How The Right Is Distorting Melissa Harris-Perry's “Lean Forward” Ad

Rush Limbaugh distorted an MSNBC promotional ad to accuse Melissa Harris-Perry of advocating for forced child labor in service of the collective good. In reality, Perry's comments were simply a call for society to rethink the way it values children in order to “start making better investments” in things like public education. 

As part of its “Lean Forward” campaign, MSNBC is airing an ad with Perry calling on America to think about raising children as a community effort. Conservatives have latched on to the ad to criticize Perry and her call for renewed investment in education.

Limbaugh, for example, said on his April 8 radio show that the Perry was pursuing a communistic worldview that would lead to forced child labor:

LIMBAUGH: We haven't had a very collective notion of “these are our children.” So we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families. We need to recognize that kids belong to whole communities, and not 'til then will we start spending the right amount of money on it. So how does this manifest itself? 

You need your yard mowed, what do you do? You go knock on the door down the street and say, “Your kid that you don't own, I do today for the next hour. Your kid's gonna mow my yard, and then after that my trash needs taking out, and after that I need somebody to go to the grocery store for me. My kid's tied up, so I'm claiming your kid.” How does this work? What is the practical application? What she is saying, Melissa Harris-Perry, what she is saying here is as old as communist genocide. But, the fact that it is said in America on a cable news channel, and is considered fairly benign is what has changed.  What's changed is that people believe this. This isn't that big a deal anymore. That's what's changed, folks.

But that's a complete distortion of Perry's message. In the ad, Perry called on communities to think about children as the responsibility of all. She was not arguing that families should be replaced or that children should be a commodity to be shared throughout the community. The ad actually concludes with Perry saying:

PERRY: Once it's everybody's responsibility and not just the household's, then we start making better investments.