By Maryscott O’Connor
Keith Olbermann is very good at soundbite polemic; the rise in popularity of Countdown has at least as much to do with his inarguably charming personality as with Olbermann’s ability to transform complex issues of modern political science into televised Reader’s Digest versions both palatable and comprehensible to today’s harried and confused American citizen. Olbermann’s genuinely outraged Special Comments — the ones he aimed at Bush when he first started offering them on Countdown — were things of beauty.
Lately, however, they’ve lost their impact. It started with the one he aimed at Hillary Clinton. They have become, successively, less effective with each attempt.
If he wishes to preserve the power of this particular element in his arsenal, if indeed it remains salvageable, Keith Olbermann ought to retire the “Special Comment.” He must reserve its use for the truly heinous, the truly momentous, the truly “Special” — or risk its becoming yet another Countdown number, no more nor less notable or effective a propaganda tool than the “Worst Persons” or “Bushed.”
Those of us on the left and even many “in the middle” rightly applaud Countdown’s consistent provision of much-needed balance and correction to the onslaught of misinformation from the rest of corporate news networks’ baffling combination of reciting dictation from the GOP and constant omission of basic facts and glaring errors and missteps of the Bush Administration and, more recently, the McCain campaign for the Presidency.
The outrage Olbermann felt as he read aloud his very first Special Comment was palpable. And I shared it; we all did. Thus was born the Special Comment.
If it has lost its initial, undeniable potency (and I would argue it has and that, moreover, Olbermann risks transforming this now semi-regular editorial commentary into a merely erudite version of the Andy Rooney screed), it is because Olbermann has begun using these polemics as political weapons — trying, that is, to use them as such — instead of presenting them as he did in the beginning — as the infuriated remonstrances of a man who had, to that point, endeavoured desperately to maintain equanimity in the face of increasing insanity and finally refused to continue even bothering to pretend to pretend that ANYTHING sane remained in the world about which he gave his nightly reports.
Perhaps, spurred by the liberal and well-deserved praise his righteous and eloquent indignation elicited, Keith got carried away. After a few more Special Comments aimed at “Still President” Bush, Olbermann found other targets in Clinton and McCain… and his prose gradually became more prosaic and less puissant.
Case in point: His latest, regarding John McCain, while as always a well-constructed diatribe, might very well have been written by any number of Obama supporters. It lacks nothing in the way of facts, passion or a genuine basis for indignation; McCain has behaved abominably and Olbermann is correct in his analysis and disparagement of the candidate and the man.
Nevertheless, the frequency of these “Special” Comments and the essentially de rigueur character of the behaviour for which Olbermann takes McCain to task in this latest philippic combine to transform what began as a savagely incisive and dynamic rhetorical instrument into mere soothing anodyne to the liberal viewer — and perhaps a guarantor of said viewer’s patronage.
If Mr. Olbermann wishes to maintain his position as an editorialist on a news network whose commentary occasionally reaches Olympian heights of elocutionary brilliance, he should consider giving his Special Comments a hiatus for the duration of the Presidential campaign and perhaps hand the baton of daily expostulation to CNN’s Jack Cafferty, whose most recent commentary may be a smoke signal to MSNBC communicating his willingness to jump ship:
Throughout the evening, McCain chose to recite portions of his stump speech as answers to the questions he was being asked. Why? He has lived 71 years. Surely he has some thoughts on what it all means that go beyond canned answers culled from the same speech he delivers every day.
One after another, McCain’s answers were shallow, simplistic, and trite. He showed the same intellectual curiosity that George Bush has — virtually none.
Where are John McCain’s writings exploring the vexing moral issues of our time? Where are his position papers setting forth his careful consideration of foreign policy, the welfare state, education, America’s moral responsibility in the world, etc., etc., etc.?
John McCain graduated 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. His father and grandfather were four star admirals in the Navy. Some have suggested that might have played a role in McCain being admitted. His academic record was awful. And it shows over and over again whenever McCain is called upon to think on his feet.
A disingenuous display of objectivity is not the point of shelving the Special Commentary for the duration of the Presidential Campaign. Only a fool would believe Keith Olbermann a neutral observer of these political proceedings. No, my suggestion is in service of preserving the “specialness” of the Special Comment itself. Frankly, there is nothing Special enough about John McCain to warrant another epistle written directly to him. Olbermann’s viewers are all too aware of McCain’s pernicious failings and the ills that would befall this nation should his campaign and the right wing succeed in torturing the electoral system sufficiently to guarantee a McCain victory in November. Let the facts, as illuminated so expertly in the Countdown format, speak for themselves. Do not waste another Special moment on the venial sins of John McCain.
If Mr. Olbermann does feel moved to create another of his incandescent jeremiads, perhaps he ought to let the unsparing glare of light and righteous rage fall upon someone who truly deserves to hear the unvarnished truth about the damage caused by her actions — and inactions: Nancy “Impeachment is off the table” Pelosi.
Senior Contributing Editor Maryscott O’Connor is also editor in chief and founder of MyLeftWing.com.