Sep 24, 2010

Dear Rachel Maddow, I Tried To Be Brief, But . . .

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,


Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, Banjomyn.
You have woken up and smelled the coffee.
Well said, friend!

Jean Spitzer said...

Googled Rachel Maddow to find out who she is; googled O'Donnell to find out more about her. Not having a TV and, now, listening to radio in Austin, where even the NPR affiliate mostly plays music, is probably keeping my blood pressure down.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, thanks.

Jean, yes, you might be on the best course. I get sucked in. At some point the scene goes beyond interesting, into enraging, and I don't have the sense to foresee that and turn it off.

PJ said...

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I guess this falls into the category of "will it play in Peoria"

I do understand the mistrust of the big city coast but I also get a little tired of having it pointed out to me. Personal, really, but I can't count the number of times in my travels that someone tries to treat me like a citified dip stick while running down the city I can count three generations of my people having occupied.

OK, having said my peace (or rant) let me add that your rant is far superior to mine. This is brilliant. Is there a way you can get it out there? You keep listening to Stewart, Oberman and Maddow why I hang out with TV-less Jean. Sorry, I tend to only listen to MOMA podcasts and such. Ask me about Chuck Close will ya?

btw: will I be burned at the stake for confessing a certain affection for Christopher Hitchens?

Anonymous said...

It seems Obama is all alone in defending a national health insurnace policy. Why is that? The right has told these enormous lies so that now those who would benefit most are the most adamantly against it.

(I'm a Jon Stewart fan.)

Barbaro said...

You're saying all the right things, B52, but I don't think the right people (pun intended) are listening.

The coffee party link is cute, but there's that audience problem again. And, like seemingly everything these days, it relies too heavily on slickness.

I find it harder and harder to distinguish political debate from cola wars, and this makes me worry that democracy is running out of habitat.

PJ said...

I read a comment on FB, someone said they took the transcript of one of Glenn Beck's shows, took out all obvious references as to who the speaker was and showed it to a co-worker who adored GB. Said co-worker wanted to know who the a-hole was. When he found out he didn't speak to the transcriptionist for a week. I guess that's one way to spell relief.

Very smart post.

PJ said...

Barbaro, it also struck me as slick but also that I'm a little jaded and maybe a bit of an elitist about my point of view. The important thing is that they're calling for the voice of reason which, really, at this point, no one is much interested in no matter what they say.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, I’m crushed that someone else beat me to the Coffee label, but at least we’re trying for broadly simliar things.

PA, I think I’ve liked Hitchens in a couple of TV talk segments, but I don’t have enough sense of him to offer an opinion. By the way, I think I heard that he’s seriously ill, maybe cancer?

Banjo52 said...

AH, I know, I know. I’ve never understood about Reagan Democrats (or whatever) thinking the rich are their buddies. Maybe I should applaud their lack of self-interest when they align with the wealthy—I guess they chant free enterprise and “Yay, CEOs” in the hope that they can someday sit in a circle and raise flags with the rich and powerful.

Also, I keep returning to the point that the insurance companies have been screwing everybody for decades, so why not let the government try for awhile? How could they do worse? And unlike CEOs and boards of trustees, Congress really CAN be voted out if people think they botch it too badly. Hell, that’s about to happen in two months. The gov. and corporations are both institutions, so I don’t get the assumption that the private sector is so friendly, efficient, competent, caring and trustworthy. After the revelations of the last two or three years? I just don’t get it.

I like Stewart well enough. He is funny, bright, and full of interesting info, or “info.” But he also can be mean, and he’s such a showman/showoff that he interrupts (often distinguished) guests to insert his often puerile quips. I guess I think he shouldn’t invite people of substance if he’s not gonna let them finish their sentences. But I do go on watching.

Banjo52 said...

Barbaro, yes, that’s the problem, whether it’s me or Maddow. How do we convince people to shut up and listen, THEN discuss (no yelling). And I don’t mean to pretend that’s easy.

Maybe we’re not up to democracy (excuse me, democratic republic), and the new media capacity for exposure is just revealing what a bunch of chaotic loons we’ve always been. I don’t want to think that, but I feel pushed in that direction. . . . Also, Barbaro, see Paula’s bottom comment.

Paula, I saw a similar trick back in the ‘60s—a sheet of paper circulated with an “anonymous” quote that turned out to be from a Hitler speech and summarized the heart of conservative thinking at the time. It was a beautiful prank, but kind of scary.

Banjo52 said...

THanks, all. I hope you keep this going.

Tomorrow, maybe I can get to the latest comments on Tate. They've been interesting!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

CH; he's my favorite Teddy Boy. You don't want to try and match wits with him. I've watched people bleed who gave it a shot. At the downtown Wilshire the day before we went to war (way back and yes, he was pro) and much later at a Pasadena bookstore (where he still wasn"t ready to concede defeat).

Cancer; throat. Because he wrote the anti-god book everyone who he's debated on that issue is jockying up for a death bed conversion. He says if they get one it will be because he's jacked up on morphine and out of his mind.

PJ said...

I saw an interview with CH a few weeks ago, he was talking to Martin Amis (?) or else he was referencing him - they're great friends - anyway, he was talking about how he wished he had taken better care of himself because he hates the thought of leaving his children behind and I really felt for him. As a Christian I don't care whether Hitchens believes or not and anyone that does mind doesn't understand that Jesus always left it to a person to choose - and loved them either way. The Apostles seem to have gotten confused after he died and now, well, look where we are. I think that if salvation was all there was to life it really wouldn't be much worth living. Being in the moment with someone, that's a gift that just keeps on giving long after the moment has passed and I think Hitchens has probably learned that if nothing else.

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