Lunacy From The New Republic

Browsing through the blog of The New Republic I came across this post, entitled “The Not-So-Soft Bigotry of Rachel Maddow's Low Expectations.”

I was puzzled by the title (and remain puzzled even after reading the post), but I was fairly certain it was not flattering towards Maddow. Since I am a big Maddow fan, I decided to read on. The post was by James Kirchick, and was a response to this piece about Maddow, which appeared in the NYT Magazine.

It was a standard puff piece made up of Maddow's short responses to items like “Worst Part of Job” and “Hobby.” Along the way she was asked about her “Favorite Republican.” Her answer:

I like the congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, because I understand what he believes, and he is fearless and civic-minded in his beliefs, rather than personally zealous.

Seemed harmless enough. Pretty hard to find any bigotry in it. Paul was, by a considerable margin, the most impressive of the Republican primary candidates. Since he had the freedom of knowing he could not win, he was able simply to tell it the way he saw it. No Washington double speak from him!

Kirchick was not amused. After ticking off a few examples of Paul's rather extreme views on various social issues he writes:

As it's safe to assume that Maddow is fully aware of all these things, one wonders how an ostensibly “liberal” and "progressive" person could voice such admiration for a far right extremist. The answer is that Maddow doesn't care about Paul's views on anything other than foreign policy. For many people on the Left nowadays, simple opposition to Bush, the “neocons,” what have you, is sufficient evidence of one's “anti-imperialist” bona fides. Never mind that Paul's positions on foreign policy, while seemingly attractive to liberals who may abhor what's occurred during the Bush administration, derive from the Old Right isolationsim of Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin, figures whose ideas any self-respecting and historically aware person calling herself a “liberal” ought to abhor. Paul stands foursquare against American “Empire,” and the fact that he's a Republican makes the deal even sweeter. Suddenly, a conspiracy-spouting crank is “fearless” and “civic-minded.”

If Rachel Maddow is the harbinger of the new generation of liberal pundits -- and having doubled her viewership in just the past several days and currently the subject of a worshipful cover story in the American Prospect, there's every indication she is -- then perhaps the impending progressive era isn't something to welcome so uncritically.

Goodness! Melodramatic much?

Did you see “such admiration” in what Maddow said? Or anything that praised Paul for specific views he holds? She said simply that she likes Paul for a couple of reasons. Does Kirchick think it's impossible to like someone while also disliking much of what they stand for? Heck, I could have said the same thing about many of the YEC's I have met.

So what on Earth prompted Kirchick's bizarre overreaction? Where's the contradiction in saying that on the one hand Paul is fearless and civic minded, but on the other he holds a lot of crazy views on things? And let's suppose Maddow's statement were as loathsome as Kirchick seems to think. That's enough to make him wonder whether “the impending progressive era” is a good thing?

The air waves are clogged with lunatic right-wingers showing on a daily basis that they will say anything, anything, to advance their cause. But Maddow is the one who earns Kirchick's ire? How absurd! I'll leave it to the commenters to speculate on what motivated Kirchick to write his ill-considered post.


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He's totally right about Paul of course. Paul is an isolationist, racist, old crank. Or at least, has no problem w/ isolationist, racist, old cranks using his name.

Sure. But the NY Post says I'm supposed to admire Dick Cheney because he's "dedicated", "forceful", and "unafraid to make tough decisions". So why can't Maddow like Paul for his two virtues? Especially in answer to a question like "Who is your favorite Republican?" (which, by the way, is probably what prompted the ire)

"Who is your favorite Republican?" Now, that's a question crafted to guarantee slim pickings!

Here in the Northeast — the part of the country that's so un-American they call it New England, those socialists! — a good answer up until a couple years ago would have been Lincoln Chafee. Of course, he had to (a) lose his Senate seat to somebody even more lib'rul and then (b) leave the Republican Party.

I have encountered a dozen or so people who have largely liberal views, but greatly admire Ron Paul, and are wholly ignorant of his is various crankeries.
James Kirchick's diatribe would have fit them very well.
Somewhat less relevant - I have encountered many atheists who greatly admire Ron Paul, and seem wholly ignorant of this theocratic views. (They're usually libertarian atheists, however.)
In short - Kirchick fired off a good shot, and there are plenty of good targets, but he was aimed in the wrong direction.

Since he had the freedom of knowing he could not win, he was able simply to tell it the way he saw it. No Washington double speak from him!

You could say the same about Mike Gravel on the Dem side.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 22 Oct 2008 #permalink

Maddow is not very much like the other TV pundits because she actually listens to and engages everybody she talks to. She is remarkably genial in a medium that is dominated by angry white guys. I'd find it very difficult to remain civil with Pat Buchanan, but she does. A lot is made of her obvious intelligence and education, but the reason these elitist virtues are tolerated on television where intellectual merit is normally fatal to rating success is that people simply like her.

Kirchick has many odd beliefs. Look him up on Atrios, Glenn Greenwald, etc.

Kirchick is a pro-Israel neocon who has written at some length about Ron Paul's alleged bigotry. He just doesn't like Paul because of his foreign policy views.

Thanks for point this out. I read the same thing and shared your reaction.

I have encountered a dozen or so people who have largely liberal views, but greatly admire Ron Paul, and are wholly ignorant of his is various crankeries.

I'm one of those people. I wouldn't want Ron Paul in charge of anything at all, but I appreciate the fact that he's honest about his various crankeries. Actually, I think I should revise that. There are a lot of nutty politicians who espouse nutty views. Ron Paul is interesting because:

1) He actually believes these things. He's not just using them as wedge issues to dupe people who do believe them.
2) When he tries to convince people that they should believe those crazy things too, he shares his actual line of reasoning rather than a faulty line of reasoning that he thinks the electorate will buy.

In short, he argues honestly and like an adult, and he seems to treat his audience like adults. The fact that the things he's arguing for are sometimes totally out in the weeds doesn't change that. For example, if the Bush Administration had said, "We want to invade Iraq because:

1) It will topple a Bad Man from power.
2) It will bring democracy to an undemocratic region, potentially making it easier to spread democracy and stability.
3) 1 and 2 will stabilize our energy supply and give us a new ally that we can use to project power into a strategically valuable region,"

I would have nodded and listened with a little more respect. I wouldn't have supported it, but at least I could respect them treating the electorate like adults and having a legitimate policy discussion. "Blah, blah, 9/11 booga booga!" was frankly insulting. That's why I appreciate Ron Paul. I don't want him elected or his plans enacted, but at least he doesn't give me the same vibe a little kid gives you when he's obviously trying to manipulate you.

By Troublesome Frog (not verified) on 22 Oct 2008 #permalink

The title refers to a common phrase in edu-jargon: the soft bigotry of low expectations. In education it refers to dumbing down the curriculum for low-income or minority students. In this article it refers to Maddow's apparently low expectations of people she lauds. The use of the title doesn't really fit the author's complaint, though. He was just looking for a catchy hook and failing.

Me thinks Kirchick protests (and uses quotation marks) too much! He wouldn't be nearly as concerned with Paul's more extreme views if Paul held what the right considered more acceptable views on the war. BTW, my favorite Republicans are Eisenhower and Ford (oh shit, they're both dead!)

By Raymond Minton (not verified) on 18 Jan 2009 #permalink