FRUM, MADDOW, AND THE POLITICAL DISCOURSE…. I tend to think every episode of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC is worth watching, but there was an exchange last night of particular interest. Maddow welcomed David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, Rudy Giuliani campaign aide, and a columnist for the National Review. It produced an important exchange.
Maddow noted that Frum recently expressed concern that those pressing the Bill Ayers issue are whipping Republicans “into a fury that’s going to be very hard to calm” after Election Day. Maddow asked Frum to elaborate on those concerns. It didn’t go well. (thanks to J.L. for the YouTube link)
Frum responded by noting the “ugliness in tone” that’s common in our political discourse. “This show is itself an example of this problem,” Frum said. He added that Maddow’s program demonstrates a “disregard for the substantive issues that really are important.”
On a certain level, Frum’s interest in substantive policy disputes is admirable. Too often, political trivia is unnecessarily elevated by an easily distracted media establishment.
But Frum’s criticism of Maddow was so hopelessly misguided and objectively foolish, I can only hope he’s embarrassed about his comments this morning.
Given the context, Frum’s argument was two-fold. First, as he sees it, there’s a moral equivalence between the “fury” (his word) found among Republicans thanks to deceptive smears and Rachel Maddow using humor to highlight some of the absurdities of modern politics. Second, according to Frum, humor and sarcasm necessarily detract from the public’s understanding of important policy matters.
On the first point, Frum is unpersuasive to the point of comedy. Over the last week, we’ve learned about a state Republican chairman urging activists to equate the Democratic nominee with Osama bin Laden. We’ve seen and heard both halves of the Republican ticket tolerate supporters using language like “treason,” “terrorist,” “kill him,” and “off with his head.” To even consider the idea that Maddow’s mocking tone of farcical political developments is any way similar to this is demonstrably ridiculous.
On the latter, what Frum seems to have forgotten is that approaching current events with an appreciation for humor and satire is not to “disregard the substantive issues”; in many ways, it’s the opposite. Maddow’s political commentary and analysis helps viewers make sense of complex issues. Her show doesn’t distract from what matters; her show enhances what matters.
I get the sense it wasn’t the intended point of the interview, but as tristero noted, Maddow compelled Frum to “participate in a substantive exchange on the issue of false equivalency in political discourse.”
I hope Frum learned something from the experience.