Poor Peter Dreier. When I quoted him accurately in my first blog post about Frances Fox Piven, unable to disown what he had written, he instead erupted in a torrent of verbal abuse and ad hominem attacks, calling me, among other things, an “ultra right-wing propagandist” and “lunatic blogger.” Resorting to this kind of name calling is what someone does who can’t argue on the facts.
Since his article came out right at the same time as my most recent blog post criticizing Piven’s politics while condemning those making death threats against her, he can’t accuse me of being part of the crazy bunch that are making themselves look stupid and illiterate. But wait a minute, this is precisely what he does do, as you shall see.
Dreier tells his readers that Piven is a great writer and “acclaimed academic” whose work has focused on influencing “government policy” to lift “Americans out of poverty.” In the late ’60s, Piven and her husband Richard Cloward encouraged people to sign up for open-ended welfare payments in hopes that it would bring the system down. Not only did this almost drive New York City into bankruptcy, but it hurt the people they claimed to be helping. This was exposed in an article by John McWhorter published in TNR last March. He wrote here that “rarely in American history have people with such a destructive agenda had such power over the lives of the innocent. I wish Piven and Cloward had stayed obscure teachers instead of helping to ruin the lives of, for example, some of my relatives.”
I have no objection to debating Peter Dreier or anyone else on the issues, but I believe he is being disingenuous about what Richard Cloward and Piven argued for back in their now famous 1966 article, as well as what Piven is calling for today. Instead of dealing with the serious conservative critique of their views, he says those that oppose their argument are part of a “conservative lunatic fringe,” part of a group of the “right-wing echo chamber” — his favorite phrase for dismissing the arguments of others.
I wish Dreier would get his facts right about me. He writes that I am a “conservative historian whose political trajectory…was from Red Diaper baby (son of Communists) to 1960s student radical, to ultra-right wing propagandist.” Two wrong statements in one short sentence. Neither of my parents were Communist; I was brought up in a Red Diaper baby milieu, but my father was a fellow-traveler who distrusted the CPUSA, and my mother was an anti-Stalinist Jewish anarchist. And as anyone who looks up my books and record of publishing knows, I am hardly an “ultra-right wing propagandist” but a prize-winning historian who respects the truth and takes it where it leads me.