The Maddow-Coburn Debate on Meet the Press; and the Necessity of Violence


By Joe Campbell
August 17th, 2009


 
A few observations on watching Meet the Press yesterday. In a lot of ways, I think that show demonstrates the low quality of our political debate today. And yesterday’s show was one of the better, more factually on point, more honest, least full of crap episodes in recent memory. It wasn’t about “gotcha” moments as much as policy and politics. No one there was seriously promoting any of the blatant falsehoods that have determined much of the debate in the rest of the media – the “death panels” and Nazi imagery for example. In many ways, this became a very meta debate about the debate – which is actually a conversation I think we need to have as a country.

David Gregory though seemed determined to take each moment that threatened to lead to acutal honest conflict or insight and “move on” as quickly as possible. With the participants wanting to argue it out, they would talk over him trying to make their point before he ended the game prematurely. Maddow created a few insightful moments with her apparently well-researched appearance. She wasn’t as willing to let the bullshit slide as the others at the table – and she had papers full of research in front of her. Gregory asked some good questions, but let the bull slide. For example, here he asked a serious question of Senator Tom Coburn:

MR. GREGORY: [L]et’s talk about the tone of the debate.  There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president.  Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same.  And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

That has become a motto for violence against the government.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.

Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma.  When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK):  Well, I’m, I’m troubled anytime when we, we stop having confidence in, in our government.  But we’ve earned it.  You know, this debate isn’t about health care.  Health care’s the symptom.  The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run–50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation.  You…

MR. GREGORY:  That’s—but wait, hold on, I want to stop you there.  I’m talking about the tone.  I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN:  The, the—but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government.  What, what is the genesis behind people going to such extreme statements?  What is it?  We, we have lost the confidence, to a certain degree, and it’s much worse than when Tom was the, the, the leader of the Senate.  We have, we have raised the question of whether or not we’re legitimately thinking about the American people and their long-term best interests.  And that’s the question.

For me that exchange was a head-turning moment. Asked to confront a man who has adopted the same quote that a terrorist did when attacking a building in his own state, a man who is using extreme rhetoric that suggests he would be in favor of assassination, he refuses to condemn him outright. He hedges; he wants us to understand that man – to see him as responding to a world that’s unfair to him.

Gregory at this point seems to let the matter go – but Maddow takes Coburn on. You can tell she’s taken aback too:

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that a right wing Republican Senator would plead for “understanding” in quasi-defense of extreme right wing rhetoric and threats of violence. After all – what else can he expect?

I suppose my point is: if any people out there take Sarah Palin’s statement that children will be put to death by “death panels” if Obama’s health care plan succeeds seriously; if any people out there seriously believe a Holocaust is about to take place if this health care reform is passed; if they believe that their children are going to be indoctrinated into an atheistic faith in Obama if health care passes; if they believe that their grandparents of their children are in danger – if someone believes any or all of these things, then violence is justified.

We make heroes out of the men who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. If we now say that Obama is another Hitler, aren’t we advocating assasination? If we say our child will be killed by Obama, aren’t we implicitly endorsing violence to protect our children?

How can we – as a society – have an adult conversation about the pros and cons of the specific health reforms being considered with this unhinged debate? We can’t. Instead, we just have to let the unsustainable status quo stay in place.

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