One of the greatest powers of the presidency is that of the Bully Pulpit. The President of the Untied States has incredible reach and an effective, thoughtful, careful speaker can influence public opinion like few others in the public arena. Most people have an innate (sometime robotic) respect for authority and there is no higher pedestal in the United States, especially in times of crisis, than that of the Commander in Chief. That's especially true when the media and the American public at large seem to be beaten into a collective amnesia by the constant pounding of War drums and the whoops of chickenhawks.
How is it then that President Bush's speech last night, ostensibly commemorating the attacks of September 11, 2001, has been trumped by the comments of a cable news talking head?
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has been on the attack of late. The always witty and well spoken Olbermann has turned his razor insight and gift for elocution from sports and current events and focused it dead in the center of President George W. Bush's phony badge of honor.
"So what?" You might ask. "Everyone this side of that most hideous human sandwich of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter is bagging on the president!" That's true, but what sets Olbermann apart is his keen ability to frame his criticism of the president in a way that ensures you understand he's not criticizing America, but those would twist and distort the dream that is this More Perfect Union to empower ugly ambition. And he does it with such moral conviction and deep rooted empathy for those of us who put love of country over loyalty to our elected officials that it confirms our belief that we are RIGHT.
Last night's Special Commentary that aired minutes before George W. Bush squandered yet another opportunity to lead for another political advertisement is emblematic of Olbermann's ability. He once again put voice to ideas and took it to the power elite on the Right who long ago launched attacks on anyone who disputed Administration policies and tagged them as "sympathizers," "cowards" or "traitors."
After explaining that he'd one worked in the Twin Towers and lost friends who still worked there on that terrible day, and then reported from the site knowing full well, "that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends," Olbermann put it bluntly that this story is VERY personal to him. He then lashed out at those who question the patriotism or the intellectual fortitude of those who dare to exercise their rights in a democracy to question their elected leaders when the policies of the latter clash with the ideals of the former.
"...anyone who claims that I and others like me are 'soft,' or have 'forgotten' the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President."
There it is. That's the shot to the heart.
He goes on to list a number of errors, broken promises, and examples of clear incompetence that are all important and worthy a read, but it's this direct, personal, and precise attack on those who take what should be a time for us to come together in thought and prayer and instead distort it into a "wedge" that divides Americans against Americans—all in the name of politics.
Not quite finished, Olbermann then delivered one more blow that made me shutter.
"We have not forgotten, Mr. President. You have. May this country forgive you."
I'm relatively new to Olbermann's show as my TV time grows smaller against each new book, album, or website that comes out, but I am now setting my TiVo to record what may just be the conscious of America at War. It's about time we wake up from this amnesiac fog, don't you think?