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Adieu, Randi Rhodes

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Randi Rhodes has left the building, but the controversy lingers on. I rarely write about personalities, being much more interested in issues and ideas. Celebrity-obsession is a major pox on the American body-politic, and I'd just as soon ignore the AAR-Rhodes contretemps. But l'affaire Rhodes bears larger implications that deserve examination. Quite frankly, I will miss the Randi Rhodes show on Air America Radio. She is smart, sassy, witty, and she deftly stroked my political biases. But a typical RR show was like a feast of carnival junk food: enjoyable at the moment, but devoid of much nourishment. (I exclude from this assessment her interviews with such outstanding guests as John Dean, Jonathan Turley and Brent Budowsky). I prefer to listen to the radio with the expectation that I might learn something. Far better to listen to Thom Hartmann and Rachel Maddow, each of whom possess a high-wattage intellect and awesome critical skills, gained through years of serious study. Plain brilliance is a rare commodity in talk radio, and Hartmann and Maddow both have it in generous abundance. On the other hand, the Randi Rhodes show was my guilty pleasure, evoking many grins and chuckles, and suitable for multi-tasking: background for housework, driving, or typing and filing at my desk. Yes, I will miss The Randi Rhodes Show, but will be none the worse for her departure. As I learned long ago, when for a couple of years I had a talk show in Salt Lake City, a microphone can be a mischievous ego-inflator. On Air America Radio, Hartmann, Maddow, Flanders, Kennedy, Papantonio have displayed a commendable ability to keep their egos in check. Sam Seder, on the other hand, might benefit from their example. Of late, Randi's ego has got the better of her, as she has become increasingly abusive of her callers, even those who are approximately 80% in agreement with her. Hillary-supporters could expect to be insulted, shouted-at, and cut off at any moment. The number of McCain supporters heard on Randi's show was roughly equivalent to the appearance of authentic liberals on the Rushathon or the Hannity-Calamity. (This in contrast with Thom Hartmann, who invites conservative guests on his show and puts dissenting callers at the head of the queue). Moreover, Randi has acquired the strange notion that informed liberals give a fractional goddam about her personal showbiz enthusiasms. OK, so she likes to watch "American Idol." But enough, already! Even so, there is an audience for that sort of thing, for, as we were reminded daily, The Randi Rhodes Show was promoted as the "top liberal talk show in the nation." While I regret Randi Rhodes' departure from Air America Radio, I endorse the decision of AAR's management to suspend her. This incident could have had a better outcome if Randi had used her time off the air to reflect on her performance and her role in the upcoming political contest. Then she might have returned to AAR both a better person and a better performer. The AAR owners gave her that opportunity. But reflection and contrition are not part of Randi's moral repertory. So she quit. Randi's regrettable "f***ing prostitute" outburst, aimed at Hillary Clinton, put the AAR management in an impossible lose/lose dilemma. Toleration of such behavior was unthinkable (as I will argue shortly). A summary firing was overkill, which would have outraged her many fans and seriously muffled the already faint voice of liberal talk radio. (Just consider the outcry that resulted from her suspension). But while suspension was the judicious middle-road, this too has had its costs. Once Randi Rhodes uttered those two words in public, there was to be no easy solution for AAR management. Suspension was merely the least-worst alternative. There is no first amendment issue here, so may we please put that nonsense aside? No one has a "right" to gain or keep a microphone or to demand space in a publication. I have no first amendment claim on the New York Times to publish my essays, nor a first amendment claim on Random House to publish my book. (Alas!) Just read the relevant portion of that amendment: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." This does not forbid AAR from taking the microphone away from Randi Rhodes. It simply forbids the government from telling AAR what it can or cannot broadcast, just as it forbids the government from telling The New York Times and The Washington Post that it can't publish the Pentagon Papers. (Ah, those were the days! RIP free and independent press). So we turn now to those "larger implications" of Randi Rhodes' outburst in that San Francisco night club. Like Randi Rhodes, I support Barack Obama, and find much to criticize in the behavior of Hillary Clinton, who, prior to this campaign, I had once greatly admired. But Obama's advantage today is such that the prize is all-but won. Like the wolf in the Russian tale, "Peter and the Wolf," Hillary Clinton is trapped: the more she tries to throw off the lasso, the tighter its hold on her. Clinton's negative attacks on Obama are backfiring: he is rubber, she is glue. Barring a colossal blunder by Obama, anything that Clinton might do to win the nomination will be so destructive to the party and to her reputation that the prize will be worthless. The wise decision of the Obama campaign, thus far brilliantly conducted, is to hold back while the Clinton campaign self-destructs. All the while, Obama projects calm, poise, and respect for his rival. Into this well-considered and well-executed strategy, storms Randi Rhodes. With "friends" like this, who needs enemies? Remember, above all, that while Randi was attacking a fellow Democrat, she was at the same time alienating that candidate's supporters. In a recent poll, more than thirty-percent of Hillary Clinton's supporters said that they would not be inclined to vote for Obama if he gets the nomination. If even half of those sore losers feel the same way on election day, John McCain will be our next president. So, at the very least, those two abusive words were tactically stupid. Next, there is the question of the preferred "tone" of the post-convention campaign. Aside from a small and shrinking contingent of "dittoheads," the American public has had just about enough of the right-wing screech-merchants. Evidence? Consider the "retirement" of Tucker Carlson, and declining audience of FAUX News and of Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, O'Reilly and the other "Lords of Loud." At the same time, MSNBC, with its emerging contingent of responsible liberals and centrists such as Keith Olbermann, Dan Abrams, and now Rachel Maddow, is overtaking FOX and CNN, while CBS's 60 Minutes is willing to give air time to an investigation of the Siegelman persecution. If the public is, at long last, turning away from politics-as-personal-destruction, then it ill-behooves progressive broadcasters to perpetuate this misbehavior by imitating it. The last thing we need this season is a left-wing version of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. The Republicans, under the tutelage of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, have perfected the art and craft of political skullduggery. If the Democrats choose to play by the rules of these scoundrels, they will lose. But if, instead, the Democrats treat these tactics with the contempt that they deserve, and direct the public's attention to indisputable facts and compelling issues, they can win in November, and there is a chance that we might take our country back from the outlaws, thieves and oligarchs. I am not, however, counseling rhetorical disarmament by asking the Democrats to bring bare knuckles to a knife-fight. Al Gore thought that the "inventing the internet" was unworthy of a reply. So too John Kerry when confronted with the "Swift Boat Vets." And we know how all that turned out. Be assured that this time, Karl Rove, though out of the White House, is still very much in the fight. So we must be prepared for more of the same gutter politics from the GOP. But while the Democrats need not fight dirty, they must fight smart. They must use "rhetorical judo," by turning the opponent's strength to their own advantage. That is precisely what Rove did with the "swift boat" caper. But that attack, like the Bush/Rove attack on McCain in South Carolina in 2000, was based on lies. The Democrats have more than enough truth in their armory to do fatal damage to the Republicans in November. There is a fine line between well-deserved ridicule on the one hand and abusive insult on the other. Well-crafted ridicule yields political advantage, while insult has a way of backfiring. The Democrats should watch that line very carefully. Howard Dean says that the Democrats will not use McCain's age as an issue. Well, yes and no. Calling him "Grandpa" seems out of line. But pointing out, and, better yet, showing video clips of "senior moments," is fair game. A candidate's capacity to function as Chief Executive is most assuredly a valid issue. McCain has acquired the label, "Senator Bomb-Bomb." Fair enough. He did, after all, sing "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran." The public needs to be reminded that bombing appears to be McCain's favored "instrument of diplomacy." And that photo of McCain hugging Dubya deserves to be shown at least as often as the image of Bill Clinton hugging Monica at the rope line. The media will not oblige, of course, but in a country with a genuinely free press, it could be possible. And, more to the point, the McCain/Dubya hug really happened, and that image conveys a deeper truth: that McCain will do anything to further his career, even cozy-up to the man who insulted his wife and child. Furthermore, it bears repeating that McCain is now up close and personal with the detested George Bush and his policies. Simply put, that fine line between deserved ridicule and insult is the line between truth and slander. Slander is the mother's milk of Karl Rove and his kind, and slander and lies are all that the Republicans have left. The Democrats have no need of it, for the truth will suffice. As Harry Truman put it, "I didn't give 'em Hell, I gave them the truth and they thought it was Hell." Let that "truth" be the truth that cruelly impacts the lives ordinary Americans. The truth that their sons are being sent abroad to fight and die in fruitless and immoral wars. That their country has been demeaned by an illegal war and is being led by war criminals who lied us into that war. That their government's treasury has been looted, that their jobs have been exported; that they have lost or are about to lose their homes, their pensions and their health care. If these truths can somehow break through the iron curtain of the corporate media, and if somehow enough votes can be fairly counted, the Democrats can win in November. This can be accomplished without calling our opponents "f***ing whores," least of all those "opponents" within our own party. Those who resort to such behavior must be condemned, and the public at large must understand that such behavior will not be tolerated within the ranks of the supporters of the Democratic party. We are better than that. Let the world take note. Let's face it: though there is a light-year's distance between the intellectual capacities and moral qualities of the presumptive candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, this election campaign promises to be brutal. As Al Gore will testify, a simple "win" will not suffice. GOP partisans own the media and count the votes, and they are even today hard at work throwing millions of Democratic voters off the rolls. Either the Democrats win overwhelmingly or they lose. There will be no photo finish this time. Even while the pre-convention contest continues, it is not too soon for Democrats to unite. Obama and Clinton must now direct their critical fire, not at each other, but at the presumptive Republican nominee. So too the liberal and progressive advocates on the minuscule authentic "liberal media." The punditocracy tells us that the early resolution of the GOP contest has worked to the advantage of the Republicans. This need not be so. That same resolution gave the left a singular and very vulnerable target. So have the Democrats used this early decision to their advantage? Don't be silly! Leave it the Democrats never to miss and opportunity to miss an opportunity. It is past time for the establishment Democrats to wise up. Bush, Cheney, Rove, and their chosen supplicant, John McCain, are the enemies, not the Clintons or, alternatively, Barack Obama. The end of the GOP/corporate kleptocracy and the restoration of the American republic and its Constitution are the over-arching issues before us. Those who promote discord within the party ranks, be they Hillary Clinton or Randi Rhodes, are doing the devil's work, and they must be marginalized. If Randi Rhodes has used her hiatus to cool down, reflect, and redirect her considerable talents to an engagement with the appropriate adversaries and issues, then her return to the struggle will be both valuable and welcomed. Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge
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Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. Partridge has taught philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The (more...)
 

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