Rachel Maddow Invites Guest Who Wrote Pro-Lifers Have a 'Totalitarian Impulse'

Radical MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is a fan of the radical magazine The Nation. The magazine’s Chris Hayes is a regular Maddow guest. On Friday night, as part of an ongoing appreciation of murdered late-term abortionist George Tiller, Obama-boosting Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell came on to discuss a blog she wrote for the Nation about how pro-lifers operate with a "totalitarian impulse that generates a culture of terror rather than a culture of life."

The black professor, who's unashamed about her abortion, wants pro-lifers demonized: "We want to start making...being an anti-choice group is like being in the KKK....we want it to be socially unacceptable to be part of a group that is actively working to take away the fundamental rights, the legal rights, the capacity of doctors and patients, women and families to make these choices."

This is one of those segments where it’s extremely convenient not to schedule a guest to disagree while pro-lifers are being smeared:

MADDOW: Melissa, your writing on this subject this week has been really provocative and really interesting. It‘s one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show tonight to talk about it. And one of your columns this week about it—you wrote that the anti-choice community operates with a totalitarian impulse that generates a culture of terror rather than a culture of life.

What do you mean by a totalitarian impulse?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, what I mean by totalitarianism is the idea that there‘s only one right way. There‘s only one correct answer, that there‘s no gray areas, there‘s nothing complex.

So let‘s take, for example, this idea that the pill kills. Clearly, worldwide, far more women died of the complications of pregnancy and childbirth than are made ill by birth control. So, women‘s health always improves when there‘s widely available and easily accessed reproductive rights care.

Planned Parenthood—where they‘re going to go and protest—are not only abortion providers and birth control providers, they are the primary health care provider for 3 million women and teen girls in this country. Because we have such a problem with insurance, so many women only see a doctor when they see a doctor at a Planned Parenthood for routine care, like cervical cancer screenings and breast cancer screenings.

So, the idea the notion of totalitarianism here is that these anti-choice movements ignore all of that. They ignore all of the complexity of this story and they instead seek to just assert their one viewpoint.

It’s "totalitarian" to ignore "complexity." That makes it easy for liberals to accuse conservatives of totalitarianism, since they associate liberalism with nuance and complexity and conservatism with simple-minded ignorance. But let’s take the professor’s point that pro-lifers are somehow ignoring the cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. If a restaurant offered seven choices of meat, and one of them was an endangered species, would it be "totalitarian" for environmentalists to protest outside? The interview continued:

MADDOW: And anybody outside that viewpoint—this is the really troubling part of it. I don‘t mind people being impolite and having bad arguments. I assume people with bad arguments will just lose them. That‘s the beauty of democracy, right?

But the problem is that when you do have the sort of—as you described—the sort of totalitarian impulse in the sort of movements, anybody who doesn‘t ascribe to the chosen point of view of the people who are—who are propounding it are worthy of violence. And so, you end up with this movement adopting terms like "baby killer." Dr. Tiller‘s alleged killer, Scott Roeder, reportedly said "baby killer" over and over again at a Kansas City clinic the day before Dr. Tiller was killed while he was gluing their doors shut.You‘ve written that you think that term has a really specific intended effect.

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Absolutely. This is about terror. You used the language of domestic terrorism to talk about this murder. I think that‘s exactly the right language. These are stateless actors, asserting their kind of vigilante justice outside of the rules law.

But particularly, when we use language like "baby killer," the goal is to shame women and families who have to make these difficult choices. The goal is to make them feel as though they‘re the only people who have had to deal with this, to make them feel as though they are shameful human beings so that instead of feeling ashamed of being part of a terrorizing fringe group of hatefulness, it‘s the women themselves and the families facing these tough choices who are made to feel alone ashamed. It is clearly about the production of terror.

This is where the radical lefties seem to be avoiding complexity. They want to describe as "domestic terrorism" not merely the vigilantes who seek to kill an abortionist, but want the word "terrorist" applied to everyone who would testify in public that an abortionist is killing a human being.

Harris-Lacewell loved defining pro-lifers in general as "terrorists" or like the Ku Klux Klan, just as long as the government doesn’t actually treat them as severely as the Bush administration treated terrorism suspects:

HARRIS-LACEWELL: We want to start making—it feels like being an anti-choice group is like being in the KKK. In other words, you can be in it. You certainly have every right, but, on the other hand, we want it to be socially unacceptable to be part of a group that is actively working to take away the fundamental rights, the legal rights, the capacity of doctors and patients, women and families to make these choices. So, I think what we want to do is be putting kind of pressure, social pressure against these groups. But we do want to tread very carefully on the question of civil liberties.

MADDOW: Yes. To me—I don‘t care how odious the opinion is or the position is—to me, when it comes down to justifying and advocating violence, that‘s when you start to get into Klan territory.

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Exactly.

But an almost unanimous majority of the people who tell pollsters they’re pro-life do not justify or advocate violence against abortionists or their employees. MSNBC really wants to define them all as terrorists. Here’s a slice of The Nation piece that drew in Maddow:

While the murderous rage of Tiller's assassin is not representative of the broader anti-choice movement, I believe that the anti-choice community operates with a totalitarian impulse that generates a culture of terror rather than a culture of life.

Hannah Arendt suggested that totalitarians generate terror in part by cultivating profound loneliness among their targets. Loneliness locks human beings in isolation and hampers discourse, connection, and shared experience. When we believe we are alone and misunderstood we cannot form the bonds necessary to organize and resist. There are few experiences more lonely and isolating than facing an unintended pregnancy or facing the need to terminate a desired pregnancy in order to protect maternal health. The anti-choice discourse labels the women and families who chose abortion "baby killers." It is a strategy that dehumanizes these women and the doctors who care for them.

But doesn't the left ignore how they're dehumanizing the victim of an abortion?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis