Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Different Cow. Same Bull.

To Keith Olbermann

Dear Mr. Olbermann:

While this is not exactly a fan letter per se, please consider this more of a sympathy letter. To coin a phrase: I feel your pain.

On the October 27 2008 edition of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed Ms. Campbell Brown, the host of a new CNN program "No Bias, No Bull." Apparently, Ms. Brown's new program is scheduled at the same time as Mr. Bill O'Reilly's program on Fox News, and your program on MSNBC. Both Mr. Stewart and Ms. Brown got in lots of yuks about how hard it would be to find space in-between your views and Mr. O'Reilly's, given that (in Ms. Brown's words) you represent the "far left" and Mr. O'Reilly represents the "far right."
You can see the video here:

Ms. Brown's comments happen at the start of the interview.

For me, it was deja vu all over again, as they say where I come from. I know I should not be surprised anymore, but I always am. You, Mr. Olbermann, YOU are the voice of the "far left" in America? No wonder my head hurts all the time.

Let me explain. The 1988 Bush I -- Dukakis presidential election was a turning point in my life. If you remember, then Vice President George Bush, way behind in the polls, sold his soul to the Powers of Darkness and hired Mr. Lee Atwater to destroy America's political process. Among matters of vital national importance (like where Mr. Willie Horton spent his weekends), Vice President Bush confronted Governor Dukakis about being a "card carrying member of the ACLU" (America Civil Liberties Union) and being a "liberal." For reasons known only to Governor Dukakis and his god, the Governor initially refused to say he was a liberal. At that time, I was a second year law student, with issues of jurisprudence, constitutional law, and contracts pouring out of every orifice. Still--I had the wherewithal to be outraged at Governor Dukakis's timidity. But even more outrageous, though, was the consensus of my circle of friends that the Massachusetts Governor was doing the right thing. "After all," a friend asked me, "Would YOU admit you were a liberal?" I said "No, but . . . ""Well, there you go," my now ex-friend interrupted, "neither would I."

But why wouldn't I admit to being a liberal? Because I wasn't then, and am not now, a liberal. Hide the womenfolk, but here it is: I'm a democratic socialist. I am "left" as opposed to "liberal."

Mr. Keith Olbermann. His friends call him Che.

"Liberal" and "left" are, in part, economic terms, describing a level of state intervention in a nation's economy. An economy based on liberal principles has a minimum of political interference, and allows the forces of the market to dictate prices and types of goods available. As I'm using the term, "left" (meaning moving away from liberalism) would entail some level of public (or political) control of industry. That can be as extreme as a command economy, where the Office of Central Planning calls the factory manager in Suckstobeyoustan, places an order for 5,000 tractors, all of which will be shipped to Whymestan, by next October. Or it can be as simple as having a Food and Drug Administration, an administrative agency that not only confirms that the labels on bottles accurately reflect the contents, but also that the contents of those bottle won't kill you. The question is, just where do you want to draw the line.

I'm not a liberal. Why? Because I want to see more state intervention in the economy than what we have now. Is that also why Michael Dukakis denied being a liberal? Sure it was.

As a political philosophy, liberalism refers to tolerance of competing points of view. For example, the Federalist Papers are filled with the terror of the "Tyranny of the Majority," and how State action is necessary to preserve the opinions of the minority (like property owners who think debt forgiveness is bad) in the face of the majority (like debtors who think debt forgiveness is not that bad an idea). Similarly, the ALCU letterhead proudly reads "Someday, you too will need the ACLU," meaning if anyone risks having their civil liberties attacked, we should defend everybody's civil rights. Or, in the immortal words that Voltaire in fact never did write: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I just happen to not share that philosophy. In law school, me & the civil libertarians constantly would go to the mattresses, with the latter insisting there was no principled way to restrict speech based on content, while I insisted that our democracy could survive without Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party rallies in public parks. I still feel that way. Why? Because I'm not a liberal.

That all was before the Bush--Dukakis debacle. Now, I don't say that anymore. I've given up. I tell everyone I'm a liberal, and that I'm a card carrying member of the ACLU (even though it's a lie). Why? Because since 1988, political discourse has only gotten worse. How much worse?

Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly. He wasn't born stupid--what you see is the product of hard work and perseverance.

I cite Mr. Michael Scheuer's Imperial Hubris for much of my views on Afghanistan and the "War on Terror." Michael Scheuer, a career Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, for gods' sake. During the controversy over the so called "Surge" strategy in Iraq and Iran's nuclear program, I'm saying stuff like "But the CIA says . . ." meaning I'm AGREEING with the CIA position. That's like His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI saying "You know, I find Beelzebub's arguments on predestination particularly compelling . . ."

The terms "right," "liberal," "conservative," and "left" had all long lost their original meaning. And as part of the tiny minority standing against the Reagan Revolution, I didn't have the luxury of being choicey about labels, or who I was a fellow traveler for. But in my heart, I know the truth: I was still a Com-Symp, as they used to say in the 1950s.

So in late 2008 America, if "right" and "left" are no longer economic terms, what do they refer to? Look again at Ms. Brown's characterization of you as "far left" and Mr. O'Reilly as "far right." While I do not know a great deal about you Mr. Olbermann (and have no desire whatsoever to hurt your feelings), but whatever good qualities you have (and I am certain, sure you have many), you are no Eugene Debbs or Michael Harrington. Heck, you're not even Ralph Nader. Not even vaguely. Likewise, I would never consider Mr. O'Reilly on the "far right," because he is inconsistent, incoherent, self-contradictory, and a rank opportunist. In a word, Mr. O'Reilly is an idiot (to use a value neutral, non-judgmental expression). Idiots are not right, conservative, liberal, or left. They are just an embarrassment to all who know them. Just look at Mr. Rush Limbaugh.

So, what on earth could Ms. Brown have meant by "far right" and "far left"? What quality makes you and Mr. O'Reilly mirror opposites? Here's my suggestion: Tolerance for people in power who make stuff up, knowing the crap they hand out is not true, but still get offended if anyone questions the statement's validity.

Ms. Campbell Brown. She has a lovely smile--and one butt-ugly painting hanging in her attic.

ON THE FAR LEFT: Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown, responds to lies from the rich and powerful by presenting The Worst Person in the World.

ON THE FAR RIGHT: Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor, responds to lies from the rich and powerful by yelling at folks who dare suggest the emperor's buck naked (maybe) in The No Spin Zone.

Show me where I am wrong.

So what does all this mean? As Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty told Alice: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less." To Alice's protests that an individual couldn't make words mean different things, Humpty Dumpty told her "The question is, which is to be master -- that's all." What I mean, are two points. First, Ms. Brown has no qualms playing her role as Humpty Dumpty, using words in ways she knows full well will mean something different to her viewers than they do to her.

Ms. Loretta Young. She has nothing to do with this note whatsoever. But she also had no ugly paintings in her attic either.

Second, It also means that Ms. Campbell Brown owes you an apology, and I don't mean maybe. Her calling you "far left" had nothing to do with your opinions on central planning, December Nativity displays in public parks, or even your low level of gullibility regarding White House press releases, and has everything to do with calling you a word she knows her viewers will interpret to mean "dishonest" ie you are willing to distort facts, because of a personal political and economic bias.

Which is just more of the same old bull.

I remain:
Outraged, but still a liberal card carrying member of the ALCU.
Bill Abendroth

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