Few could claim to admire Keith Olbermann more deeply than I; for years, I have witnessed with joy and relief his courage and tenacity and intelligence in delivering the sole dissenting voice in televised media in the face of the Bush Administration and its GOP enablers. I consider Mr. Olbermann an admirable, honourable and brilliant advocate of reason and truth, and believe he deserves a Pulitzer for his coverage in this age of Orwellian obfuscation in most corporate media.
(And though doubtless motivated primarily by profit, acknowledgement of NBC’s fortitude in its support of Olbermann’s continued presence on MSNBC must be made. God knows allowing an avowed liberal Democrat his own hourly forum five days a week wasn’t the safest route to take in the cable news business.)
That said, I couldn’t help but cringe while watching Olbermann’s latest Special Comment, excoriating Senator Clinton for her “Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June” blunder.
This is the first Special Comment of Mr. Olbermann’s with which I’ve ever taken issue. With each successive Special Comment, Olbermann grows in my esteem and admiration — not to mention wholehearted gratitude, but he stumbled last night. And since I don’t believe in ignoring missteps and errors of judgement simply because they come from allies, it is incumbent upon me to voice my disappointment and disapproval of Mr. Olbermann’s choices in commenting upon Senator Clinton’s assassination remark…
First and, I think, most important, and applicable not only to Keith Olbermann but to anyone who got caught up in his soaring (and, admittedly, rousing) rhetoric: This entire “controversy” reeks of the sort of Faux Outrage frequently employed by the Republican neoconservative movement of recent years.
The fact that this tactic proves successful so often for the right wing — and that it now appears an occasionally successful tactic for the left and even moderates — may seem a valid reason to adopt it or co-opt it ourselves. Perhaps so; if our only aim is defeating the right wing, then a case can be made for using their own tactics against them.
But, as I’ve stated repeatedly over the years and has been put far more eloquently by others, in our struggle against our enemies (whoever they be) we must take care not to become what we would defeat.
In other words, if all is fair in our political game now the way it has been for some time in theirs — what the fuck is the difference between us? Spare me the “But we’re right” argument; anyone who says that and doesn’t admit he’s just claimed the ends justify the means is either an imbecile or a liar. That argument is, in all likelihood, the rationale espoused behind closed doors by the majority of the (probably) well-intentioned right wing.
And in embracing the Faux Outrage card played so long by the right wing, those of us on the left have just taken another step on the slippery slope to where good intentions end.
Further, playing that card against a rival faction or member of our own tribe bespeaks still more steps on that slope. How long before we lose our footing and reach a slide of inexorable descent that mirrors the one experienced by the Republicans some thirty years ago, and hit a nadir similar to the one they did in this past decade?
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I believe what we witnessed in Olbermann’s fulmination last night was Last Straw Syndrome: an exaggerated sense of fury provoked not by am independent, genuinely “unforgivable” –albeit, admittedly, outrageous — act, but by the culmination of a series of alternately outrageous, disingenuous or patently absurd acts.
Taken alone, Senator Clinton’s monstrously insensitive comment would probably evoke a shocked and angry reaction; but as evinced by the mildly tempered universal reaction (or lack thereof) when she first made an almost verbatim comment earlier in the primary season, as a stand-alone act it simply does not warrant the descriptor of “Unforgivable.” What it warrants, in fact, is the response Senator Barack Obama gave it:
“I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Senator Clinton and I have been campaigning, sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make and I think that is what happened here. Senator Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it and I will take her at her word on that.”
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Keith Olbermann’s hitting one sour note after a string of brilliant arias is, obviously, forgivable. Disturbing, but forgivable; after all, Olbermann designates his Special Comments as such because they are clearly his personal territory, moments when he just cannot take it anymore and simply must vent. Many of us in Blogdom commonly issue our own “Special Comments,” though here on the Internets they are known as… Rants©.
What disturbs me more than Olbermann’s misstep here is the exponential multiplication of similar responses from the choir. Granted, even that is forgivable; but every time the chorus of the left echoes a sour note the cacophony resembles more and more the dissonant screeching of the christofascist right wing zombie brigade — an ugly reminder of just how narrow the distance truly is between extremists on the right and left, and yes, I count myself among that latter number. We are all susceptible to reflexive thought and action; enlightened self-awareness notwithstanding, even the best-intentioned among us can fall prey to our baser instincts.
I hope this doesn’t read like a defense of Senator Clinton or her reckless remark, because that’s not my intention. I’m the last person to give her the benefit of the doubt at this stage; her behaviour thus far in the primary season merely confirms my long-held belief that I would find her only microscopically more tolerable a President than any Republican. Nor do I necessarily believe that Clinton’s words actually were thoughtless or careless. To the contrary: I actually think she knew exactly what she was saying, and that the only “mistake” (to her mind, that is) was her staggering ignorance of just how fast and hard the negative response would be.
However: It is one thing to privately or believe the worst of candidate Clinton and respond as such. But it is tone deaf folly to “give her the benefit of the doubt,” as Olbermann and others have done, and proceed to excoriate her with exactly the fervour and venom reserved for those who do not deserve the benefit of the doubt.
So, Mr. Olbermann, what is it to be? Do you secretly believe, as I do, that Clinton knew exactly what she was saying — and therefore deserves every ounce of our ire and outrage… Or did you aim your diatribe at the right target for the wrong reason? If the former, then you owe it to yourself and your audience to admit the true nature of your response; and if the latter, then you owe your audience an apology and apologia.
Of course, were Mr. Olbermann to read and respond, it’s likely he would reply that neither answer applies, that he sincerely believed last night in the “unforgivable” nature of Ms. Clinton’s words irrespective of her intent.
To which I would have to respond: You were wrong.
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Disturbing as Senator Clinton’s remark was, with respect to her injudicious juxtaposing of the 1968 Kennedy assassination with the 2008 primary, two elements of this situation disturb me far more:
First, the categorically disingenuous nature of Clinton’s comparison of the 1992 primary season to the current one as rationale for her remaining in the race: Clinton knows damned well she’s comparing apples and oranges and blueberries with that nonsensical argument.
In the first place, 1992 could not possibly compare to 2008, if only because the primary calendars of each differ so radically she might as well have drawn a comparison between this year’s race and the Roman run-up to Julius Caesar’s appointment as Supreme Dictator. By June of 1992, Bill Clinton had already won the Democratic party’s nomination in all but official terms.
(The 1968 primary contest between Humphrey, McCarthy and Kennedy might have led, arguably, to a contested convention because of Humphrey and McCarthy’s refusal to concede defeat after Kennedy’s narrow California win; ironically, Senator Clinton’s comparison to 1968 holds far more water than to 1992.)
Hillary Clinton’s intractable refusal to acknowledge the disparity between her husband’s primary and her own is, by now, par for her course. The junior Democratic Senator from New York, it turns out, has one terrible thing in common with her husband: a seemingly genetic tendency to lie when it is convenient, with little to no regard for the blatant transparency of her lies to even the casual observer — and a constitutional incapability to consider the ramifications of telling outright lies in a society with 24-hour cable news outlets, not to mention Google.
Keith Olbermann actually did address, although too briefly, the second disquieting aspect of this latest debacle: The absurdly equivocating nature of Senator Clinton’s “expression of regret” in response to the avalanche of criticism of her remarks on Friday.
I suspect that, had Clinton immediately and unequivocally answered her critics with a no-holds-barred “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, the entire brouhaha might have amounted to a smattering of aghast but resigned admonitions; certainly her tastelessness and judgement would have been fair game, but Clinton could have diffused the situation considerably had she quickly and simply apologised and in no uncertain terms acknowledged the degree to which her comment was patently inappropriate.
Of course, given her track record, it may well be that Senator Clinton is not only congenitally inclined to lie when she finds it convenient but equally inherently incapable of issuing a straightforward apology without adding so many caveats as to transform even the simplest apology into an apologia, thus through “explanation” rendering the apology ultimately moot. I suspect this to be the case, so perhaps this latest conflagration was ultimately inevitable.
Still, I cannot help but maintain my premise: That the intensity of the uproar over Senator Clinton’s remarks is, while not as inappropriate as the remarks themselves, nevertheless what a psychiatrist might call “misplaced anger.” A far more appropriate Special Comment from Keith Olbermann would be, for instance, directed at the totality of Senator Clinton’s actions and words since the moment when the inevitability of Senator Obama’s victory in this primary became irrefutable… by everyone except Senator Clinton herself.
Now, that is a Special Comment I want to see.