Just wanted to add a quick thought to the Anita Dunn/Mao controversy. As Matt demonstrates below, this is one of those instances in which the broader context actually makes the speaker of a controversial quote come off worse. Dunn doesn’t just name Mao as one of her two favorite political philosophers who she often “turn[s] to,” but she goes on to tell the story of Mao’s takeover of China as an example of perseverance, without any qualification. It’s important to recognize, though, that the reason why the outrage over this story has largely been confined to conservatives is that Mao has managed to escape the stigma attached to other totalitarian rulers of the 20th Century, namely Hitler and Stalin. If any administration official had told an inspiring story about Hitler as an example of perseverance — a failed painter who was written off after the Beer Hall Putsch, but who emerged from prison to mount a political comeback that saw him take over Germany — that official would be gone instantly, even with the liberal media.
It’s unfortunate that Mao, a man who is responsible for the deaths of 70 million people, isn’t as politically toxic. Part of this is a legacy of the romanticized portrait of Mao conveyed by Edgar Snow, Mao’s propagandist to the West, in the 1937 book Red Star Over China, as well as subsequent liberal apologetics for him in the decades that followed, and general ignorance. American elementary and high schools teach European and Cold War history, but don’t tend to emphasize Chinese history, meaning that people who want to learn more about the world’s most populous nation generally have to seek out that knowledge on their own. For a more critical account of Mao’s brutal legacy, I’d recommend Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s excellent Mao: the Unknown Story to anybody who hasn’t read it.
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