Watch it. Watch it again. History was made on Wednesday on MSNBC. The host of a national television program gave a speech. A real speech. In fact, a great speech. In my opinion, probably the greatest speech, thus far, of this decade. That a deep, thoughtful speech could wend it's way through the halls of the corporate media and box out, for a few glorious moments, the breaking news coverage of John Mark Karr's airplane landing on a runway in Colorado or Brittney Spears or Jessica Simpson or Paris Hilton or Tom Cruise or polygamists and the rest of the NewsPorn that passes as news while the country endures - and does not seem to care about - non-stop death in Iraq, a looming attack on yet another sovereign nation, a complete mess in the Middle East, upcoming elections to be conducted on electronic voting machines that are completely hackable, illegal wiretapping, a culture of fear and an apparent Houdini terrorist leader who has outwitted the entire American military for 5 years . . . is pretty close to a miracle. Keith Olbermann is that miracle. Forget the rare courage to speak one's mind, unfiltered, unedited, un-focus grouped. Olbermann has pretty much always had that. Forget the fact that very few political leaders, for the past 6 years, have had the courage to challenge an administration that so regularly and richly deserves it or to use or infer words like "quack" or "fascist" to describe our elected leaders. This raw candor is one of the things that put great leaders like Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill so prominently in our history books but is a rarity today now that people like Paul Wellstone are no longer around to share their special brand of conscience.
In the NewsPorn world we live in it is the foul mouthed Ann Coulter, a bastardized and pathological variation thereof, that counts as courage today. Ms. Coulter, despite her attempts at beauty and insight, does not possess the dignity or true courage to even reside in the same country that produced a Teddy Roosevelt or a Paul Wellstone. And we are not the same country. And it was Edward R. Murrow, and today, Keith Olbermann, who brilliantly and soulfully call us to our deepest origins and act, not just speak, the liberty that is our very foundation. So, beyond the courage and the candor that Keith Olbermann has always possessed, the 6 minute speech to America Wednesday night was, perhaps, the finest example seen in this decade of a man who could blend history, an understanding of current events, insight and passion. Usually one of those passes for acceptable television today. Olbermann's speech, as a speech, was extraordinary. Listen to the subtlety. Without calling names he blasted Donald Rumsfeld and everyone else in the Bush Administration more powerfully than if he had filled his entire 6 minutes with 4 letter expletives.
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.
Listen to the delivery. In the most important 6 minutes of his career, Keith Olbermann is flawless in his delivery. Calm and passionate, centered with great nuance in his face and in his voice - nuance that filled in the spaces, beautifully, where heavy handed words would have been used by a less masterful speaker. Listen to the intellect. If Keith wrote this himself, and it looks and feels as if he did (something that few modern speakers - Martin Luther King and Mario Cuomo are great exceptions - have with any regularity) this is an even more intelligent man than I had ever thought. It is not easy to write a great, or even a good speech. Listen to the courage.
From Iraq to Katrina, to flu vaccine shortages, to the entire "Fog of Fear" which continues to envelope 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 Emperor's New Clothes.
Listen and watch the history. Only by the deep understanding of history was Olbermann able to do what needed to be done - to turn the "Appeasement of the Fascists" argument around on Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Rove and the Bush Administration. He uses the much maligned Neville Chamberlain against those who use him so often. A brilliant turn.
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 to 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 it's own policies, it's own conclusions - it's 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.
And, listen as he weaves in the examples of Nixon, McCarthy and Curtis LeMay.
Listen to the passion.
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?
And, listen to the humility . . . always a sign of great speakers who understand, at least on some level, that they are mere channels for that which flows through them . . .
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 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.
With this I must disagree, Mr. Olbermann. Perhaps because the void has been so deep and for so long you, Keith, may be unaware that you have stepped, firmly, into it. Your words, not in a thousand years, but in 6 minutes, stirred the soul of a nation thirsty for the courage and brilliance of Mr. Murrow and were hardly distinguishable from his. You have earned the right to quote the great Edward R. Murrow on television. And you have earned the respect of those who have longed for a real journalist . . . and a real speechwriter and speech giver to step up for America and against those who might have forgotten what we are, indeed, fighting for.
May your courage be rewarded by ratings that rival those of John Mark Karr's.