Okay, I know what you're thinking -- "shit, another diary about Keith Olbermann". But I woke up at 5 am on a Saturday morning, unable to sleep, needing to get these words out on paper...or into the Ether(net), whichever you prefer.
For some reason, Keith Olbermann has had an impact on discourse that the faux (not to be confused with FAUX News) gravitas of Wolf Blitzer or the pretty boy antics of Anderson Cooper or the interchangeable news readers on the network newscasts have not. What is it about this one person that has inspired some and inflamed others?
In 2003, the country was in crisis, embroiled in two wars, one of which should never have been fought in the first place. And while many bought into the lie that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks on 9/11/01, there were others who knew that was not the case, that the attackers for the most part were Saudi, not Iraqi, that Osama bin Laden hated Saddam Hussein because he was too secular. Into this void stepped Markos, with the founding of this blog -- and so too stepped Keith Olbermann with his show. Maybe coincidence, maybe something more cosmic at work...who knows?
Just like it took Daily Kos a while to find its focus and direction, so too did it take a while for Olbermann to find his voice. The first special comment was not until August of 2006, in response to Donald Rumsfeld's speech that said opponents to the Iraq War were "morally or intellectually confused." Olbermann's comment made it clear that if anyone was confused, it was Rumsfeld himself and those who got us into that damn war.
Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.
Comments followed in fast succession -- most dealing with Republican idiocy (Olbermann on Michael Chertoff in July: "All Hail the Prophetic Gut!" was a good one), which made sense since the Republicans were in charge. During the primaries of 2008, Olbermann felt the need to take on some of Hillary Clinton's campaign faux pas, almost painfully because he was a close friend of the Clintons and a supporter of Bill Clinton's foundation. In March he took on Clinton for her response to comments by Geraldine Ferraro about the upstart candidate Barack Obama, and in June her words about Robert Kennedy's assassination 40 years previous as a reason she should stay in the race inspired another comment. And he came under fire on the pages of this blog for those comments, from those who were ardent Clinton supporters. (Disclosure: I first supported John Edwards until he withdrew from the race -- not the first time I'd been fooled by a slick dude. Clinton's support of both the IWR and Kyl-Lieberman were the reasons I did not support her in the primaries.)
Once the Democratic primaries were over and Barack Obama was the nominee, Olbermann took on John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, including their practice of divisive politics that may have found its nadir in the shootings two weeks ago today. And he took on other issues, such as the need for prosecution of torturers as war criminals. Some of his best special comments were during this time; his impassioned plea after the passage in California of Proposition 8 still applies as we await its disposition in the court system.
With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then spread happiness—this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness—share it with all those who seek it. Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement, another one which reads only "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.
In 2009, he turned his eyes to health care reform, as did we all, and blasted legislators who were more accountable to their health-care lobby donors than they were their own constituents, as well as those on the Right whose only aim was to scare and confuse a gullible public with talk of "death panels". He put his money where his mouth was with his support of the National Association of Free Clinics, and let us into his own personal struggles with the system through the illness and death of his father. We also saw personal heartbreak at the loss of both his parents; his mother in 2009, his father in March of 2010 (coincidentally enough, the day after my own father-in-law passed away after a mercifully brief illness). His final special comment, two weeks ago today, calling for the end to violent rhetoric and including an apology for his own inartful statements over the years, may have been in the Top 10:
For tonight we stand at one of the clichéd crossroads of American history. Even if the alleged terrorist Jared Lee Loughner was merely shooting into a political crowd because he wanted to shoot into a political crowd, even if he somehow was unaware who was in the crowd, we have nevertheless for years been building up to a moment like this.
Last night, some commenters said that Olbermann was too strident, too shrill. To me, what he was was angry. I'm not sure who said it first or when, but there's a common phrase: "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." Might have been from the 1960s -- that wouldn't surprise me. But it never applied more than it did during the first decade of the 21st century. And he didn't just stop with blasting Republicans -- he didn't want to see MSNBC become the left-wing version of FOX, cheerleading the Democrats the way FOX propped up the Bush Administration. It's easy to call out your opponents for bad behavior; it's a lot harder to call out your friends, but possibly even more necessary when you think they've screwed up.
We don't know what's next for Keith Olbermann. He may decide to just kick back and relax; he certainly has more money than likely he'll ever need, though we know he spent many of his own resources on his father's care, and I'm sure he's put away a generous sum towards the education of his beloved nephew and niece. Maybe he'll go back to his first love of sports, especially baseball; he still has his blog on MLB.com, and discussing who the Yankees will find to replace Mariano Rivera eventually or whether the San Francisco Giants can repeat as World Series champions would give him a needed sanity break from Palin, Bachmann, Boehner and their political ilk. Maybe he'll write a book, or just take some time to read a few more books. Maybe he'll take some down time, get season tickets for the Yankees and know he'll be able to make it to all the games. Maybe he's sleeping in today knowing he won't be called in to cover another tragedy like the one in Tucson. But just because his voice has been silenced -- perhaps only temporarily -- doesn't mean that ours has. In fact, maybe we'll have to shout louder now that we don't have him to reflect many of our feelings.
Okay, the sun is coming up, and I think I may go back to bed for a bit. So to Keith, and to all people of good will everywhere, good morning, and good luck.
Wikipedia: List of Keith Olbermann's Special Comments