Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow on Morning Joe, April 20, 2022 (MSNBC).

Can I get a witness? Sometimes you see a flickering of light in the darkness, a little sliver of hope you can cling to like a rock in a weary land. And so it came to pass that a Michigan state legislator talked plain sense — and good old-fashioned righteousness — when she was targeted by the far-right culture warriors who have all but taken over the Republican Party.

When first-term state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, Democrat of Royal Oak in the suburbs of Detroit, was accused of wanting to “groom and sexualize kindergartners” in a Republican colleague’s fund-raising email piece, McMorrow took to the Senate floor and fired back.

“I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme,” she said, addressing the GOP legislator on the Senate floor. “Because you can’t claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of ‘parental rights’ if another parent is standing up to say no.”

The reaction from Democrats — and, significantly, from disenchanted Republicans who fear for the future of their party — was instantaneous and nationwide “A healthy dose of righteous liberal fury,” tweeted conservative columnist Bill Kristol. 

And Joe Scarborough, co-host of Morning Joe and a former congressman from the Florida panhandle, endorsed McMorrow’s floor speech with a flash of righteous anger and one of the echoes of Southern Baptist homiletics sometimes heard on his show.

Not only are they performative in their stupid tribalism They’re performative in their Christianity. Some of the most hateful things I’ve gotten [are like this:] I’ll read a tweet that’s just the most — [I’ll think] “my God, what poor soul wrote this?” And then you read their bio, and it’ll be like “Christian and living for the Lord for 47 years.” Well, I’m not sure that’s the Jesus I read about in the gospels.

In what I’d consider the highest accolade of all, the venerable and ever-quotable Democratic strategist and talking head James Carville says it’s an “[e]normously effective piece of communication.” When a Washington Post columnist asked Carville if he’d advise other Democrats to talk this way, his answer was succinct.

“I would,” he replied. “I’m going to start talking that way.”

McMorrow doesn’t trumpet her own Catholic faith, but she hasn’t shied away from speaking of it when asked. In an interview with McMorrow John Stoehr of New Haven, Conn., a senior editor at Alternet and editor-publisher of a newsletter he calls Editorial Board, she asked about the “the role of [her] religion in pushing back against Republican smears.”

She replied, “I decided to go that route, because we’ve seen a rise in the GOP and rightwing groups politically weaponizing Christianity as a means to hate and target and marginalize. That is not what faith means.” She added:

I learned from my mom very early on that religion and faith were about service. When she was criticized by our priest for not attending Sunday services all the time, we became less active in the church.

I don’t know that that meant we were any less active with the teachings and with what faith means – that you are a part of a community and you’re supposed to care for the sick and the poor and those who have less than and try to right the wrong in the world.

That is something that attracted me to attending Notre Dame, the idea that everything we worked on was mission-driven – that we were always trying to leave the place a little bit better than we found it. 

It’s so disgusting to see people openly, brazenly weaponize Christianity as a shield to do hateful, horrible things. So I decided to stand up yesterday and say that this it’s not okay. Faith isn’t what this is. This is just hate and you can’t cover it up by saying what it’s about faith.

Greg Sargent of of the Washington Post hit the nail on the head in an op-ed piece headlined “A young Democrat’s viral takedown demands a ‘wokeness’ rethink.” Here’s the gist of it:

You’ll note that McMorrow didn’t sound defensive or offer mealy-mouthed, hair-splitting fact checks. She didn’t capitulate to the Republican framing of these matters for a second.

Instead, McMorrow laid bare her deepest convictions and explained how they lead her to her positions on gay and trans rights, and why basic human decency demands them. Importantly, she made this about what Republicans are doing.

Many Democrats do profess outrage about the GOP’s use of the “groomer” slander. But you rarely hear Democrats go beyond casting themselves as mere victims of a vile smear, and instead hammering those pushing it for their rhetorical degeneracy, phony piety about protecting children, profound lack of rectitude, and all around sleazy and debased public conduct.

McMorrow’s description of herself as a white, Christian, suburban mom — one who wants her children to respect and empathize non-Christian, non-White, gay and trans kids and families — gets at this. It turns the “identity politics” debate on its head.

It says, in effect, that the anti-”woke” warriors will not be permitted to sanctimoniously monopolize the moral and religious high ground for their identity group, while simultaneously pretending to be above identity-mongering and advancing a cruel and exclusionary agenda.

Also weighing in on it was James Carville. Sargent was so taken with Sen. McMorrow’s floor speech, he called Carville for a quote. “Enormously effective piece of communication,” Carville answered. “There’s really no comeback to it.” Sargent elaborated on the ensuing conversation:

So what does this tell us about the “wokeness” debate?

Carville sees no contradiction between praising McMorrow and denouncing “faculty lounge” language. The rap against “wokeness” is often that Democrats traffic in or are too tolerant of professional-class jargon about race and gender, and that this must be reversed to avoid long-term political doom.

But the answer offered by critics of wokeness often suggests little more than employing some form of rhetorical jujitsu, or some Sister Souljah moment, to evade the charge. This provides another way.

“She spoke English,” Carville told me. “She wasn’t defensive at all.” He noted that McMorrow personalized the issue, drew a sharp and legible contrast with Republicans, and even added in an argument about “roads and schools.”

“I’d show this clip as an instructional video,” Carville said. Asked if he’d advise other Democrats to talk this way, he said: “I would. I’m going to start talking that way.”

In the meantime back in Michigan, Sen. Theis, who faces a primary challenge from a candidate even Trumpier than she is, has doubled down on the innuendo. The Detroit Free-Press reported her response:

“Sen. McMorrow is not naïve about politics and fundraising. I know that because it took her mere minutes to turn her Senate floor speech into a plea for campaign donations,” Theis said in a statement, issued by her re-election campaign. 

“While Sen. McMorrow is on MSNBC preaching to her choir, I’ll keep my focus on Michigan parents, who Democrats are seeking to undermine as the primary decision-makers in the education of their children.” 

Let us put on the armor of light, good people. Pharaoh’s army is still on the march.

Works Cited

Dave Boucher, “Lana Theis offers no apology or evidence in response to Mallory McMorrow’s viral speech,” Detroit Free Press, April 20, 2022 https://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2022/04/20/michigan-senator-lana-theis-mallory-mcmorrow-speech/7382704001/

Greg Sargent, “A young Democrat’s viral takedown demands a ‘wokeness’ rethink,” Washington Post, April 20, 2022 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/20/mallory-mcmorrow-james-carville-wokeness-democrats/.

John Stoehr, “Mallory McMorrow: ‘We can’t lose if we stand up against hate’,” Editorial Board, April 20, 2022 https://www.editorialboard.com/mallory-mcmorrow-we-cant-lose-if-we-stand-up-against-hate/.

[Updated and published April 25]

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