Sunday, October 19, 2008

We Could All Do a Little Better (Myself Included)

David Frum calls out Rachel Maddow - and he's absolutely right (start watching right before the three-minute mark). 

Frum accuses Maddow of "sneering sarcasm." Unfortunately, Maddow responds by claiming that he's criticizing her for being "playful" when she approaches issues. (Her next argument, believe it or not, was: Well, people at McCain rallies are shouting "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" about Barack Obama, so how can you criticize my rhetoric?

Frum certainly was not accusing her of being playful (as if that were bad) - after all, playful is fine from time to time, but sneering partisanship is what Maddow specializes in. She was educated at Stanford and Oxford (where she was a Rhodes Scholar). She holds a D.Phil in political science, and I'm sure she knows it's an awfully weak response to say her style is above reproach because someone yelled out a threat at a political rally. Watching her flail around, I shook my head and wondered if it was above my political allies to start behaving like adults. Frum's response was pitch-perfect: "The fact that other people fail in other ways is not an excuse for you failing in your way." 

This is a lesson we could all benefit from. Maddow (and Keith Olbermann) are good at providing political red-meat for liberals, and mockery isn't always bad - sometimes the other side deserves it! But we harm ourselves if we create political echo-chambers where self-awareness is a vice. Maddow was clearly uncomfortable addressing Frum's criticism, and her weak justification for not inviting conservatives onto her show to have real debates betrays her true political sensibilities, which seem to be partisan rather than substantive. 

I know the right is guiltier of this than the left - AM talk radio and Fox News are the prime examples of echo-chamber political dialogue. Even Maddow and Olbermann, as prominent as they are, are nothing like Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, and the other right-wing partisans who pollute radio and television. But that is no excuse for producing "lite" versions of their products. We should be trying to elevate the debate.

(Another thought occurs to me: Is Jon Stewart guilty of this? I don't think so, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a big fan of his show. First of all, Stewart makes fun of politicians when they are being truly ridiculous, and he does so in a way that is more straightforward and honest than much of what's considered "serious news." He's just as comfortable attacking the left as he is the right, and the last third of his show is an interview where he does engage his opponents in a serious manner. If anything, he's the prime example of how we can be "playful," to borrow a word, keep our politicians honest, and maybe even raise the level of debate.)

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