He’s gotta do it: Progressive interests would be better served if our leaders could stop saying things like what follows. On Wednesday evening, Keith Olbermann was chatting with his “friend,” Margaret Carlson about—what else?—Sarah Palin. Carlson was lounging about the Republican Governors Conference in snowbound Miami:
CARLSON (11/12/08): We’ll always have Sarah Palin, it seems. But here, actually, the governors are wanting to talk about 2010, because the number 2012 is code for talking about Sarah Palin, which was where they do not want to go. Her saying that she doesn’t represent herself, she represents an entire movement that’s going to save the Republican party is just what they quietly don’t want to happen. If they had their way, she wouldn’t be here tomorrow.
OLBERMANN: Wow. I mean, to what degree is that the other prominent Republican governors who got some passing mention during this campaign, with an eye towards 2012—Jindal, Pawlenty, Crist? Is there any sense that any of them are forming a power base behind Palin? Or are they intending to, you know, cut her up like a Roman dictator and smuggle her out under their robes?
CARLSON: Ha, ha. Well, they only say that quietly, Keith.
Sorry, but that’s very strange. A few months ago, Olbermann apologized for picturing Hillary Clinton getting beaten up by a bunch of goons behind locked doors. This week, he was picturing Sarah Palin getting cut up into pieces.
Within moments, he mockingly compared her to Lindsay Lohan—then, to Dizzy Dean.
It’s always surprising to see the way such fellows discuss the women they hate. They seem to find it hard to do so without picturing violence or turning to overt, gender-based derision. In our view, Palin is a remarkably underwhelming figure, in ways which are quite easy to define. You don’t have to compare her to Lohan, or picture her being killed—unless your skills are remarkably weak, or you simply enjoy hating women. But MSNBC has trafficked, for many years, in weird, remarkable woman-loathing. And when it comes to their new uber-star, it seems he’s gotta have it.
But then, here’s Archie Bunker—sorry, Josh Marshall—letting us know, just yesterday, who the latest “dingbat” is. Without even bothering to report what this new "dingbat" actually said! [Anglachel note - WKJM has belatedly identified the woman he was deriding.]
But so it goes as progressive intellectual standards spiral steadily downward. Olbermann’s performance on Wednesday’s show was an unfortunate case in point. He performed in ways which used to define the woeful standards of pseudo-con talk. ...
Increasingly, it’s sad to watch the work done on Countdown. Increasingly, that work reflects the lowball intellectual standards pioneered by pseudo-conservative talk. In the long run, progressive interests will not be served by dumbing down the progressive base. It may be good for ratings and salaries—but it can’t be good for the country. This country badly needs to be smart.
(By the way: There has been a lot of chortling this week about the Martin Eisenstadt hoax. On October 16, Olbermann showed remarkably odd judgment in the way he handled one part of this story. No, he wasn’t taken in by the part of the hoax allegedly involving Joe the Plumber. But in repeating claims which he knew were untrue, he almost seemed to be trying to make sure that some viewers did.)
Increasingly, Olbermann offers extremely weak work. What can you say about a guy who can’t lay out Palin’s obvious weaknesses without resorting to gender-based trashing? But most strikingly, Olbermann’s instinct for violent imagery doesn’t seem to want to quit. This is bad for progressive interests, and it’s bad for young men and young women. We’d have to say it’s just plain bad for the world in which we all live. Can someone explain why “progressive” leaders can’t seem to quit this kind of talk?
Perhaps more to the point, why don't we have more men like Bob Somerby unflinchingly calling out the misogyny of people like Olbermann?
Hannah Arendt once described this situation as that she was not so much concerned about Bluebeard himself (pirate, marauder, criminal) as she was by those who would not find Bluebeard objectionable. I take this to mean that while there will always be people who will engage in violence and inhumane acts, the danger to a population is those people who do not see that kind of behavior as needing opposition. Perhaps they view it ironically, or explain it away, or secretly approve because it is of momentary advantage to themselves, or because it allows them to vicariously enjoy the expression of things they (usually) know better than to say out loud.
The last two reasons are what we saw on parade this electoral cycle. People like Olbermann would be outrageous and then the enablers would try to explain why it wasn't so bad instead of standing up to the violence and rejecting it. The overall language and imagery would rachet up in the next round. The introduction of violent, misogynist themes into political discourse, the normalization of exhortations or suggestions to do physical harm to non-compliant women, all of it explained away as self-defense mixed with just desserts for getting out of line - hmm, where on the political spectrum is that usually located?
Right. Not anymore.