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Sunday, January 30, 2011


For reasons known only to himself, the buffoon Glen Beck has chosen to attack Frances Fox Piven, a creative and distinguished voice on the left for half a century, who with her husband Richard Cloward [now deceased] has worked tirelessly for the needs and interests of the poorest and most vulnerable among us. I had the great pleasure of having lunch with Piven forty years ago when I was trying, successfully, to persuade her to contribute an essay to a volume I was editing. Although I have not seen her since, I have always presumed on that brief acquaintance to consider her a friend. There is nothing I can do to stop Beck's attacks [which have led to death threats again this distinguished woman now approaching, as I am, her eighties], but I would be ashamed of myself if I did not at least speak up to defend her and condemn Beck's reckless, wanton, groundless, shameful attacks. It is at times like this that I bemoan my atheism. It would be comforting to believe that Beck and his like will earn an eternity of pain for the evil they spew into the public sphere. Since I am this morning also re-reading the portion of the REPUBLIC on which I shall be lecturing tomorrow, I am inclined to embrace Socrates' conviction that the greatest harm one can suffer is to be made a worse person. There may not be hellfire and damnation awaiting Beck the other side of the grave, but we can be sure that he has already harmed himself more than he and his epigones can ever harm Frances Piven.


Chris said...

Piven responded to Beck's invective attacks, and went on to hold a very enlightening QA with Amy Goodman (host of Democracy now). Here's the interview and exchange if you're interested:

Murfmensch said...

I was an ACORN organizer for five years.

I have family members that are not sure what to think of me anymore because they can't process Beck's Nazi and Communist similes.

Piven's advocacy for a Basic Income Guarantee is the very thing cited by Beck as proof of a conspiracy to destroy America. Martin Luther King and Milton Friedman also called for a BIG. Sheesh!

I can't help but think that some people are going to be repelled in the long term by the numbskullduggery wing of the right. It was Bush the First's manipulation of Willie Horton and the Pledge of Allegiance that sent me (quite young then) back to the drawing board.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thanks, Chris. I think I saw some of it. I hope you are right, Murfmensch. I am haunted by what I think were similar expectations in Weimar Germany in the early thirties. But that may just be my age showing.

Anonymous Philosophy ABD said...

I didn't have time to look at the Democracy Now! link, but here's my two cents anyway -- I may be just repeating some of what Goodman said. There has been since, I believe, the run-up to the 2008 presidential election a bizarre obsession with Frances Fox Piven in right-wing circles. A conspiracy theory emerged in '08 or perhaps earlier, most likely in the right-wing blogosphere, that held Piven and Cloward responsible for the economic decline of America -- all that was wrong, including the '08 financial meltdown was supposed to be due to a sinister conspiracy in which Marxists who had infiltrated the government and nonprofits were implementing something called the "Cloward-Piven strategy" for destroying America. The basis of this is in an old article C&P wrote for the Nation. You'll find that a lot has been written about this by googling, and I believe that Beck just picked up the meme from one of the many right-wing nuts whose blogs he presumably follows. Given the amount of attention the theory has gotten on the blogosphere, it was almost overdetermined that Beck would start attacking Piven at some point. He has a way of picking up the craziest stuff from the blogs and running with it.

Murfmensch said...

The right needs an explanation for the current bad economy that blames people other than their sponsors.

Fox is not just following its customers. It seeks to deflect it's investors from political accountability.

And it works. I am not sure what sorts of opinions of mine would cause a third or fourth of my students to write me off as "biased".

My time at ACORN came up during my job search. I'm not sure every college president wants to hire someone even one donor believes is a communifascist. (I'm extremely happy to be somewhere where everyone was professional about this.)

Again, Beck's win are short-term. Long-term, people can't sustain such weirdness. I guess Fox could and does cycle its spokespeople...

Anonymous Philosophy ABD said...

Murfmensch, for God's sake, keep that stuff off your CV. I've worked for some NGOs whose names would raise search committees' and administrators' eyebrows, and I do my best to make sure no one looking at my file will know I had anything to do with them. You might as well staple your CPUSA membership card to your cover letter. No, when academic job hunting, you want to look as bland and mainstream as possible. Anything that looks remotely political is a red flag.

Murfmensch said...

@Anonymous. It all comes up on Google and I figured it would come up between being hired and tenure review.

What is so strange is that ACORN was not a very ideological organization. The left press was usually very dismissive. They didn't do much during the attack. (Rachel Maddow did more.) ACORN was targeted because they were effective and growing.

Piven was always very, very, supportive.

Also, I got the job I had in mind when I went to grad school so, I figure there is no problem. Some of my research includes the impact organizational principles have on political theory.

Anonymous Philosophy ABD said...

Acorn is not at all ideological. Neither are the groups I was referring to (but which I will not name because I don't have a job yet and want to protect my anonymity). I don't know what field you're in, but in philosophy there is just no guarantee that even the hiring department will look kindly upon your activism, even if it's something as innocent-seeming as a mainstream human rights organization (which is what I used to do). And ACORN is a different story entirely. Political involvement of any sort can make you look like a potential troublemaker. This is even when the people hiring you say they are Marxists. I'm not quite speaking from experience here, but I know a few people who have experienced unpleasant surprises.

Murfmensch said...

All of this is often true.

BTW-- the new groups that ACORN members are re-organizing look very good and can always use support. The ones I know are MORE in Missouri and ACO in Arkansas.