Sunday, January 23, 2011

Good by Keith ( and good riddance)

The news is somewhat abuzz about the sudden resignation of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC, and the resulting cancellation of "Countdown With Keith Olbermann". Personally, I can't say that I am even remotely sorry to see the man go. His contribution to the political arena (and the first amendment) can best be compared to Larry Flint in that so long as he was running his mouth, the rest of us had relatively little to worry about. But I definitely have a thing to say now that his name is in the news.

As we have mentioned before, the freedom of speech is a dynamic, powerful, and often times controversial law that we have all more or less grown up knowing how to use (and abuse) reflexively. Under its protection, people are allowed to say some of the most... "charged" (to be polite about it) words and phrases they can come up with. Olbermann was never one to pass up an opportunity on that front. In fact, while we are not the only country that allowed its subjects to call elected leaders names, I'm willing to bet we are one of a very few where some people make a comfortable living off of it.

My problem with Keith Olbermann isn't his politics. The fact he's liberal does not set him apart from a whole host of liberals I know and gladly interact with. My problem with him is his attitude. Olberman's contribution to the political arena was little more than a well polished stream of vitriol directed at just about anyone who didn't agree with him. It wasn't enough to disagree or debate, but rather he dedicated whole segments of his show to name-calling rants against others, including the president and other political pundits. I want to say it was some time back in 2007 when I got the opportunity to watch him look into the camera and say "President Bush, you are nothing but a lier, the whole world knows you are a lier, I know you are a lier, the true Americans in this nation know you are a lier and now, hopefully, maybe, you will figure out that your farce is over and stop trying to destroy this nation that the rest of us love." (I used quotes, but its based on a four- year-old memory, so go easy on me). Okay Keith, we get it, you're liberal, you hate Bill O'Riley, Rush Limbaugh and George Bush. But does that really accomplish anything? Doe saying it over and over (and over and over) again really further any productive goal?

People like him set exactly the type of example we as a nation should strive to not be like. When we stop talking to each other, we not only hurt ourselves, but we add to a political mindset that has broken down into "us" and "them", rather than the "we" spoken about in "We the people..."  People that hateful and combative may well exist inside the protections of the first amendment, but they fly in opposition of its intent. Numerous judges, congressmen and attorneys have said that the first amendment was meant to protect the free exchange of ideas, the flow of information, and to create a marketplace of interaction meant to foster a more enlightened people. Since the definition of those terms are vague at best, we draw hard and broad lines protecting as much speech and expression as we can. But still, the intent for civil discourse is clear from the first. Olbermann's thesis during his time on "Countdown" can best be summarized as "if you dont agree with me, you're an idiot and unpatriotic."

If we as a nation are ever going to come to some kind of functional understanding about things like health care, immigration, and gay wrights (just to name a few), that's going to have to start with shutting up people who's only contribution to the conversation is to piss off the other side. Is Olbermann the only one? Not by a long shot. Personally, I would love to lock him and Ann Coulter in a room together and see what happens. I may agree with her politics, but condesending bitches like her really make me sorry to be a conservative at times.

"We" (the whole of the US) are going to get mad at each other from time to time. In fact, I would wager that on the issue of politics, there is always going to be more than a few topics that spike our blood pressure. But honestly, what good is accomplished when we let the attacks get personal? When that happens we have nothing but winners and looser, and the looser are bitter, angry, and just waiting for a chance to get even (wow, doesn't that sound like the last few legislative elections?).

So how do you shut up someone like Oberman, or Coulter? The first amendment makes that hard, right? Not really, and its not even so simplistic as turning off the TV (The law may not recognize qui tacet consentire videtur, but it's gospel for the media). If you want to shut them up, you start by creating an environment that favors discussion rather than insults. You tell  someone "I don't agree with you one bit, but that doesn't mean I am going to question your intelligence". And if you really want to go out on a limb, the next time you get you head handed to you in a political argument, invite the guy who just creamed you out for drinks, and make sure to toast his good health. In the end, I encourage you to argue the points as they come, but cherish the people who argue them.

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