Six Characters in Search of a Blogger

1.3 Elizabeth Hasselbeck in Oz

Oh, Elizabeth Hasselbeck (picture me shaking my head in pity.)  How often she has made me grit my teeth or clench my fists or talk back to the television in the past two years.  I know she has accepted Barack Obama as her President.  Maybe not quite the way she has accepted Jesus as her Savior, but still, it’s a start.   But I know it’s hard for her.  I’m sure she was alarmed on November 5 when she woke up in Oz and found the world had turned into technicolor, filled with sparkles and music and singing, with lollipop guilds and lullaby leagues dancing for joy because of the Obama win.  She wasn’t in political Kansas anymore.  Alas, many red states had gone blue (or even purple.)  

The View's Elizabeth Hasselbeck

Elizabeth Hasselbeck

Yes, November 5 must have been a very hard day for Elizabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of The View on ABC and one of the most prominent conservative TV personalities on the regular networks.  Hasselbeck, at least since last year’s famous on-air feuds with Rosie O’Donnell, has made a name for herself by staunchly defending President Bush and the war in Iraq, as well as promoting the McCain/Palin ticket without question, going so far as to continually raise the issue of the Obama-Bill Ayers connection.  While she has openly declared herself to be without a specific party affiliation, her considerable lean towards the right side of the political spectrum has been obvious:  she is anti-abortion; anti-gay marriage rights; anti-euthanasia; and pro the Iraq war and the Bush Doctrine.  Not to mention she admittedly loves the FOX news channel, has guest hosted on “Fox and Friends,” and has even been rumored to be leaving The View to get her own show at FOX.  Check out some vintage partisan parrying on The View below:

Besides using The View as a platform for her political opinions (which, after all, is what the show is all about), Hasselbeck took her advocacy to a new level in campaign 2008.  She was a keynote speaker at a Republican National Convention luncheon honoring Cindy McCain, where she threw an only slightly veiled insult at Michelle Obama, comparing the potential First Ladies’ appearances on The View:

“Cindy came into our hair and makeup room, fresh as can be, and unlike another wife of a political candidate who shall remain nameless, she didn’t come with a list of topics that we weren’t allowed to touch.  Nope, that’s because she has nothing to hide.”

Now, depending on how you read the quote, you could infer that Michelle Obama has some pretty ominous secrets, and that (according to Hasselbeck’s syntax) Michelle might be less than “fresh.”  Hmm.  I’ll leave that one alone.  But what I find infuriating about Hasselbeck, and about several conservative hard-liners this year, is that while they are quick to sling nasty accusations, they are slow to realize that these accusations might magnify the faults in their own candidates.  Take, for instance, Obama’s association with his “pal,” (1960s domestic terrorist William Ayers), that Hasselbeck so fervently trumpeted for weeks.  If she wants to make it an issue, that’s fine.  Mud gets slung in political campaigns, and everything about a candidate should be considered.  But she never once analyzed McCain’s role in the Keating Five scandal (“he was cleared,” she said dismissively), nor did she mull the more troubling associations “First Dude” Todd Palin brought to the McCain/Palin ticket–namely, his membership in the secessionist Alaska Independence Party.   

Then, of course, there is Wardrobegate, (also known as NeimanMarcusgate, HillbilliesGoneWildatSaksgate, and SpiffingUptheFirstDudeandtheKidsontheRNC’sDimegate.)  While on the trail in Florida campaigning for Sarah Palin a few weeks ago, Hasselbeck was quick to recuse Palin of any guilt in the scandal, instead accusing the media of being “sexist” by pursuing the story.  But what she didn’t seem to understand is that the accusations were not about the clothes themselves, but about the image the campaign was projecting to the American people by putting Palin in them.  Hockey moms (outside of Manhattan) don’t usually wear, say, Valentino.  And Joe the Plumber can’t afford Armani (well, at least not until his country music career takes off.)

And as much as Hasselbeck may complain about the double standard (that the Democrats didn’t suffer the same scrutiny), perhaps she forgets how much news circulated around Michelle Obama’s appearance on The View over the summer when the dress she wore–a chic $148 off-the-rack number–quickly sold out online when women found out they could afford it.  Not to mention the fairly critical opinion polls about the red and black dress the future First Lady wore on election night.  Like it or not, Hasselbeck must realize that you can’t claim to be the “party of the average guy” when the VP candidate has a wardrobe two, three or four times the value of most peoples’ salaries.  When building a political image, these factors must be taken into consideration (just think of the object lesson in John Edwards preaching about poverty and then getting a $400 haircut.)  And saying “Palin didn’t know” is no excuse, because there’s just no excuse for ignorance. I’m sure Michelle Obama’s decisions about wardrobe were both deliberate and cost-conscious–she was acutely aware of what she was representing to the country.  Actions (like wardrobe purchases) speak volumes. 

But back to the yellow brick road for a moment.  I know Elizabeth Hasselbeck has probably learned not to stray from the golden path of the party line because bad things might happen to her.  She could get fired from her job, like columnist Christopher Buckley.  She could get death threats, like journalist Kathleen Parker.  She could be quietly exiled into obscurity, like ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.  Or she could just wander into a field of flowers filled with the scent of forgetfulness, like blogger Andrew Sullivan, author Christopher Hitchens and others, content to dream until a better version of conservatism emerges.  (Quick word of warning before they go to sleep, though: watch out for Dick Cheney and his flying monkeys.)  

But, despite the scary consequences of moving off of the brick road, Hasselbeck shouldn’t think for a moment that she has to link arms with her roadtrip pals–the one without the brain (Palin), the one without the heart (McCain), and the one without the courage (Bush)–just because they also happen to be conservatives. She–and other Republicans like her–shouldn’t be afraid to ask them questions.  Like hey, Sarah, do extreme cold temperatures in Alaska impair brain function and disable intellectual curiosity?  And excuse me, John, what happened to that heart of yours when you hired the same cynical operatives who destroyed you in 2000 to sling smears at Obama?  And, geez, George, why didn’t you just have the courage to say you were wrong about WMDs in Iraq in the first place?  

But if she continues to stay on the path with her friends, and she gets to the Emerald City, I’m going to give her a little advice about the Great and Powerful Oz.  I will say this:  

Elizabeth, he will try to boss you around, and scare the hell out of you with his big, bald head, his fearmongering and firethrowing.  But when you are frightened the most, look for a little booth in the corner.  Roll back the curtain, and see:  it’s just a little man named Karl Rove, furiously pulling levers, pushing buttons, and flicking switches in his political control booth.  You don’t really have to do what he says.  You can say “no.”  You can say, “it ends here.”

The power is in those ruby red pumps of yours, Elizabeth.  It has been all along.  Click your heels, or simply walk away.  For once, let your shoes do the talking.

1.2 Off to Never-Never-Land with Rachel Maddow (in a good way)
November 12, 2008, 1:08 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008 | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ll teach you to jump on the wind’s back, and away we go.  -Peter Pan

Rachel Maddow is like the Peter Pan of MSNBC.  I’m not talking simply about the physical resemblance; it isn’t a stretch to see Maddow playing the part, flying across the set in a green tunic and her pixie hair cut, leading the “Lost Boys” of Olbermann, Matthews, Scarborough and Buchanan as they fight the good fight against FOX  (Bill O’Reilly as Captain Hook, anyone?)  No, what I’m referring to is her enthusiastic, easy boyishness; her absolute self-confidence; how skilled she is at what she does.  It’s like inhaling a little bit of magic dust every time I watch her.

Anyone with their eyes on the political scene in recent weeks–or for that matter, anyone who watches late-night television–must be aware of Maddow by now.  She has been taking the talk shows by storm; she’s mixed drinks with Martha Stewart, chatted on the couch with Jay Leno, been called the “Queen of Cable” by Stephen Colbert.  And here’s the thing:  the “Queen of Cable” title could actually be true.  Maddow has been a phenomenon, often beating her opponents Larry King and Sean Hannity in their 9pm time slot on rival news stations CNN and FOX.  And her show only premiered in September.

So what is this magic dust that Rachel exudes?  Where does this Peter Pan phenomenon come from?  The most succinct answer I can give is that she is simply being herself:  a highly intelligent and incisive pundit with a sharp wit, extraordinary memory, a cool head, and a polite manner.  And here’s the best part:  she’s a Democrat.  With a big, big D.  For years, liberals have had to endure pundits from their own party who, although they made sense to us, couldn’t penetrate the vast fog of political rhetoric Republicans would spout.  They were the nerds cowering in front of the bullies–think of Alan Colmes facing Sean Hannity.  Or if they weren’t nerds, they simply couldn’t beat the Republican strategy of TALKING SO LOUD AND WITH SO MUCH FORCE NO ONE COULD GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE EVEN IF THEY TRIED.

Enter Rachel, with her extraordinary calm and impeccable analysis–and with one, quick insight/puff she blows the Republican political fog away.  It’s like watching Peter Pan fly circles around pirates, with a little bit of playful glee thrown in for good measure.

What is also amazing about Maddow is her background–Ivy League without the pretention; Rhodes Scholar without the hubris; a prison AIDS activist; a doer of odd-jobs and deeds before she landed an on-air slot at a small Western Massachusetts radio station.  And her career has simply proceeded on from there–she got a gig as a co-host on an Air America radio show during its nascency, and from there started appearing as a guest on CNN and MSNBC.  After that, it was only a matter of time before The Rachel Maddow Show was born;  her talent was undeniable.   

But why is all of this important?  Because Rachel Maddow represents all of the promise in progressivism, at least as it is represented in television punditry.  Her intelligent analysis allows the big D Democratic argument–that government can effectively improve our society–to move away from its popular caricature in modern America, that of the bleeding heart, big spending solution.  Think of her as the next evolutionary step beyond Keith Olbermann’s eloquent and righteous outrage; Democrats can be playful and funny, too.  And win arguments with their wits, not with their volume.   

As I sit on my living room couch in my pajamas, typing away, I’m realizing that the Rachel Maddow/Peter Pan comparison seems to be a particularly apt symbol today, as indignant bloggers around the country react to Sarah Palin’s latest barb.  In her Monday night interview with Greta Van Susteren of FOX News, Palin called us “those bloggers in their pajamas, sittin’ in their parents’ basements, just writin’ garbage.”  

Let me pause here for a moment of Maddowian self composure.  Deep breath.  Ahem.  The pajama issue aside, if Sarah Palin is our nation’s future, then I don’t mind saying that I would rather be in Never-Never-Land than here.  I don’t think I could endure more of the passionate ignorance, religious intolerance, unchecked militarism, willful deceit, and championed mediocrity that has marked the last eight political years in our country.  So yes, I would like to go to a place where time seems to stand still.  Could we make it this one moment, now?  This moment when possibility is so palpable, despite the immense challenges we face as a nation?  This moment when my country doing right in the world seems possible again, when intellect and eloquence in prized politically, when “yes we can” is a better answer than “no, let’s just trust big business to do it”?    

Rachel, let me just say, should the worst come in 2012, I will be waiting for you here by the window in my pajamas. Promise me that we’ll just jump on the wind’s back, and away we’ll go.  Even if it’s only to your house in Western Massachusetts.  


The Rachel Maddow Show airs on MSNBC, every Monday through Friday at 9pm EST.  Check it out!