The Howard Beale in Olbermann


Remember the meltdown?

I have read the transcripts of Keith Olbermann’s “Special Comments” for 14 months now, because I don’t have TV and cannot view videos online. I read these transcripts, because at some point before I gave up TV I realized that one day this MSNBC commentator might just self-implode much like Peter Finch’s character Howard Beale in “Network.”

I first became aware of Olbermann’s propensity for skewing truth during the 2008 presidential campaign when he was the head cheerleader for candidate Sen. Barack Obama and took every opportunity to vilify my choice, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This was a man who banned from his program his faithful nightly guest, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, for daring to state the obvious about Obama’s pre-election hubris.

Granted, there is some truth in Mr. Olbermann’s 10-minute program-closing diatribes, but quite often they are over-the-top, overtly emotional  showmanship. You know, kind of like Glenn Beck’s. Mr. Olbermann doesn't want you to know facts so much as he wants you to feel his words right down to your toes. He wants you to get up, open a window and start screamig.

Before the boob tube went blank, I heard Olbermann accuse a sitting president of the United States of America of being a “traitor.” There was a time in the not-too-distant past when that word would have prompted a duel or a hanging.

Even after detecting patterns in Olbermann’s teleprompter shock and awe, I was completely unprepared for, yea, stunned by his total excoriation of the man he so dedicatingly boosted into the Oval Office.

I was not so emotionally fired up, though, to fail to note his failure to cite a few facts.

DemWit is on the record, even back during the presidential campaign, defending Obama against lies and distortions. I have applauded his desire to be – unlike George W. Bush – president of all Americans. Over the last few days I’ve authored posts either attempting to cut through the BS surrounding the tax-cuts issue or defending the president’s unwillingness to let lower- and middle-class Americans become “collateral damage” in Washington warfare.

I am deeply interested in DemWit readers’ opinions - pro and con - on Mr. Olbermann’s latest comment, his words about our president. I am trying to keep my wits about me, and I need your input.

You may view a video of Countdown’s “Special Comment” HERE. The transcript follows:

Special Comment: Obama Turned His Back on His Base

by Keith Olbermann
"Countdown With Keith Olbermann"
MSNBC, 7 December 2010

With the tax-cut deal, the Democrats lost their chance to stop the GOP from taking unfair advantage of the middle class.

OLBERMANN: Finally tonight as promised, a Special Comment on the tax compromise.

To paraphrase Churchill, again, let me begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing: "that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road. We should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of American politics and policy have been deranged, and that the terrible words have, for the time being, been pronounced against this Administration: "thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.

In exchange for selling out a principle campaign pledge, and the people to whom and for whom it was made, in exchange for betraying the truth that the idle and corporate rich of this country have gotten unprecedented and wholly indefensible tax cuts for a decade, in exchange for giving the idle and corporate rich of this country two more years to accumulate still more and more vast piles of personal wealth with which they can buy and sell everybody else -- In exchange for extending what he spent the weeks before the midterms calling tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires to people who have proven, without a scintilla of doubt, without even a fig leaf of phony effort to make it look like they would do otherwise, that they will keep the money for themselves -- In exchange for injecting 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 -- In exchange for giving tax cuts for the rich which the nation cannot afford, and extending their vintage through the next election and thus promising, at best, a reenactment of this whole sorry, amoral, degrading spectacle during the 2012 presidential campaign, when the sides will be climbing over each other to again extend these cuts -- In exchange for this searing and transcendent capitulation, the President got just thirteen months of extended benefits for those unemployed less than 100 weeks. And he got nothing, absolutely nothing for those unemployed for longer, the 99ers.

This the administration is celebrating, taking the victims of Republican economic policy, taking the living breathing proof that the Bush tax cuts for the rich do not create jobs, and putting economic bull’s-eyes on their backs as of next December. On the one hand, unaffordable tax breaks for the beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts, made ever more permanent as they threaten to suck four trillion dollars out of government revenues in the next decade.

On the other hand, an insufficient dead-end unemployment solution for Americans who would actually work for a living, a solution made ever more temporary. And we are hearing nothing about those 99ers, even though the numbers of them will balloon from two million to four million or more by next December even with this deal, even though just last Thursday, the President's own Council of Economic Advisers reiterated the reality that the easiest way to create jobs and keep jobs is to make sure that the unemployed continue to have money to spend. The unemployed, unlike the rich whom this president has just bowed to, are, in fact, the job creators. They do not have investment portfolios to expand. They do not have vast savings into which to stuff the government checks. They have to spend the money. And the Council reported last week that when someone becomes a 99er, his or her household loses at least one third of its income. And where the 99er was the sole breadwinner, that's four households out of 10, they lose nine-tenths of their income.

The economy is surprisingly simple. If business and the rich won't spend, and the middle class can't spend, the only factor left to keep pushing money into the insatiable maw of capitalism is the government. So, should the government give the money to the rich who keep it, or to the not rich, who spend it? Apparently this President does not know the answer to that question, even though he has his own Council of Economic Advisers.

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. Of course, it's not just tax cuts for the rich that you've given up. There is also your new temporary payroll tax holiday, establishing a precedent that the way money is pumped into Social Security should be negotiated and traded off, and making it just that much easier to gut Social Security later. And, oh, by the way, in the middle of a crisis over making temporary Republican tax cuts permanent, you give the Republicans another temporary Republican tax cut that they can come back later to blackmail you into making permanent. Well, sir, at least that's the end of it. Except, of course, for the estate tax, what Republicans so happily call "the death tax," which will be reduced from its 2009 levels.


The money given by one dead rich person to some living rich persons will not be taxed up to $5 million. More than $5 million and it's 35 percent, which is less than it was under the tax laws of President Bush's last fiscal year. Sir, you have given undeserved tax breaks, and you have carved them a little more deeply into the stone of law, to rich people, living and dead.

And you want me to tell them which Democrat proposed this estate tax giveaway part?

Blanche Lincoln! Blanche Lincoln, repudiated by nearly half the Arkansans in her own party, and then repudiated by 63 percent of the voters in Arkansas. Mr. President, you're listening to Blanche Lincoln? What? Were Bob Beckel and Pat Caddell unavailable? This president negotiates down from a position of strength better than any politician in our recent history. It is too late now to go back and ask why the President, and why the wobbly Democratic leadership, whiffed on their chance to force John Boehner to put his money where his mouth was. In September, Boehner said if he had no other option, of course he would vote to extend tax breaks only for the middle class.

So, the President and the Democrats gave him another option, naturally.

But didn't extending the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthy became necessary to get Republican support for extending the jobless benefits? Nonsense. Five times in the last two years, the Republicans have gone along with extending those jobless benefits, and they've done it without being bribed with tax cuts for the rich.

Even now, Boehner's September confession, and the GOP's unwillingness to take the blame for killing off jobless benefits offered an alternative blueprint for this President: Let the law expire as scheduled in 24 days. Let all the tax breaks go. And when the Republicans take over the House and try to pass them anew, if they somehow are not stopped in the Senate, veto anything that does not keep tax cuts for the middle class and unemployment benefits as the dog, and perks for the rich as the tail.

The GOP is still terrified of being blamed for cutting off the unemployed. You take that fact and you break them with it. There is only one possible rational explanation for this irrational and childish transaction. There are Republicans and Tea Partiers who are still intent on cutting off their noses to spite their faces, the "Blind Rage Conservatives" for whom any compromise is disaster, just as for this president apparently no compromise is disaster.

Maybe the reason the administration's numbers don't really add up in this deal is that the administration was too busy instead counting votes, and there really are enough on the far right to sink it, and the President winds up having his cake and eating it too. He proposed what he can call a "tax compromise" and then he can have it derailed publicly and embarrassingly by the Republicans. Maybe the political calculus here exceeds both in priority and quality the real calculus. But I deeply doubt it.

Yesterday, I had an exchange with a very senior member of this administration who wanted to sell me on this deal. I pointed out that that was fine, except that, as I phrased it to him, "frankly, the base has just vanished." "Well," he replied, "then they must not have read the details."

There, in a nutshell, is this Administration. They didn't make a bad deal. We just don't understand it. Just as it was our fault, Mr. President, for not understanding your refusal of even the most perfunctory of investigations of rendition or domestic spying or the other crimes of the Bush administration, or why you have now established for those future administrations who want to repeat those crimes, that the punishment for them will be nothing.

Just as it was our fault, Mr. President, for not understanding Afghanistan. Just as we didn't correctly perceive, sir, the necessity for the continuation of Gitmo. Or how we failed to intuit, President Obama, your pre-emptive abandonment of single payer and the public option.

Or how we could not have foreseen your foot-dragging on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Just as we shouldn't have gotten you angry at your news conference today and made all the moderate Democrats wonder why in the hell you get publicly angry so often at the liberals who campaigned for you, and whether you might save just a touch of that sarcasm and that self-martyrdom for the Republicans.

And, of course, Mr. President we totally betrayed your administration by not concluding our prayers every night by saying "thank you for preventing another Great Depression; you are entitled to skate along on your own wonderfulness indefinitely.

And if you get less than you could have on health care reform or taxes, well, that'll be OK; we're happy to pay 10,000 bucks for a $300 car because, hey, it could've been 20,000, right?

And because we only expect you to do one thing correctly during a presidency, and you know you had pretty much cleared that obligation when it proved that you were, indeed, not John McCain." We are very sorry.

In some sense, the senior member's remark about how we "did not read the details" is not utterly absurd. We have enabled this President, and his compromises spinning within compromises. And now there are, finally, those within his own party who have said "enough.”

In the Senate, the Independent, Mr. Sanders has threatened to filibuster this deal. He deserves the support of every American in doing so, as do Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Conyers and the others in the House. It is not disloyalty to the Democratic party to tell a Democratic president he is wrong. It is not disloyalty to tell him he is goddamned wrong. It is not disloyalty for the 99ers and the 99ers-to-be to rally in the streets of Washington. 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. It is not disloyalty to remind him that we are not bound to an individual.

We are bound to principles. If the individual changes, or fails often and needlessly, then we get a new man. Or woman. None of that is disloyalty. It is self-defense. It is the acknowledgment that, as my hero Thurber wrote, you might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backwards. That is what the base is saying to this President about his presidency. "Well, then, we must not have read the details."

The Churchill quotation, as opposed to the quotation from that very senior member of your administration, Mr. President, is from October 5th, 1938.

I don't want to make any true comparison to the historical event to which it related. The viewer can go ahead and look it up if they wish. I will confess, I won't fight if anybody wants to draw a comparison between what you've done with our domestic politics of our day to what Neville Chamberlain did with the international politics of his. The rest of what Churchill said, paraphrased, but only slightly paraphrased, bears repeating again. The terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against this administration: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting." And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and political vigor, we arise again and take our stand for what is right.

Good night and good luck.


Mr. Olbermann, it is apparent from your comments that this rage against the president has been building for some time now. Is it fair, sir, that you can change your mind while blasting Barack Obama for changing his?


DemWit welcomes your comments.


Murr Brewster said...

I am so torn about my President, who was also my candidate. One wishes he would stand up there with his vaunted eloquence and let 'em have it, and let the chips fall where they may--stand for what he believes in (single-payer, carbon taxes, etc.) and allow us to cheer. He's smarter than I am (very refreshing) and better-informed, and in what appears to be an impossible situation with an intractable and iniquitous opposition. He may be doing the best it is possible to do, and that is very depressing.

I'm glad to hear your opinion of Keith Olbermann, who first thrilled me when he began his righteous commentaries directed at W., but his similarities to the Fox hacks on the other side were too chilling. I do like Maddow.

Nance said...

I heard that diatribe from Olbermann and I was shocked...much as I'm shocked by a blatant sexual scenes on television; I've avoided TV for so long that, when I do turn it on, I'm usually asking, "When did they start getting away with THAT?!"

So MSNBC is only FOX's flip side. I've got their respective positions nailed down and I can more or less assume their perspectives on any given issue. Now, I can turn them BOTH off, unless I'm looking to be riled up. Frankly, at this age, my Riled Up meter has long since been pegged.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Agreed. I stopped watching Olbermann a while ago because of his sanctimonious diatribes that get us nowhere, but, like the histrionics over at FAUX NOOZ, it gets people to watch and temporarily feel justified in their anger.

It gets absolutely nothing accomplished.

tnlib said...

Very courageous of you BJ. As you know, I've never been a fan of KO's. I'm glad to see others here share in this view. He is nothing but the flip side of a Glenn Beck - distorting facts with a lot of cheap theatrics. It is not good journalism and serves no purpose. Bravo.

Frodo, nominating Lawrence O'Donnell as Chief of Staff, said...

Magellan must have been a very good sailor, for he was surely the first to circle the globe. Frodo has no idea how many times he ran aground, or how many of his sailors died because of something stupid he might have done? What history records is that he did something monumental.

Frodo has absolutely no interest in the arrogance of the President, or in his ineptitude at assuaging the hurt feelings of MC's from Ohio, California, or West (by God) Virginia. Frodo, like history itself, will welcome him into the final harbor (assuming he doesn't sink the damn boat, first), with his remarkable achievements marked by flags aflutter.

As for Proud Merry's assessment of Mr. Olberman and his role in the folderol which seems to irritate some, and bother almost all, Frodo adds "Hear! Hear!" to the miasma.

Tiny seconds Frodo's nomination of Lawrence O'Donnell said...

Tiny has not listened to KO much the past few months either. She just read his comment and agrees he gets to far afield most of the time.

Tiny did listen to some news today and apparently the Rethuglicians used this opportunity to set a trap for Pres. Obama. If he agrees to let them have the extended Bush tax cuts, no money and jobs trickle down, then the Rethugs can say it is because of "Oboma's tax cuts."

Democrats refuse to let the bill even be presented on the floor of the House in it's present form. We shall see if they will offer up a better version.

Tiny wondered why tax breaks for the rich were to run longer than the unemployment checks for the unemployed. Seems if they were to be extended, they should not have exceeded the 13 weeks granted for unemployment checks. But the Rethugs wanted to use the same argument about raising taxes come the 2010 election cycle. Typical of the "Party of NO!"

Perhaps the best deal Pres. Obama could get is the one he presented. Perhaps too, the Dems can carve out a different, more equitable one that will serve the working people VS the rich. We at least owe then the opportunity to give it their best shot, even if the present tax cuts are allowed to expire on 31 December. A better bill can be retroactive as others have been.

So regardless of how much ranting KO wants to do, he is not the one who is in either house of congress. Lawrence O'Donnell has been there and understands the process better than othere and Tiny will depend on him to deliver a more realistic view of what is taking place in the gov't. houses in DC. Tiny seconds Frodo's motion for Lawrence O'Donnell's comments.

She will gladly stand beside Frodo with flags aflutter to welcome our President sterring our Ship of State safely into the harbor.

B.J. said...

Such informed comments! This is pretty elementary, but I’ve never cottoned too much to multi-millioniares claiming they are with the little guy. To name a few: Olbermann, Michael Moore and a campaigning John Edwards (net worth $54 million).

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