“Television is no medium for an ignorant man”
--from The Quotations of Chairman Joe”
Wrapping up another unsuccessful journey to the Middle East, in which ‘Ol Two-Cows had sought to get the Saudis to turn on a few more oil spigots, the empty-handed President appeared in the Israeli Knesset to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the modern state of Israel. Instead of focusing on American and regional foreign relations, the President chose, instead, to transform this festive occasion to launch a dark assault on the critics of his actions, likening “those who call for talks ‘with terrorists and radicals’ to those who appeased the Nazis.” (1)
“‘We have an obligation to call this what it is,” he declared, “the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.’ There are few words more fraught than “appeasement” and no place where they carry more emotional weight than in Israel.” (1)
The White House tried to put some distance between itself and the politics of the campaign, with “White House Press secretary Dana Perino, insist[ing] the president’s remarks had nothing to do with Obama and slyly suggest[ing] that the Democratic senator was being narcissistic.” (1)
But the good Marshall of Tombstone was quick to pounce on the remark, endorsing the president’s ‘slash and burn’ politics and suggesting, “It was Obama’s responsibility to explain why he was willing to talk with Iran.”(1)
The spin-machine went into overdrive, drawing a line of sorts in the desert sands. The choice is clear they cried: choose a stalwart defender of freedom who will search out and destroy our enemies, or elect someone who will misjudge our adversaries and, by degrees, imperil Western Civilization itself. Once again, the political ‘wrong’ is relying on fear in order to terrorize America into keeping the Rescumlicans in power. To this end, they trotted out right-wing radio talk show host Kevin James to carry the banner into battle. James is, like ‘Ol Two-Cows, an intellectually lazy troglodyte who regularly trolls the cesspool of right-wing politics for nuggets of ‘wisdom’ with which to regale his audience. Being work-shy, he usually relies — like Fox Noise and other conservative mouthpieces — entirely on the daily talking points of the Republican National Committee. There he looks and looks no further, for he has, from the oracle itself, the very words with which he will fearlessly wage relentless battle against all enemies foreign and domestic; real or imagined. The results of such conflict can be, depending on the venue, variously frightening, comical, or painful to witness. They are, however, never enlightening.
Tonight on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” the nation watched, with frighteningly comical bewilderment, what happens when one of the sirens of talk radio attempts to lure the brave Ulysses of television. Chris Matthews is a hard-nosed reporter who delights, as he puts it, in playing ‘hardball.’ He asks the tough questions and expects forthright answers. What happened tonight was a clear demonstration of what will transpire when one walks between the striped lines on the playing field prepared to do battle protected only with the paper thin armor of the RNC’s ‘talking points’, and no discernible historical understanding whatsoever.
“Tell me, Kevin, what do you mean by appeasement?”
“The President is right, we’re talking appeasement here,” replied James.
“What do you mean by appeasement?”
“What Chamberlain did with Hitler”, replied “Hardball’s” guest.
“What did Chamberlain do that constituted appeasement?” asked Matthews.
Nearly two dozen times Matthews asked the question, suggesting after several attempts that perhaps his guest did not know. James responded indignantly that he did know, but couldn’t answer the question which was precisely what did Chamberlain do at Munich in 1937 that constituted appeasing Hitler. Finally, while protesting that he knew, James said that he couldn’t give a definitive answer, but the critics of the President were appeasing our foes and repeating the mistakes at Munich all over again.
Finally, after shuttling his guest off the program and getting a chance to explain himself, Chris Matthews clarified, one last time, the point he was trying but not allowed to make by the constant protestations and interruptions of the night’s conservative spokesman. “Meeting with Hitler did not constitute appeasement”, said Matthews, “giving away most of Czechoslovakia did. The error was not in meeting and negotiating, but in conceding.” Precisely. Kevin James had no idea what had transpired on that fateful day in Munich in 1937, as Europe lunged toward another total war. He had no idea what bargain was struck nor the reasons why.
Tonight’s debate, reminiscent of the Kerry-Bush debates wherein Kerry mopped the floor with ‘Ol Two-Cows, was a complete mismatch. Chris Matthews is an old pro, a protégé of Representative Thomas “Tip” O”Neil, the former Speaker of the House. Matthews is also a graduate of the University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill has one of the best History programs in the United States, and on this night, it was telling. Matthews could have added more. He could have related the weakness of Chamberlain’s bargaining position; neither the French nor the British had the armored divisions necessary to intervene in Eastern Europe, and both — especially the French — were deeply divided politically. He could have informed his guest that one of the first things Chamberlain did upon returning to London was reinstate conscription and begin the rearming of Britain in preparation for what was to come. Churchill would be invited back into the government from political exile and placed over the Admiralty. None of these steps are much referred to when mentioning Munich and it’s aftermath. Instead the ordeal at Munich has become a card-board, two-dimensional cut-out banner that is waved whenever those who have no legitimate reasons for doing what they are about to do need an excuse to do it.
What Kevin James demonstrated this night on “Hardball” was not that Barack Obama is a political neophyte, but that unlike talk radio, and Beck, O’Reilly and Hannity notwithstanding, television is no medium for an ignorant man.
1. “Bush’s Unseemly Attack on Obama”, International Herald Tribune.