Indian Country Today Media Network last week highlighted the voices of several Indians who shared their opinions of conservatives who mocked the Jan. 12 blessing by Pascua Yaqui citizen Carlos Gonzales in honor of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The common message was that all people – conservative, liberal, and in between – must stop the “language of savagery,” the kind of language in American society directed toward Natives that is hurtful, demeaning, and just plain wrong.
The same week the story published, several conservative bloggers committed the exact error that the Indians in the piece wanted them to ponder—again in reference to the Gonzales blessing.
The ire this time stemmed from the case of Paul Mirengoff, who wrote on the PowerLine blog after watching Gonzales’ blessing that it was, in a word, “ugly.” The problem for Meringoff was that he was not only a blogger—he was also a partner at the powerful D.C. law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which happens to have an Indian law practice that in 2010 represented the Seneca Nation and the Gila River Indian Community.
Whatever happened internally at the firm after Mirengoff hit the publish button, we cannot say for sure. But publically, Mirengoff apologized, the firm apologized, the post was removed, and he quit blogging altogether. Next, a whole bunch of Mirengoff’s conservative colleagues were outraged—not by what he had said, but by his decision to keep his lawyer job, rather than continue blogging. And of course they took their madness out on Indians.
Former Washington Times scribe Robert Stacy McCain played the role of an alarmist, writing in a Jan. 31 blog post, titled, “Power Line Gets Scalped: Did Indian Tribe Money Influence Akin Gump Decision?,” that he believed tribes had knocked off Mirengoff—and somehow former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was involved, too. “You may recall that Pelosi and Democrats were elected in 2006 on a promise to clean up the ‘culture of corruption’ in Washington. Exhibit A in the Democrats’ case against the GOP that year? Yeah: ‘Casino Jack’ Abramoff’s shady dealings with Indian tribes,” McCain wrote. “So in criticizing that Yaqui prayer at the Tucson memorial, Paul Mirengoff wasn’t just being politically incorrect, he was also offending a lucrative segment of Akin Gump’s lobbying clientele, whom the firm had recently hired three lawyers to service. Small wonder that Mirengoff was likely forced to choose: Quit blogging at Power Line or quit working at Akin Gump.”
Like many skillful bloggers, McCain presented a whole lot of dots, but oh-so-few lines to connect them. Cornell Law School’s William Jacobson was more direct in drawing his line—one that was intended to go straight through the hearts of liberals: “I can’t help but think that Mirengoff being a well-known conservative blogger contributed to the fauxtroversy and that there was a double standard,” he wrote Jan. 31. “If Mirengoff were a liberal blogger, and had made exactly the same comments but about having only a Christian preacher opening the memorial service for non-Christians, Mirengoff still would be blogging at Power Line.”
By that point, Indians across the nation had already made their positions on the situation quite clear. It was no “fauxtroversy,” and it would have been wrong no matter who said it.
Finally, there was Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom, defending Mirengoff by talking about the importance of words: “If we’re going to pretend that language works in a way that it clearly doesn’t — and to institutionalize that idea into our very epistemology — what we will end up with is the slow erosion of our speech, as more and more of it becomes subject to ‘interpretations’ motivated by cynicism and a will to power.”
By that reasoning Goldstein might want to rejoice: For now, it seems, the language of savagery lives on.