On Saturday a conservative guest appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show and tried to say something nice about Paul Ryan. Naturally, he was called out seconds later for failing to consider a picture in Harris-Perry’s office and some other important thoughts she came up with to attack Republicans.
Alfonso Aguilar is the executive director of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. Aguilar is a Republican who is conservative on abortion and limited government issues and campaigned for Mitt Romney in 2012 (he’s also a proponent of immigration reform). On today’s Harris-Perry show, Aguilar praised Ryan saying, “If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan.” Aguilar continued to praise Ryan as “somebody who is trying to govern,” but was cut off by host Melissa Harris-Perry, who had an important (one might also say incoherent) rebuttal to offer.
“Mr. Ryan is a great choice for this role, but I want us to be super careful when we use the language ‘hard worker,’” Harris-Perry explained. She then tried to explain why her guest should be super careful saying, “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.”
If you’re already confused, prepare for things to get much worse. “But in the context of relative privilege,” Harris-Perry continued, “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 who are working. But, we don’t call them hard workers. We call them failures. We call them people who are sucking off the system.”
The magic that transforms this awkward word salad into progressive poetry slam material is the word “privilege.” That’s really all Harris-Perry is doing in this entire, pointless interruption. She doesn’t have an argument on the point of whether Paul Ryan is a hard worker or not. She just wants to point out that he’s a white male who works in an office (probably air conditioned, the bastard) so, really, how hard can he be working?
The irony of course is that Melissa Harris-Perry is saying all this from her comfy perch as a weekend talk show host and college professor. I don’t know what she makes, but I suspect it’s several times Ryan’s salary (she certainly owes a lot in unpaid taxes). Does Harris-Perry work hard? I’m sure she does. But she’s not exactly working up beads of sweat as she berates her guest for suggesting he be “super” careful when saying Paul Ryan is a hard working congressman.
What is being embodied here by Harris-Perry is the creeping kudzu known as progressive call-out culture. As the name suggests, call-out culture is all about putting other people (read: conservative people) in their place for any perceived slight involving racism or sexism. Call-out culture is big on calling people out and not, from what I’ve seen of it, big on introspection. That’s something the other guy is supposed to do after Melissa Harris-Perry has educated them with three random thoughts and, of course, the magic word privilege.