Political Hay

A Smorgasbord of Schadenfreude

Watching with glee while Democrats eat their own.

By 12.9.10

Send to Kindle

Elections have consequences and one of the most pleasant consequences of last month's mid-term "shellacking" is that conservatives can now enjoy the spectacle of Democratic finger-pointing over the fallout of their electoral catastrophe.

Click your TV remote-control over to MSNBC and you can see what I mean. On what is the de facto Democratic Party cable network, liberals are taking turns in an epic beatdown of President Obama and other Democrats whom they accuse of traitorous weakness -- appeasement! nay, even outright complicity! -- toward those evil right-wing Republicans. The Left's erstwhile hero has now become their Neville Chamberlain, or quite possibly their Vidkun Quisling. (You can probably guess who the Nazis are in either of those analogies.)

The reaction to Tuesday's White House press conference, at which the president defended his tax compromise with Republicans, was some of the best programming in MSNBC history. On Keith Olbermann's Countdown show, the network's primetime scold delivered himself of a new classic in his trademark bombastic "Special Comment" lecture series. Viewers of MSNBC -- including those of us conservatives who enjoy it as a campy amusement -- have long since become accustomed to watching this latter-day Ed Murrow wannabe denounce Republicans as dastardly villains.

The key ingredients to any "Special Comment" include outrageous hyperbole and impressive-sounding adjectives of the sort one might find on an SAT-preparation vocabulary list, as well as a frequent resort to historic and literary references, all of which is permeated with Olbermann's contempt for conservatives. Consider as a typical example how Olbermann responded in August, when New Yorkers were protesting against plans to build a Muslim cultural center two blocks from the site where the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001. Olbermann began by quoting the four sentences for which Pastor Martin Niemöller is best known ("They came first for the Communists…") en route to accusing Newt Gingrich of having a "lurid imagination," declaring that the Iraq war was an expression of America's "naked vengeful blindness," and condemning opponents of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" for allegedly urging Americans "to sell our birth-right, to feed the maw of xenophobia and vengeance and mob rule."

Listening to such overblown rhetoric delivered with all the well-rehearsed seriousness Olbermann can muster (which is quite a lot) serves to reinforce liberals' sense of their own intellectual superiority, to confirm their belief that anyone who disagrees with them is not merely evil -- on Countdown, the evilness of Republicans is indisputable -- but also hopelessly stupid. You might think Olbermann's audience, believing all this, would be at a loss to explain exactly how the party of evil stupidity managed to win an overwhelming victory on November 2. But if you watch Countdown regularly, you know that this result was made possible by the greedy rich, whose ill-gotten wealth was spent to help Republicans appeal to the intractable ignorance, racism and homophobia of the American electorate.

This is the Olbermann caricature of the GOP, and when Obama compromised with Republicans on "tax cuts for the rich," this exposed the president to every oratorical weapon in the Olbermann arsenal, which the MSNBC star unloaded in a 2,192-word rant Tuesday night. He began with another World War II reference, reciting Winston Churchill's denunciation of the shabby 1938 deal at Munich by which Chamberlain betrayed Czechoslovakia to Hitler: "We have sustained a defeat without a war" and so on, culminating in the words written by the invisible hand on the wall of Belshazzar's palace, "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting."

Of course, Countdown viewers reject the authority of the Bible and despise every political principle Churchill ever cherished, but no rules of logic or evidence apply when Olbermann is engaged in comparing Republicans to Nazis, as he does on an almost nightly basis. But Olbermann wasn't aiming at Republicans, he was aiming at Obama, accusing the president of "selling out a principal campaign pledge" and "betraying the truth that the idle and corporate rich of this country have gotten unprecedented and wholly indefensible tax cuts for a decade." He accused Obama of having "injected new vigor into the infantile, moronic, disproved-for-a-decade three-card monte game of an economic theory purveyed by these treacherous and ultimately traitorous Republicans, that tax cuts for the rich will somehow lead to job creation even though if that had ever been true in the slightest the economy would not be where it is today." And by extending these tax cuts, Olbermann said, the president had guaranteed "a reenactment of this whole sorry, amoral, degrading spectacle in the winter of 2012 and at worst a rubber-stamp from a wholly Republican House and Senate and even White House."

This was no mere legislative compromise. No, Olbermann told his viewers, this was a "searing and transcendent capitulation," the primary victims of which were the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their benefits, the so-called "99ers." Whatever Republicans had ceded in this compromise was dismissed by Olbermann as utterly insignificant: "Mr. President, for these meager crumbs, you have given up costly, insulting, divisive, destructive tax cuts for the rich and you have given in to Republican blackmail which will be followed by more Republican blackmail." And after many more hundreds of words of this kind of verbal excoriation -- this "Special Comment" was nearly 12 minutes long -- Olbermann lowered the boom: "It is not disloyalty to remind the President that he was elected by people to whom he had given a clear outline of what he would do for them, and if he does not steer out of the skid of what he is doing to them, he will not only not be re-elected, he may not even be re-nominated."

This threat of a 2012 primary challenge to Obama, coming from a man who claims to speak on behalf of the Democratic Party's grassroots activist base, surely ought to gladden the evil hearts of Republicans everywhere. Given Olbermann's love of historical comparisons, perhaps he can leave aside his GOP-Nazi analogies long enough to research recent history a bit closer to home. The last time a sitting president faced a serious primary challenger -- when Pat Buchanan took on George H.W. Bush in 1992 -- Republicans suffered a landslide defeat the next November. Before that? Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Democratic primaries, and Carter lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. In 1976, Reagan's primary challenge to Gerald Ford had preceded Ford's narrow loss to Carter and before that? In 1968, Gene McCarthy's strong showing in the New Hampshire Democratic primary led Lyndon Johnson to announce he would not seek re-election, and the GOP's Richard Nixon was subsequently elected to the White House.

If Obama is Chamberlain at Munich, where is the Democratic Churchill who, by taking on the president in the 2012 primaries, will rescue America from those dreaded GOP goosesteppers? Olbermann's overwrought analogy portrayed "tax cuts for the rich" as a 21st-century Sudetenland, but he never got around to identifying a liberal savior, who perhaps exists only in the fertile imagination of the Countdown host. That all this anti-Obama bombast is the result of a Republican midterm victory, forcing the president to triangulate his way toward an appearance of bipartisanship, promises many more equally entertaining "Special Comments" over the next two years. Some of us may be evil and stupid enough to hope that, should the GOP give liberalism another "shellacking" in 2012, Olbermann will be likening it to Dunkirk, as Democrats desperatedly try to salvage some remnant of the progressive dreams that Obama once promised to make real.

For conservatives with an appetite for schadenfreude, MSNBC is now serving a smörgåsbord. Olbermann's network is arguably less informative than Fox News, but watching Democrats eat their own is as entertaining as anything on Comedy Central.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.