I've have only watched one full episode (and dozens of clips of YouTube) of the inventively-named Ed Show on MSNBC, but it was enough to con
vince me that no one party, no one ideology, possesses a monopoly on reckless accusations of hating their country. During the Bush years, left-wing pundits were (rightly) quick to denounce those who impugned the patriotism of administration critics. To pick a citation at random, Mother Jones complained in 2002 that opponents of Bush's foreign policy were the target of unfair attacks from White House hacks, who took to "calling them political opportunists and questioning their patriotism." Take a spin around Google and you will find tens of thousands of similar complaints from left-leaning pundits, academics, and bloggers.
MSNBC's loud, ginger-haired talker Ed Schultz looks like one of those oleaginous television preachers from the 1980s; the slicked back hair, slight Southern accent, extra chin swaying from side to side with every new outrage against God and the Republic. For Schultz, it's all part of a thoroughly unconvincing shtick—the redneck liberal "from the heartland," a "former conservative" singularly obsessed with defending America's embattled middle class. Indeed, his first book is called Straight Talk from the Heartland: Tough Talk, Common Sense, and Hope from a Former Conservative. In case you didn't get it—he's like Jim Hightower, but from North Dakota—the cover features Schultz in front of a microphone…photoshopped into a wheat field.
In Straight Talk, written in 2005, Schultz bemoans the influence of Bush-brand neoconservatism and, confronting arguments that administration critics were abrogating their patriotic duties, stressed that "All Americans want what is best for America!" It was the lowest form of debate, Schultz wrote: "Squelching debate by branding it un-American is dishonest, dangerous, and, in itself hateful." (After appealing for a more rational debate, Schultz, on the very next page, compares Republican strategist Karl Rove to Nazi Luftwaffe boss Hermann Goering and Rush Limbaugh to Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels.)
So let's recap: Ed Schultz thinks that calling your ideological opponents un-American is dangerous and hateful. But the Bush administration is history and conservatives are now playing offense, baying for a liberal president's blood. Little man, what now?
Last Friday, trapped in front of Schultz's hour of bluster, I was told that the United States is currently being held hostage by "the anti-American obstructionists in the Republican Party." One of those who had broken with the party of America-hating interlopers, said Schultz, was Ohio Senator George Voinovich: "Senator Voinovich, a lot of times on this program I just hammer the righties for not being American. Tonight, you are an American, sir." Congratulations. You can pick up your passport at 30 Rock.
A brief excursion through recent MSNBC transcripts and it's quickly revealed that Schultz—once a stolid opponent of the hyperbolic accusation—has developed something of an un-American accusation tick. Here he is on September 2: "So the president comes up with a jobs plan—let`s get access to capital to community banks. And what did the Republicans do? They said no. They are un-American." Later in the same show, a Schultz guest denounced the scourge of free trade:
Guest: Michigan is being redlined. We can't get the capital. And they're expanding in China. Like I say, I mean, yes, they should go and make money where they can. But I tell you, this is an emerging market. Michigan is an emerging market. America is an emerging market…
Schultz: I think it's un-American.
There were other delights as well, for those with an excess of patience. Republicans, according to Schultz, will "hurt American families just to get the power." And taking a brave stand against 99 percent of Earth's professional economists, he told viewers that "There are no job-killing taxes. None!"
So for all of my lefty friends who tell me that Fox News is in a special class, that MSNBC is liberal but comparatively sober, I'm no longer buying it. From Keith Olbermann, who told Playboy that Fox News is "worse than al-Qaeda," to Dylan Ratigan (Tea Partiers are holding signs expressing a desire "to kill blacks and Jews and women"), to Ed Schultz thundering that those who oppose massive deficit spending suffer from a paucity of patriotism, it's time to acknowledge that venomous, dumb political discourse isn't exclusive to those on the political right.