It happened again last night, a sight that many liberals have come to love. Veins a-poppinâ€™, eyes a-bulginâ€™, ears a-steaminâ€™, limbs a-twitchinâ€™, looking generally like his head was about to blow right off his shoulders in a mushroom cloud of outrage, Keith Olbermann unloaded on President Bush again in one of his Countdown â€œSpecial Comments.â€
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Bushâ€™s crime this time? Giving an interview to the Politico website in which he said he gave up golf in August 2003 because â€œI don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf.â€ Bush also absolved himself of blame once again for the â€œflawed intelligenceâ€ that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion, and he said that the scariest result of an American pullout from Iraq might be â€œthat extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.â€
All of this was standard-issue Bush bullshit, hardly a sign of the apocalypse (or even front-page news, for that matter, compared to the devastation of a Chinese earthquake and the race-hatred that seems to have fueled Hillary Clintonâ€™s blowout in West Virginia on Tuesday). Yet Olbermann clearly viewed Bushâ€™s most recent ridiculousness as grist for another YouTube-bound explosion, another ratings-boosting rant that might goose him a point or two closer to his arch-rival, Fox Newsâ€™ Bill Oâ€™Reilly.
So Olbermann ignored the fact that Bush was responding to a rather leading question when he warned of another al Qaeda attack: â€œIf we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the doomsday scenario?â€ Lobbed a softball, Bush drove it out of the park in tried-and-true â€œWe donâ€™t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloudâ€ fashion. What else was he supposed to do? Yet Olbermann chose to attack Bushâ€™s statement for all the â€œvote Democratic and your children will dieâ€ innuendo he could wring out of it â€“ at the same time shoving Bushâ€™s golf comment into the same rhetorical box that already brimmed with statements like â€œif you want to do something for your country, go shoppingâ€ and Lauraâ€™s â€œNo one suffers more than the president and I do.â€
Olbermann was quite literally spitting with righteous venom as he vented: â€œMr. Bush, I hate to break it to you six and a half years after you yoked this nation and your place in history to the wrong war, in the wrong place, against the wrong people, but the war in Iraq is not about you.â€ Never mind that he had spent the previous 11 minutes pointing out all the ways in which the war was, in fact, all about Bush â€“ how he had cooked the books on intelligence, how he had sold the war like soap and vilified anyone who opposed it, how he had allowed many thousands of Muslim extremists to enter Iraq through shoddy postwar planning and inflamed anti-American sentiment via â€œwar crimesâ€ and â€œmerciless mercenariesâ€¦who hide behind your skirts.â€
Now, I donâ€™t often find myself defending George Bush â€“ and in fact, you might want to mark down the date and time, because itâ€™s the first and last time youâ€™ll find me doing so â€“ but while I believe quite strongly that everything Olbermann said is true, I donâ€™t believe that Bushâ€™s latest comments were any more of a legitimate provocation for Keithâ€™s latest vituperative outburst than any other event in Bushâ€™s day-to-day life. (I generally feel that Bush commits a crime against humanity every day when he lifts his head off the pillow, but I try not to comment on it every time it happens.)
This, however, is what Olbermann does on a daily basis. He latches onto the worst possible reading of the latest minute comment or action by one of his favorite targets â€“ be it Bush, â€œBill-o,â€ or more recently Hillary Clinton or John McCain or their surrogates and supporters â€“ and he weaves it into a tale of conspiratorial plotting or nefarious chicanery. And once heâ€™s found a story he can pump full of moralistic rage, be it bigoted preacher John Hageeâ€™s endorsement of McCain or Wal-Martâ€™s attempt to reclaim a disability payout, heâ€™ll ride that horse until it suffers a Barbaro-like breakdown.
In this, of course, Olbermann is quite indistinguishable from his nemeses, Oâ€™Reilly and Sean Hannity and â€œcomedian Rush Limbaugh.â€ In fact, Countdown often seems like little more than a clone of The Oâ€™Reilly Factor, except with a leftward tilt, far better writing, and a sense of humor that those right-wing blowhards seem to lack entirely.
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Full disclosure: Despite my distaste for Olbermannâ€™s tendency to magnify political molehills into Mount Vesuvius, I find myself addicted to Countdown. In this tense-yet-hopeful election season, I cannot bring myself to heed the warnings of folks like author Susan Jacoby, whose brilliant book The Age of American Unreason disparages our growing tendency to seek out news media that validates our own views. Iâ€™m in the tank for Obama, and so is Olbermann â€“ and so is every single one of his regular contributors, from Richard Wolffe to Rachel Maddow to the irrepressible Dana Milbank (whose most recent dissection of Hillary can be found here).
Countdown is also where I get my almost-daily fix of my current hero, NBC political director Chuck Todd, who has almost single-handedly kept a nation of political junkies sane through four months of exit polls, delegate counts, superdelegate shifts and primary-night results. (I believe I have my first-ever man-crush on this guy; donâ€™t tell my wife.)
Still, I hate to think that Olbermann and Oâ€™Reilly represent the future of American political discourse. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with venting a little good-old-fashioned indignation â€“ but for crying out loud, guys, save it for a moment when itâ€™s truly deserved! Last night it seemed Olbermann was mad-as-hell like heâ€™s never been before, but it also seemed like he was looking for an excuse to launch his next volume of hardbound ravings (following his New York Times sorta-bestseller Truth and Consequences).
When he names McCain the â€œWorst Person in the Worldâ€ twice a week because Hagee wonâ€™t apologize for his despicable New Orleans comments, and because McCain wonâ€™t apologize for soliciting Hageeâ€™s endorsement, Olbermann is just rolling around in the same muck that Bill-o and Hannity wallow in when they obsess over Rev. Wright or Bill Ayers or flag pins. Such one-upmanship in the game of â€œguilt by associationâ€ isnâ€™t going to help Obama win over the working-class white guys who are supposedly so important this year; itâ€™s not even going to convince the vast majority of Democrats that McCain is a bad guy deserving of scorn.
Now that the media (and, apparently, John Edwards) have declared the primary season finis and moved on to the general, it ought to be enough to pit Obamaâ€™s ideas against McCainâ€™s, point to the disaster of the past eight years, and simply command: â€œFigure it out, America!â€ That seems to have worked in traditionally Republican districts in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi this spring; thereâ€™s no real reason to believe it wonâ€™t work across the nation this fallâ€¦
Except, that is, if those West Virginia exit polls reflect a revenge-of-the-crackers mentality that could bring down the Democratic candidate in a Democratic year just because heâ€™s black. You can bet that Oâ€™Reilly, Hannity and the other right-wing bloviaters will be stoking bigotry and intolerance for the next six months, because theyâ€™ve got nothing else to help McCain run on. Unfortunately, you can also bet that Olbermann will counter not with policy differences and principles, but with the same sort of drag-the-other-side-down shenanigans.
And, dammit, Iâ€™ll probably be right there watching him, wincing through the demagogueryâ€¦and waiting patiently for my man Chuck Todd to reappear, put his magic pen to the big map, and telestrate Obama to victory.