Four liberals you can do without

The Thinker by Rodin

In today’s news, we learn that the late conservative “journalist” Andrew Brietbart, who broke a phony ACORN scandal and exposed the sophomoric Craigslist shenanigans of ex Congressman Anthony Weiner, died of heart failure. He already had heart disease when he collapsed walking his dog in Brentwood, California. Some part of me wonders if he had to die because he basically had no heart. I would say he was the epitome of an angry white guy, but there are so many more like him, most recently ex-rocker Ted Nugent, who may wish President Obama dead but after a recent Secret Service interview confessed he didn’t plan to act on his wishes.

There are also annoying liberals out there, liberals so annoying that most of the time I tune them out and I hope most other liberals do as well. I cannot recall a case of a liberal stooping to Andrew Brietbart’s level, who had no problem carefully editing footage to give the false impression that senior Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod was a black racist. However, being annoying is nonpartisan trait. Four annoying liberals come to mind to me today, and generally I tune them out.

Cenk Uygur first made a name for himself on mainstream media by landing a show on MSNBC. He established himself on YouTube under the channel The Young Turks. His show was part talk and part lecture but one thing it surely was, was mostly about Cenk and Cenk’s views, which were definitely ultraliberal, and often loopy, if not loony. He was frequently factually incorrect. There is left and then there is so far left of stage you are not just off the stage, but outside the theater in the parking lot. Opinionated is okay, but bombastic makes the hair on my scalp stand up. He is the left’s equivalent of Rush Limbaugh with little in the way of self-censorship between his brain and his audience. Apparently he proved a little too much for MSNBC, who put Al Sharpton in his timeslot, presumably because Al was more level headed. That’s how strange Cenk was on MSNBC, but he also comes across as one of those yapping dogs who loves to chew on strangers’ ankles. Cenk has a new gig on Current TV and looks like he may now be getting a distemper shot. I hope this is right and that he has reformed. For right now, I can’t take the chance and anyhow, Current TV is not on my channel list. I plan to give him wide berth regardless.

I used to like Keith Olbermann. This was before I spent a lot of time regularly watching him. Keith does have a certain style and charisma, and he looks great in a suit. Olbermann though is at heart a prima donna. He expects star treatment, even though most of the time he doesn’t deserve it. When after being abruptly fired by MSNBC, Keith moved to Current TV I knew he wouldn’t last there long. For Keith hasn’t yet learned that the world does not revolve around him. He is a man whose passion and ego cannot be repressed for very long. It’s not MSNBC or Current TV that is the root of his problem; it’s Keith. Just why does he go from one job to the next, and is inevitably fired pretty quickly? Is it because “they” are all bad? Or is it because his petulance, pompousness and irritable nature simply become more than any network can bear, and they realize they are better without him? For a start, Keith could use a prescription of Valium, and I suspect it would be a drug he would stay on for life. Rachel Maddow has learned to walk the fine line between being assertive and obnoxious. So can Keith if he ever does the self-examination to realize the problem is not everyone else. I hope instead of pressing lawsuits he has little chance of winning with Current TV, he uses his spare time and piles of cash on a good therapist instead.

Bill Maher also has me reaching to change channels. I realize he is a comedian, but he gives atheists everywhere a bad name. Most atheists I know are actually much kinder, gentler and compassionate people than the so-called Christians I know. Bill gives Christians plenty of reasons to wish atheists to burn in Hell. Mostly Bill is smarmy, and about as much fun to watch as it is to wear a wool sweater without an undershirt. Smarmy though does not begin to describe just how smarmy he actually comes across. Granted, being on HBO gives him the opportunity to exercise his considerable potty mouth. Frankly, I would be embarrassed to be part of his panel. I am hardly a puritan and I can on occasion cuss like a sailor. But I can’t imagine doing it on national television, or with anyone I consider polite company. I assume Bill is not trying to influence those he is chastising. There is no chance of that, of course, but with his constant brilliant professor attitude wherein he deigns to throw a few sarcastic bullets of his great wisdom, he smears the whole left with a taint we do not deserve. Mostly after watching Bill, I want to take a shower using a lot of Ivory soap.

Lastly, and perhaps most of all, I loathe Arianna Huffington. It wasn’t until she was divorced that she decided it was okay to be liberal, but she turned on a dime and gave it all of her time and energy. She used her considerable number of friends, many in Hollywood and the media, to put the Huffington Post online, then proceeded to make it something like the New York Daily News of the online world. It is a largely tawdry place, but its liberal opinions is something of a sideshow now, with stories mostly coming from rebroadcasting articles found elsewhere dressed up with lurid titles and photos. As an entrepreneur, my hat is off to her, for finding a saucy brand that is making her a ton of money. What it is not making is a ton of money for the bloggers who post there, many of who could use a steady income and should be paid for their content. This should be natural if she were a true liberal, which is why I think she is not. Instead her bloggers get paid in exposure and Facebook likes. I never believed Arianna became a true liberal and I doubt she is one now. I think she saw an emerging market and believed that with her alimony and connections she could milk it for all it was worth. This turned out to be a considerable amount, providing you shaft so many of your friends in the online world in the process. I don’t think she is particularly liberal or conservative, but she is pro-Arianna, enjoys having the Arianna brand and gets her thrills from exposure on political talk shows. Mostly, my bullshit detector says she is a phony so I should stay away, which I do. Huff Post is likely to forever stay off my reading list.

What we need are more good guys to offset these four, and there are plenty who deserve more exposure including Ezra Klein, Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, Fahreed Zakaria, Bill Moyers, Andrew Sullivan and Kevin Drum. Right now the Keith Olbermanns and Bill Mahers of the left are giving the whole apple barrel a bad stench. I wish more liberals like me would just chuck them.

Laughing our way to understanding

The Thinker by Rodin

How many people yesterday attended Comedy Central’s Rally for Sanity and/or Fear on the mall yesterday? The U.S. Park Service no longer estimates crowd sizes. Newspapers reported tens of thousands but I think it is more likely the crowd exceeded 100,000. CBS News estimated 215,000.

I can say as someone who tried to attend the rally that plenty who wanted to attend the rally must have simply given up. My wife and her friend managed to get the rally but I eventually bailed. I-66 going into Washington was largely a parking lot, almost all of it due to people trying to get to the Vienna metro station to attend the rally. Getting to the metro station and finding parking was only part of the problem. There were also half hour to hour queues to get Metrorail tickets, and then more waiting to actually get on a train. As often happens at these events, people at stations further down the line found trains too packed to get on. They had to take a train to the end of the line simply to get a seat to take a train back into Washington.

We had two electronic flash passes but our friend who was from out of town had to buy a ticket. So I loaned her mine and went home to watch the rally on my computer. That way at least two of us would get there on time. I probably got a much better view at home anyhow. Glorious fall weather, a super friendly crowd and the light comedic touches by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert kept the event fun, reasonably short and mostly apolitical. The only ones being skewered seemed to be the most egregious examples of the right and the left.

The real purpose of the rally was hard to figure out. In some ways, the rally seemed unique. Has our nation’s mall ever been used for a large, comedic event before? I could not recall a time, unless you consider most political rallies to be unintentional comedic events. The event was covered without commercials and participants were encouraged to contribute to the Trust for the National Mall, as well as not to trash the mall, which is what typically happens after rallies of any size. It was also hard to figure out the point of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on August 28th, which was clearly smaller than this event. Both rallies seemed a little surreal. At Beck’s rally, Glenn Beck tried to momentarily morph into an apolitical figure. At yesterday’s rally, Jon Stewart’s closing monologue also seemed surreal: serious but with a touch of comedy, almost a sermon about how we must all learn to live with each other.

Generally, comedians simply try to make us laugh, collect a few quick bucks and move on. It is easy to forget that comedy can help us understand and frame real issues by looking at them in a different way. All humor is based on some contrast with reality. Comedy can, if only for a moment, be like opening a small window in a stuffy room and letting some fresh air come through. As it turned out, that was the purpose of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It was an attempt to tell the nation that our polarization is beyond the dangerous phase. Jon Stewart’s message was to let us know that it has reached a toxic phase where it is destructive to all who seek to make this country a better place. As Stewart eloquently put it (in words that are likely to endure), “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

Some will doubtless question Stewart’s credentials to diagnose our national problems. But if not Stewart, then who? Stewart’s political leanings are well known, but he is always civil. Moreover, Walter Cronkite is dead. As Stewart noted, between barrages of negative ads, endless highly skewed talk shows and 24-hour news channels, who can cut through all the noise? Stewart and Colbert did, at least for a little while, to at least some of America (principally a younger crowd).

The rally had its lame moments, but at least for a few hours it did succeed in focusing a critical mass of people on our national dysfunction and warn them of the seriousness of our problem. Sufficiently high levels of disunity and chaos feed national dysfunction and in one case triggered a civil war. Nowadays, it opens windows of opportunity, not for America, but from those countries and movements glad to clean our clocks. While we argue about tax cuts and health care for all, China is mastering clean energy technologies. It seems to have bought controlling rights to most of the world’s precious minerals, and is attempting to blockade our access to them. Massive disunity like we have now serves no national interests and further weakens us as a nation.

Short of totalitarianism, there is no way Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Partiers or any political movement will ever fully succeed. Even if success were possible we would become a sterile, monolithic culture stripped of our fundamental freedoms. We have gone dangerously awry but through comedy, Comedy Central is making us aware that while we can laugh about our national problems, it really is not a laughing matter anymore. As Stewart noted (and as I noted in this blog post), however much we might not want to get along, if we are to be a functional nation we must find a civil way to do so anyhow. This is not facilitated when extremes on either side characterize the other side in dehumanizing terms.

While I am a liberal, sometimes I see liberals cross the line. I found Keith Olbermann’s most recent special comment disturbing, not for its untruthfulness, but for the visceral hatred that Olbermann so obviously feels for weird but disturbing Tea Party candidates. I could be wrong, but I have yet to hear any Olbermann special comments that are not dripping with a similar tone of animosity. The common factor is outrage. Yet it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable, to separate a person’s position from a person’s character. Neither Sharron Angle nor Sarah Palin are bad people because they disagree with me. It is their policies that I think would weaken our country. I wish politicians on both sides could learn basic civility. It was never a problem for the late William F. Buckley. However, these days vitriol seems to pay. It works as well for Keith Olbermann as it works for Rush Limbaugh. Both are banking on their ability to outrage, as well as entertain. If Olbermann did not flush with rage and anger regularly on camera then it’s unlikely he would be earning his very comfortable salary.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear gave us a few good laughs, kept us entertained, but also opened up a conversation on civility and moderation that is long overdue. Some people have had enough. Moderation is driving more genteel movements like The Coffee Party. We need to stop closing our ears to each other, and try listening with an open heart instead (and I count myself as one of these people). We must try to listen with empathy and figure out what meta-causes are driving this animus.

For social conservatives, I really doubt that the size of the federal government is what gets their blood boiling. It is likely something far more basic, like the enormous social and technological changes happening all around them that seem so unstoppable, and thus uncontrollable. If that bothers you then why would you not, like Bill Buckley, do your best to holler, “Stop!” For liberals, the animus is probably not health care for all, but values rooted in a sense of community, compassion and wanting to see those values emulated by our government. Some may ridicule us for “feeling their pain” but for many of us, we feel their pain because we lived their pain.

We will never be a wholly united country, nor should we strive to be. Disagreements are natural. What is unnatural is near total polarization, which is where we are now. When this happens, genuine dialog becomes impossible. Stewart and Comedy Central may be our Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but at least they are trying to foster a climate that encourages moderation and civility. That is not worthy of laughter, but is worthy of our applause and thanks.