WHATS THE MATTER WITH OKLAHOMANS! Do we progressives still like the people? Frustrated minds want to know: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2010
WHATS THE MATTER WITH OKLAHOMANS! Might House Democrats pass the Senate health bill, thus keeping health care reform on track? Last night, Keith Olbermann asked Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a member of the progressive caucus. Below, we see her reply:
Was that a no from Woolsey? So it seemed, but Olbermann didnt ask. Nor did he ask Woolsey why the Senate bill wouldnt be acceptable as a last resort, with subsequent policy fixes. He simply moved on to his next question. Well have to learn from someone else what someone like Woolsey is thinking.
But so it goes these days on Countdown, our supposed progressive news program. On evenings when Olbermann designs to appear, he thunders and roars with his childish name-calling, but often seems unprepared when it comes to more serious topics. Last night, the name-calling continuedor at least, the attempts to justify same. Olbermanns recent rants against Scott Brown had been criticized in Dallas. Last night, he explained his claims. We would suggest that you read the whole thing, understanding that you have to fact-check anything Olbermann ever says. But this was part of his explanation:
Leave aside the silly attempts to deal with the logic of the word lies. Olbermann knows that Brown is sexist because of a single remark the gentleman made in 2001. On Monday night, he said Brown was a supporter of violence against women because Brown had affirmed a stupid remark someone made at a Brown rally. On Tuesday night, Olbermann said Brown was a supporter of such violence because, while he may not have heard the stupid remark in question, he also hadnt condemned it.
And yes, Brown was a nude model at age 22! This is the sheer, complete inanity to which progressive TV has devolved.
Is Scott Brown sexist? We have no idea. We do know this: A progressive movement is unlikely to flower if its built around the kind of name-calling screeds which have driven much of progressive cable since last April, when Olbermann and Rachel Maddow spent a long week aiming reams of dick jokes at voters with whom they disagree. In December and again this week, the pair have gone on the air with justifications for this prior conduct. The tea-baggers made us do it, the two cable hosts have each said.
Maddow supplied sensible commentary from Boston this week. Olbermann ranted, name-called and wailed. He rarely seems to understand policy. (Down with the mandate!) He rarely seems to understand process. (What could be wrong with reconciliation?) He didnt seem to understand that Woolsey hadnt quite answered his question.
But he does know how to name-call and rant, thus personifying long-standing conservative claims about the sneering of liberals.
We liberals have done a lot of name-calling over the past few years. Everyone is a racist but us, as Charles Blow helped us remember this week; now Olbermann, a world-class gender-nut, is naming the big sexists too. Its hard to build a political movement around the promiscuous use of such charges. If were constantly telling the voters theyre racists, why on earth would voters decide to support our own (poorly-explained) causes?
Last weekend, we read a profile of President Clinton (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/18/10). According to UN special envoy Paul Farmer, Clinton is regarded [in Haiti] as someone who's fundamentally sympathetic to the Haitians, someone who has argued they have a right to dignity and respect. In reply, we got an e-mail from a well-informed, frustrated reader. His views on Haiti may be accurate. Wed challenge his views on Oklahoma:
Our e-mailer may be right on the merits about Clinton and Haiti, a topic on which we may no particular knowledge. But whether a political figure is right or wrong on the merits, he isnt likely to get a hearing from some population unless hes viewed as fundamentally sympathetic. Which brings us back to our frustrated mailers comments about Oklahomans.
No doubt: There is a problem of anti-intellectualism in this country. No doubt, there are Oklahomans who are ignorant, superstitious, appallingly uninformed. (Wed have to say that similar traits can be found within our own movement.) But how do progressives appeal to Oklahomans (or Massachusetts residents) who arent appallingly uninformed? Political success rarely requires persuading 100 percent of the public. Political success is measured in increments. You have to get ten percent more.
Reflexive denigration of the public runs deep in liberal culture. Conservatives have fed off this condescension for decades, as we liberals have generally tried to deny it. Last April, Maddow and Olbermann brought this condescension to prime time TV, as they spent a solid week sneering at voters (not at elites or political leaders), insulting them with childish dick jokes. When liberals behave this way toward average people (not toward political leaders), many other average people feel theyre being name-called too.
Maddow provided perfectly sensible commentary from Boston this week. Olbermann, following Blow, kept insisting that anyone who isnt him must be a racist and sexist. Once again, its truly astounding to see Olbermann trafficking in the latter charge. His explanation last night of the racist charge was sad, silly, childish, inane.
Progressives will never win this waynor would we deserve to. When he wrote The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck described a family of Oklahomans who werent especially informed. In the hands of Steinbeck (and then of John Ford), they became the image of greatnessof the people. (Ma Joad: We're the people, Pa. We go on forever.) As modern progressives possessed of vast brilliance, can we really respect other people, unless theyre just like us?
Do we actually like the people? If the answer is no, thats OK. But its hard to build a politics out of that viewpoint.
And by the way: If we dislike these people so much, why on earth would we want to bring them health care reform? Lets be candid: All too often, our failure to develop progressive themes out of health care reform comes from our inabilityour unwillingnessto think about average people. (We can afford it, Ezra Klein saidspeaking of the vast overspending dumped on the heads of average people by our ludicrous health care arrangements.)
Shortly before he was killed, Dr. King explained a fact of life about the dignity of regular people, including those who are uninformed (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/18/10). Many liberals will never relinquish the great joy of liberalismthe joy thats felt when we get to assert our own moral and intellectual greatness. Was Dr. King speaking of Oklahomans? At heart, wed suggest that he was.
We understand the frustration of our e-mailer, who is very smart and very informed. But its hard to build a winning political movement if you spend a great deal of time sneering at the people in charge. This week, Massachusetts voters delivered a jolt. Blow had already seemed to say they were racists. Olbermann, a loud clattering nut, took up and ran with the charge.