Leonard Pitts: Democrats should challenge Republicans to climb

Michigan lawmaker gives a master class in how to speak up for what’s right.

She was just trying to defend herself.

It seems a Republican “colleague” had slimed Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow in one of those ad hominem, free-of-facts, detached-from-reality, what-the-heck-are-you-even-talking-about attacks that have unfortunately become a staple of that party.

Specifically, Lana Theis, also a Michigan lawmaker, sent out a fundraising email that, with dubious grammar and malign intent, characterized McMorrow as one of those “progressive social media trolls . . . who are outraged they can’t teach can’t groom and sexualize kindergartners or that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery.”

In response, McMorrow, a Democrat, took to the floor of the state Senate. She spoke for less than five minutes. But by the time her Tuesday morning speech was finished, she had done more than put Theis in her place. She had also conducted a master class in something Democrats sorely need to learn: fighting back.

“I am,” she declared, hammering each word like nails, “a straight, white, Christian, married suburban mom.” She then used that identity, so thoroughly identified with conservatism, to instead declare alliance with those conservatism works to marginalize, including LGBTQ people and people of color.

And here’s where you’d ordinarily find a quote from the speech. But to simply transcribe McMorrow’s words would miss the point and misunderstand why, as of this writing, the video has 13.6 million views on Twitter. Those people are drawn not by McMorrow’s eloquence, but by her unapologetic conviction, her moral clarity, her willingness to state liberal values without equivocation and defend them without wavering.

That’s a virtue Democrats, exhausted by years of defending against ad hominem nonsense, often forget to have. It’s hard to blame them. Debating Republicans is like debating a hailstorm. While you’re addressing the rock that smacked you in the chest, five more hit you in the head.

That’s pretty much all the GOP does these days. In the absence of ideas, it throws rocks. Pedophiles! CRT! BLM! War on Christmas! Seuss! Disney! Cancel Culture! Benghazi! Death panels! Caravans! Rock after stupid rock.

McMorrow’s triumph was to cut through the hail of idiocy with an implicit reminder that the moral high ground is held, not by those who objectify and thingify, who demonize, marginalize, scapegoat and fearmonger, but by those whose compassion isn’t bound by tribe, those whose hearts dwell with “the least of these,” those who build bridges in place of walls.

She told MSNBC that Theis turned her back during the speech. Later Theis tweeted a statement that began, “Sen. McMorrow is not naive about politics and fundraising ... " Which sounds an awful lot like, “We all do it” i.e., a tacit admission that she told a dirty lie for a cynical reason. That was the effective extent of her response. When challenged to go to higher ground, Theis had nothin’.

One hopes McMorrow’s party is taking note. One of their problems (there are many) is that Democrats communicate their values with all the natural ease of a giraffe doing ballet — while ducking rocks.

McMorrow found a rock or two of her own. More important, she found an effective way to state her values. In a word: fearlessly. Democrats could do worse than to emulate her. On every social issue, they own the moral high ground.

They should challenge Republicans to climb.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com