Regular readers may recall my tangle on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" back in June, which featured a spirited 3-on-1 political throwdown. Round two came last night, as I joined guest host Michael Eric Dyson, "political comedian" John Fugelsang, and in-house political analyst Jimmy Williams for a conversation about President Obama's "you didn't build that" comments. The discussion rapidly degenerated into a fevered stew of "racist dogwhistles" and Nazi comparisons. Here's the video -- two segments -- with additional commentary to follow:
A few ironies and assorted notes:
(2) Williams began by angrily stating that Republican attacks on Obama amount to racial and religious "code," designed to tickle the ears of their bigoted supporters. He inveighed against birthers and people who say (or imply) that the president "unAmerican" as evidence of this phenomenon. Fugelsang then ponderously asserted that "the use of the word unAmerican is unAmerican in itself," adding that only "fascist" societies use that sort of language. Dyson nodded in enthusiastic agreement. In the very next segment, Dyson called Michele Bachmann "unAmerican" without a hint of shame or reluctance.
(3) When I asked if Barack Obama's description of President Bush as "unpatriotic" in 2008 (discussing Bush's comparatively modest accumulation of national debt) was also a dog whistle of some sort, Williams instantly took the bait. "No, that's unpatriotic!" he thundered, working himself into an indignant lather. He went on to imply, falsely, that President Bush is primarily responsible for our $16 Trillion deficit (he meant debt). Fugelsang quickly chimed in with a totally-missing-the-point comment about President Reagan's deficits, before Williams interrupted him to call Bush's lie-based wars (which were authorized by Congress, unlike Obama's Libya adventure) "remarkably unpatriotic." They were unwittingly making my point for me. Here we had two liberals eagerly tripping over each other to smear Republican presidents as "unpatriotic," literally moments after steadfastly arguing that Sununu's quickly-retracted "unAmerican" comment about Obama was obviously intended to stir racist passions. When I pointed out the glaring double standard they had just helpfully indulged, Fugelsang uncorked this statement: "No one was ever calling President Bush's policies unAmerican or unpatriotic." Williams' head bobbed in concurrence; "or him," (meaning Bush himself), he agreed. The mind reels. They had just defended Obama's comment calling Bush "unpatriotic" by agreeing with it. In other words, they themselves had explicitly repeated the charge. With relish. Then they blithely claimed that "no one was ever" doing that. How does one contend with such breathtaking cognitive dissonance and self-unawareness?
(4) A point I wanted to add before running out of time was that independents flocked to candidate Obama in 2008. Yesterday's New York Times/CBS News poll clearly demonstrates that this same group's view of the president has been profoundly diminished since then -- on both approval and favorability measures. Surely that movement can be attributed to factors other than supposed "secret dog whistles," no?
(5) During the Bachmann segment, I was genuinely perplexed by Dyson's first question. I think he was arguing that because a handful of House Republicans (recklessly) issued a letter expressing concern about the potential Islamist ties of an aide to Secretary Clinton, they were feeding a broader GOP strategy to sow trickle-up "unAmerican" fears about the president. Okay, then.
(6) As I left the studio, I caught the last few seconds of one of MSNBC's much-lampooned "Lean Forward" ads. This one starred host Al Sharpton. Watch to the very end -- you can't make this stuff up:
Fascist talk? Unsurprisingly, I was bombarded with vitriolic tweets and emails from MSNBC viewers as soon as I got off the air. They ranged from mindless profanity, to comments about my appearance, to insults of my intelligence, to flat accusations of racism. Here is one email from a nice lady named Donna:
You are so young, and so very stupid. You are just tapping into the pubs for profit. Who helped you get where you are today? Did your parents pay for your education, did they pay for your car and insurance, and other expenses while you were in college. You are a parasite with no regard for anyone but your self-centered self. Maybe you should try living the way the poor, hard-working people do today, but of course, that is impossible because you only care about YOU! DISGUSTING. Maybe you should join the military for the wars you probably support, but will not fight!! I guess the poor, the dark skinned people, and the disadvantaged should fight and die for an "UNLAWFUL" War. That is the kind of person you are. You are just another self-centered sociopath that just cares about how much money you can make. SHAME ON YOU, YOU ARE DISGUSTING!
Such insight, based entirely off of a ten minute television appearance during which I don't believe I said anything especially inflammatory. Anyway, I'm fine taking some arrows -- politics ain't beanbag, as they say -- and I appreciate the opportunity to reach audiences that desperately need some ideological bubble bursting. But these appearances can also be instructive. This one certainly was.