Washington Post reporter David Montgomery is firmly on the left. That's obvious today from his gushing profile of Harry Belafonte in the Sunday Style section. Some have told Harry to tone it down, but Montgomery writes: "But if anything, Belafonte is crazy like a fox, and his critics have forgotten that the radical calypso singer has always staked out political ground on the edge of what the mainstream was ready to handle. The edge keeps moving, and Belafonte keeps moving one step ahead of it, afflicting the comfortable..."
The headline is "Tally Mon Come, Name Belafonte: The Singer's Latest Hits Find an Enthusiastic Audience in Washington." He was in Washington Friday to receive an award from TransAfrica Forum (no label), which can be described easily as far left. Montgomery describes the far-left crowd gathered as "225 civil rights activists, foreign policy idealists, celebrities (Danny Glover) and ambassadors (Hugo Chavez's emissary from Venezuela) gives a hip-swaying ovation." They have come to hear "more of the stinging, controversial, jeremiad that Belafonte has been laying down this year, red hot like today's news." Montgomery adds:
In January he led a delegation (Glover, Cornel West, Bloods, Crips) to Venezuela, met with leftist president Chavez for eight hours, and called President Bush "the greatest terrorist in the world." Back in the United States, he referred to "the Gestapo of Homeland Security." A few years ago, he compared then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to a slave who "was permitted to come into the house of the master."
After each rhetorical detonation, he was duly interrogated by the likes of Larry King and Wolf Blitzer, asked if he wanted to take anything back.
Here at the lunch, speaking for 39 minutes without notes, he takes nothing back.
"George W. Bush will not be in office forever, Mr. Ambassador," Belafonte says, addressing Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez. "It is hard to ask you and the rest of the world to be patient with our brutality . . . Be patient. America is awakening again."
A moment later, working his way into the rhetorical red zone, he adds, "I knew what I was saying when I referred to George W. Bush as the greatest terrorist in the world." (Pause for rising applause and cheers.) "And he has done nothing to try to improve his image."
I heard a bunch of this speech on C-SPAN Radio driving home in the car Friday night. There's a lot more of this where it came from. At this point, Montgomery notes some have wanted him to tone it down, mentioning Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation trying to stop people from Nazi analogies, and then the "crazy like a fox" line.
Montgomery claims Belafonte is always moving "the edge" to the left. His (and Belafonte's) example is Martin Luther King Jr., and now "Dr. King is a holiday." Belafonte and Montgomery will remind the reader of King's radicalism shortly. But first, Belafonte explained how conservatives -- yes, that's conservatives -- are the reckless ones. "I feel most of the resistance is really from the progressive forces themselves...They move very cautiously, whereas the right jumps right in and lets me have it. They're careless enough to give me a platform to get on and speak."
Then Montgomery gives Belafonte room to defend and explain his wild remarks:
Belafonte is happy to accept another platform on which to elaborate.
"Greatest terrorist"? He discounts the intentions of an Osama bin Laden or a Bush, instead holding them to the effects of their actions. "It's not just bin Laden and the 3,000 people caught in the twin towers, it's the thousands of Americans who are dying in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. It's the tens of thousands forever maimed and wounded, and the hundreds of thousands of people in the region who are just called, quietly and decently, 'collateral damage.' "
It was Martin Luther King himself, of course, who once said the U.S. government was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."
"Gestapo of Homeland Security"? Belafonte focuses on the warrantless surveillance, the chargeless detentions and the alleged torture being carried out by the United States.
Montgomery explains how Belafonte was disinvited from speaking at the Coretta Scott King funeral (and how he would have made Joe Lowery took like a piker), and how the King family has now issued a statement saying he was invited and disinvited without their knowledge, but hailing him as "one of the giants of our freedom struggle." But freedom isn't the sound at the end, as the name of Stalinist Paul Robeson emerges:
Looking back, Belafonte remembers a piece of advice he got early on from his role model, the blacklisted Paul Robeson.
"Get them to sing your song," Robeson told him one night at the Village Vanguard in New York, "and they'll want to know who you are."
"Sure enough, I woke up one day and the whole world was singing 'Day-o,' " Belafonte says.
Now he's hoping for the edge to move again, another lurch forward. Waiting for the mainstream to catch up to Harry Belafonte, so that one more time the controversial doesn't seem so anymore.
A quick remembrance of Robeson can be found here.