Sep 24, 2010
Dear Rachel Maddow:
I agree with about 90% of your positions, and I learn a lot from your show (which I tape and watch with breakfast at least twice a week). I’m concerned, however, that you are preaching only to choir members like me. What are you (and your staff, of course, plus Jon Stewart, Keith Oberman, and others) doing to try to be heard by the other side?
I find your specifics compelling, and I have to think some conservatives would too. So what can you and the others do to expose to Centrists and Moderately-Right the Militant-Right’s irrationality and hatred? Is your show just biz and vanity, or do you honestly want to effect change? Maybe someday the Tea Party will have demonstrated that change trickles up. If so, what pragmatic alternatives are we offering in an effort to trickle up? How can we be more compelling? Preaching to each other is not the answer, no matter how well we bring it off. And if we sneer in the process, we're cutting off our noses.
I grew up in a small town in southern Ohio, and I know that sending liberal TV stars into hardcore Republican areas is not the answer—your IQs and seemingly elite eastern backgrounds are too apparent. I love your eloquence, but Joe the Plumber resents it bitterly; it won’t fit on a bumper sticker. And we need Joe as much as he, unknowingly, needs us.
Still, getting the obvious rationality of your actual content, your specifics—minus your glitzy personae—to people whose minds are still open, if just a crack, should be an achievable, wise, and correct objective. I imagine, for example, a sort of line-item questionnaire or list of talking points to be presented, say, to civic and church groups, at any school that will permit you to enter, and at various other local gatherings, where you offer, simply:
“Do you know the Right is pushing for this? And this? Do you agree with that? Why?”
For example: “The Right wants to privatize Social Security, Medicare, the V.A., and ______ and _______ and ________. Does that make sense after we’ve seen what Wall Street, the health insurance companies, auto companies, oil companies and other corporate interests have done to Main Street? What is your evidence that private sector executives know how to manage anything? Was your sister’s retirement money in Enron?”
This is a Coffee Table; our conversation-emissaries will have to set aside condescension and show biz antics. They must wait patiently for citizens to answer. No Fast-Talk. We'll shun histrionic volume; we'll have entered a sanctuary of reason and earnest good will.
Politely, calmly decline to accept slogans and sound bites. Courteously insist upon responses that are explained and illustrated with specifics. Videotape citizens and play back the tape. “Now that you’ve heard what you’ve said and seen how you’ve said it, do you notice any problems with your argument? Do you think the other side might? How could you be more convincing? Do you have the strength of character to alter any of your views? Which of our views would you most like us to alter? Why?"
That is, help average Americans stop shouting and hating. Persuade citizens to imagine life in circumstances other than their own. Entreat an entice them to begin to hear what they themselves, as well as others, are saying. Help them inch toward reasoning.
Jon Stewart would have to abandon his narcissistic shtick and his interruptions, and I don’t think he’s up to it. You, Rachel, might be able to present as a well-meaning person on the street, but I doubt it—whether or not you intend it, in language and manner, you exude the Ivy League and Oxford. And faked average-ness is the last thing anyone needs.
So you’ll need likable regular-guy representatives from the Inch-Left-of-Center camp. Surely we have some. Maybe we could call ourselves the Coffee Crowd: “Joe Plumber, Have a Cup. Wake Up.” Or, “Joe, Real Americans Don’t Drink Tea.” Or, “Joe, Show us how The Militant-Right cares about you or your grandma.” Or, “Joe, What do you and a CEO have in common? What have CEOs done for you lately. Have they kept afloat your local businesses? Their employees, the guys who hire you, how much chump change have they tossed your way? Is it trickling nicely down? So why do you keep sucking up to CEOs? Is that why you bow-wow and bounce on your hind legs for Hate-Mongers?
“Why are you mouthing Republican sound bites about the merits of the private sector? They’ve nearly bankrupted us. Are you their stooge? How do you think The Glass Towers’ Upper Floors regard you and your set of manly tools?
“Who told you that a new president can fix in two years what their guy built in eight? How carefully have you thought about that formula? Two, eight. Two, eight.
“Has a new economic recovery begun? Some experts think so, and they’re as good at economics as you are at pipes and faucets.”
The Coffee Crowd could even go to a string of What-would-Jesus-do? questions. I must tell you, I find them less absurd than most bumper stickers, and downright promising in some cases.
Jesus was . . . a generous guy, wasn’t He? To put it mildly, he didn’t trust the Rich—He tossed their tables in the temple; and with His needle, He pretty much shut down heaven to the Rich and their glitzy camels. Let's see, He believed in compassion and giving, didn’t He? To the . . . you know . . . the poor? The unbathed, the sick—even the lepers?
Remind me what Wall St. says about compassion and sharing. How about the Upper Floors of Blue Cross or General Motors? “Blessed are the . . . Executives?” I guess the Methodists omitted a Beatitude or two.
Can it be that this new Extreme and Hateful Right has answers to any of that? I cannot imagine it, neither in the letter of their law, nor the spirit of it. The Militant-Right is aggressive and mean--and anarchic, maybe seditious: “Second Amendment remedies,” says former school teacher, Sharron-double-r-Angle.
But Coffee Table questioning will have to be delivered by generous people, in a kindly tone of mutual respect and willingness to listen—a tone which I lost somewhere back there, dozens of words ago. You need a calmer, wiser person than I.
Surely there are suitable minions, probably among the young, or maybe local, young politicians who haven’t yet perfected the stridency of our day. Unfortunately, our greatest president since Lincoln or FDR is a man of color who is too brilliant and too burdened by his liberal reputation (deserved or not) to be effective in Paranoid-Right venues, where you don’t find too many men of color, brilliant or otherwise. But the message must be delivered, and filming folks as they encounter content might expose some hitherto hidden truths to those who need to behold them. "Do you think you sounded a little mean there? More than you meant to? Exactly what and whom do you hate? Why? That aunt who lost her pension to Enron's top floor--what did she ever do to you? Why wouldn't you want to help her out? Maybe you could persuade her to be more cautious with her savings next time, if she ever has any savings again. Maybe you could listen to her story."
This all seems obvious, yet, to my knowledge, it is not happening. Democrats have been timid or inarticulate. Just as the media have not sought out and publicized moderate Muslims, they have not pounded home some specific realities about the meaning of Right and Left in the year 2010, choosing instead to focus on Christine O'Donnell's babblings of ten to twelve years ago. Maybe exposure of significant facts could even come along in time to prevent a regrettable tide in the November elections.
Aim high—especially now, when High is not as high as some once thought it was.
Best wishes and thanks for what you do,