Friday, October 10, 2008

There go my heroes

In a presidential campaign year often more preoccupied with generating heat at the expense of light, it can be hard to see through the clutter, to find those who speak truth to power with eloquence and deftness and humor. Three come to mind, three who found a way to break through the complacency of mainstream media, to say plainly what can’t and shouldn’t be mitigated or disguised:

Tina Fey

For about a month now, the actress, writer and former “Saturday Night Live” mainstay has taken on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in guest spots on “SNL,” nailing the pit-bull governor with impersonations that perfectly capture the ruthless vapidity of the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Fey’s breakthrough brilliance was clear in her devastating sendup of Palin during her first interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric. It’s easy to parody a public figure by appropriating that person’s physical attributes while using the words of a comedy writer. Fey’s sendup was another matter entirely; Rather than write new material for her takeoff on Palin, Fey mostly used the governor’s own words — a virtual transcript of the real Couric interview — to make her point, showing in a howlingly funny skit just how unprepared Palin is for the vice presidency.

If the current trajectory holds and Barack Obama wins the White House, the punditburo will write books and articles about what constituted the turning point in the campaign. One of those turning points should be when Tina Fey revealed to America the fraudulence of the political supernova of the moment, and did it not with made-up words but with the candidate’s own.

Robert Gibbs

When in the course of political events it becomes necessary to administer an asswhipping, call Robert Gibbs.

The Obama campaign communications director was clearly on his game on Tuesday in a post-debate interview with right-wing apologist Sean Hannity on “Hannity & Colmes” on Fox News. You gotta give Gibbs props right off the bat for venturing into that den of angry chowderheads in the first place. Gibbs was presumably there to defend his candidate against the tired, paint-by-numbers guilt-by-association arising from Obama’s casual acquaintance with William Ayers, admitted Weather Underground bomber of the 1970’s (when Obama was 8 years old).

Gibbs went on the offensive against Hannity’s insinuative, why-do-you-beat-your-wife style of interrogation, insinuating in rhetorical self-defense that Hannity was anti-Semitic, on the basis of devoting a segment of his program to Andy Martin, a writer for the right-wing NewsMax Web site.

In a Chicago Tribune article in February 2006, Martin made reference to a federal bankruptcy judge as a “crooked, slimy Jew, who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race,'" and voiced "understand[ing] for how the Holocaust took place."

Gibbs was aggressively masterful on Tuesday. He went into the lion’s den and put the lion in a headlock. Hannity got owned. Poned. Schooled. Baptized. Gibbs went on the attack, being as relentless with Hannity as Hannity has a history of being toward his guests. In about ninety seconds you could see Hannity’s cocksure attitude beginning to slide away as Gibbs refuted the premise of Hannity’s attack by turning it on itself. Gibbs dismissed this conservative ideologue, and put Fox News on notice that Team Obama has no reluctance about playing hardball with a month before the vote.

A lot’s been made of Obama’s reticence about getting down in the gutter and fighting a campaign in the mud. There’s no real reason for concern. With real rhetorical street fighters like Gibbs working for him, he doesn’t have to.

Frank Schaeffer

Sometimes it just takes someone with the stones to stand up and say “enough!” to reveal a lie for what it is. Our political culture has had those moments. When Murrow went on the air and stunned Sen. Joseph McCarthy. When Joseph Welch went before the committee and, at long last, put a blade to the throat of McCarthy’s remaining credibility.

We had one of those fine, rewarding and clarifying moments today, courtesy of Frank Schaeffer, an author and a columnist for the Baltimore Sun. In an op-ed piece, Schaeffer spoke directly to Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin, addressing the recent tide of vitriolic diehard supporters accusing treason by and urging violence upon Sen. Barack Obama. Schaeffer took serious umbrage with the ways in which McCain’s campaign has appeared to foster, by a silence and rhetorical acquiescence, a mood of rage possibly inciting violence.

And Schaeffer, a registered Republican, was having none of it today. To say he was calling McCain out (in the classic Old West sense) would be an understatement.

“John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as ‘not one of us,’ I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.

“Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs. …

“John McCain and Sarah Palin, you are playing with fire, and you know it. You are unleashing the monster of American hatred and prejudice, to the peril of all of us. You are doing this in wartime. You are doing this as our economy collapses. You are doing this in a country with a history of assassinations.

“Change the atmosphere of your campaign. Talk about the issues at hand. Make your case. But stop stirring up the lunatic fringe of haters, or risk suffering the judgment of history and the loathing of the American people — forever.”

Res ipsa loquitor, folks. That's the best of American conscience, scrubbed of party or ideology. That is golden, and as good as it gets.
Image credit: Frank Schaeffer: Mother Jones

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