workers appears to be in order, given the vague parameters laid out by the host. Yesterday this blog contacted MSNBC in search of an interview with Harris-Perry but was rebuffed. No comment.

Until we get further word, we’ll have to trust the record: When folks who share Harris-Perry’s ideology reference hard work, they’re fine. When a guy who doesn’t share Harris-Perry’s ideology references a top Republican’s hard work, he’s not so fine.

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