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Monkey Business: Meltdown with Keith Olbermann, Part 6

Posted on September 17 2009 7:18 pm
David Forsmark is the owner and president of Winning Strategies, a full service political consulting firm in Michigan. David has been a regular columnist for Frontpage Magazine since 2006. For 20 years before that, he wrote book, movie and concert reviews as a stringer for the Flint Journal, a midsize daily newspaper.
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Groucho Marx Professor

Tuesday night on Meltdown—er, Countdown, Keith Olbermann and Lawrence O’Donnell pretended to ponder seriously Jimmy Carter’s racist slander on the South in particular, and anyone who is angry with President Obama in general.

Well, he’s given it some… thought, and after one night, Keith has a conclusion: the right is… could it be… I don’t know… RACIST!

So, by Wednesday, it was time to let ‘er rip. But before he went on a rant, Keith had a contest to see who is the biggest waste of money– an anchor who gets about one dollar for every viewer he attracts, or a historically illiterate professor whose rantings costs students (or parents) about $1000 per credit hour.

Their “comparably enlightened” conversation even covered the finer points of when it’s racist or not racist to compare someone to a monkey—I’m sure you were wondering how you ever got through life thus far without this information. (the interview starts at about the 3 minute mark in the video)

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I think there‘s something very powerful whenever white men—particularly southern white men of a particular age – make this argument. In fact, you know, a big thank you to you and to President Carter, to people like the scholar Tim Wise and others who as white men have been very clear and very consistent about saying this is not about white versus blacks or browns. This is about an impulse towards racism versus an impulse towards anti-racism.

…It‘s even possible that some of the things that we see—let‘s take George W. Bush. One of the most famous images that went around with Bush was an image of Bush turned into a chimpanzee and it was kind of George W. Bush is a dumb monkey, right? That was, you know, bad and awful thing to say about your president, but it wasn‘t racialized.

If you take President Obama and turn him into an ape or a monkey, then what happens as you carry the whole history of race, racism, and the things that turned and thought of black people as apes, as monkeys, as animals. So, you‘ve got to recognize that you exist within historical framework. And you have to say, OK, I have a point to get across, but I‘m not allowed to do it in a way that reduces public discourse to the ugly history of American racism.

Whew, I’m glad we got that settled. Unfortunately, this surreal formulation did not cover the question everyone has wanted answered for over 30 years– is the exchange in the following video racist? At least, unlike the above exchange, it means to be funny.

At last, Olbermann and Harris-Lacewell get to the crux of the matter. What all the smoke and noise is really getting at– If you get in the way of liberal social goals you are a racist—whether you are bigoted against other races, or not.

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I think, you know, to go back to this notion of feeling that racism is about like I have this negative feeling in my stomach and I have to have it about all black people or brown people—that‘s not racism, right? Racism is about deploying particular strategies against either an individual or a group that leads to greater inequality.

And in this case, we have, you know, the reality that you have an African-American president that many of those who are most critical and most vocal are white people in a party that at one point made a choice to use race as a wedge issue in order to gain a foothold in the American South, which was the former Confederacy and which has an ugly racial history. That is the history of the Republican Party. They have a particular requirement to be careful on race because it was through race that they first gained power 40 years ago.

Really? One can have the effrontery to bring up the Old Confederacy and say THAT is the “history” of the Republican Party? Lady, a HUNDRED and forty years ago, the Republican Party “first gained power”– and then fought a war against the breakaway country formed by the Democrat Party—the slavery party.

Then these two giant intellects recommended to President Obama that he commit political suicide, and become the most divisive President since the last President from Illinois, the REPUBLICAN President who ended slavery…

OLBERMANN: Previously, on many topics, this president has taken a minor controversy and turned it into something worth contemplating, worth analyzing, particularly on the issue of race itself. Is he missing an opportunity to take what seems like a central controversy and turn it into the same kind of thing by reacting the way he did to President Carter? To say through a spokesman that the White House doesn‘t believe racism is a significant factor here?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes, I mean, I guess I understand that the president is trying to pass health care. But there are these moments—you know, I‘ve heard people say maybe what President Obama is doing is the rope-a-dope strategy of Muhammad Ali, laying back and taking the body blows to tire out the opposition so he can come out with a knockout.

But one of the things that was true about Muhammad Ali, is that when he saw racism, he always spoke to it. He always said it. It was part of what we loved about his brashness. I wish it was a little bit more Muhammad Ali in Barack Obama today.

Is she kidding? Perhaps the only thing worse than bringing up the Confederacy to smear the Republican Party is to bring up Muhammmad Ali as a paragon of racial equality after discussing the use of monkeys in a racial context! Ali famously and constantly demeaned his humble opponent Joe Frazier in the cruelest of racial terms– “ignorant, dumb and ugly” gave way to “gorilla” before the Thrilla in Manila, as Ali even marketed Joe Frazier gorilla items.

Manilla Gorilla T-Shirt by WornBy (Muhammad Ali) by Mr. Fresh.

Ali was a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, which, as it has been pointed out, had the same racial beliefs as the Klu Klux Klan. expressing the Nation’s solidarity with the racist group about the evils of inter-racial marriage. Yep, when Ali saw racism, he “spoke to it”, all right.

After nodding in agreement at Harris-Lacewell’s point, canned-sportscaster Keith went on a rant where he called it a “stretch” to find no racism in Joe Wilson’s “You lie” outburst, deliberately misunderstood some Rush Limbaugh satires and took them out of context, and even found racism in investigating government corruption:

OLBERMANN: So when Bill O‘Reilly tops his show just last night with yet another segment on Acorn, he continues in the tradition of right wing pundits and politicians who have taken isolated cases of abuse to portray Acorn as a collection of criminally minded African-Americans, with the president as Acorn‘s poster child.

Or in objecting to a President who found members of the (white) terrorist Weather Underground acceptable company…

OLBERMANN: Then candidate Sarah Palin taking up the William Ayers story and turning it into this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country. (END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: So when calls to kill him rang out at some GOP rally, [something no one at the rally, no video or audio recording confirmed, and which only one liberal reporter insists happened, but Keith is in way too deep to care about facts now] who could legitimately claim that it had to be isolated from that context?

Yep, Keith can find racism hiding between the lines in all these things that aren’t about race, but the former sportscaster is pretty sure that race-bating Nation of Islam spokesman, Klu Klux Klan embracing, Muhammad Ali was a figure of racial reconciliation.

The great Chuck Berry put it best—that’s “Too much monkey business.”

Part 7: The Stopped Clock: Correct Twice in One Day

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