Glenn Greenwald wrote a fine tribute yesterday to Noam Chomsky. It wasn't your everyday tribute either. Rather than spend a lot of time extolling Chomsky's virtues, Greenwald showed how government officials and the mainstream media has gone out of their way to criticize his character without addressing the substance of his message. As Greenwald notes, "one very common tactic for enforcing political orthodoxies is to malign the character, "style" and even mental health of those who challenge them."
Let's be honest here. Noam Chomsky -- just like every other person in the world -- has character flaws. We aren't going to find a politician, civil servant, minister, doctor, teacher or social critic who doesn't. The whole point of focusing on someone's style at the exclusion of everything else is a mechanism to distract attention from what they write and say. When you don't want to address the issues head-on or at all, you attack and spit on the messenger!
This is how Greenwald describes the overall establishment attacks on Chomsky.
Chomsky is a sarcastic, angry, soporific, scowling, sneering self-hating Jew, devoid of hope and speaking from hell, whose alpha-male brutality drives him to win at all costs, and who imposes on the world disappointingly crude and simplistic arguments to the point where he is so inconsequential that one wonders whether he has ever changed even a single thing in his 60 years of political work.
While Noam Chomsky and I aren't buds, I have had the pleasure of meeting the man and none of those words come to my mind. I had the opportunity to sit and talk to Chomsky for about 15 minutes in the late 90s after he gave a speech at Oregon State University. I found him to be warm, friendly and, surprisingly, funny.
Maybe I caught him on a good day. Maybe if I had spent more time with him, my assessment would be different.
I've had the opportunity to meet Ralph Nader and, though he is one of my heroes, I can honestly say that I wasn't very impressed with him as a person. He seems like a bit of egomaniac to me. He can be very brusque and he's not the easiest fellow to work with.
I've also met the filmmaker and author, Michael Moore. Della and I, along with several colleagues, spent more than an hour at dinner with Michael and his wife. Michael had just finished giving a rousing speech at Oregon's State Capitol -- an event I organized. I must say that he's an interesting character! Before the crowd, he was filled with such energy and passion, but at dinner, he whined a lot and seemed to have almost no energy at all. Can't say that I blame him though, since he keeps to such a hectic schedule.
Regardless of my personal encounters with these three activists, I hold their activism for the public good in high esteem. I am as much a fan of Ralph Nader as I am of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. The messages they share are what matters.