Olbermann the Orator

When it comes to political oratory, the Americans have retained a flair for the dramatic that Europeans lost somewhere after World War II. It's surprising that in a country so often accused of being a low attention-span nation, full of sound bites and instant gratification, speechmaking is alive and well today. In this grand tradition now enters Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC's "Countdown", and here I copy his fervent and lethally delivered reaction to Donald Rumsfeld's speech verbatim on this site (hat tip to Crooks and Liars for providing the transcript).

The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.
Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.
Mr. Rumsfeld's remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis, and the sober contemplation, of every American. For it does not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence, indeed, the loyalty, of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land; worse still, it credits those same transient occupants, our employees, with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense nor this administration's track record at home or abroad suggests they deserve.
Dissent and disagreement with government is the life's blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as "his" troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq. It is also essential. Because just every once in a while, it is right, and the power to which it speaks is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld's speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril, with a growing evil, powerful and remorseless. That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld's, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the secret information. It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld's, questioning their intellect and their morality. That government was England's, in the 1930's. It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England. It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords. It knew that the hard evidence it had received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions, its own omniscience, needed to be dismissed. The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth. Most relevant of all, it "knew" that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused. That critic's name was Winston Churchill.
Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening. We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill. History, and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England, have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty, and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.
Thus did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy. Excepting the fact that he has the battery plugged in backwards. His government, absolute and exclusive in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis. It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today's omniscient ones. That about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused, is simply this: this is a democracy, still. Sometimes just barely. And as such, all voices count, not just his. Had he or his President perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience: about Osama Bin Laden's plans five years ago; about Saddam Hussein's weapons four years ago; about Hurricane Katrina's impact one year ago; we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their omniscience as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact plus ego.
But to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris. Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to flu vaccine shortages, 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. And yet he can stand up in public and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer's New Clothes.
In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we as its citizens must now address, is stark and forbidding. But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note with hope in your heart that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light. And we can, too.
The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this Administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: the destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld's other main assertion, that this country faces a "new type of fascism": as he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that, though probably not in the way he thought he meant it. This country faces a new type of fascism indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow. But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed, "confused" or "immoral."
Thus forgive me for reading Murrow in full. "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty," he said, in 1954. "We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of un-reason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular."
And so, goodnight, and good luck.

Posted by cronopio at 03:43 PM, August 31, 2006