Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
Professional polarizer – that’s the definition of too many political pundits today. They try to divide in order to conquer, playing to their base and reinforcing their party’s worst stereotypes in the process.
This week, two of the nation’s best known pundits took steps way over the line, deep into Wingnut territory – Bill Maher on the left and Glenn Beck on the right – calling America “stupid” and President Obama “racist.” I’m sure they’d hate to be paired with each other but that’s part of the fun of punching both left and right on 'Wingnuts of the Week.'
Bill Maher’s a smart comedian who unapologetically reinforced liberals’ reputation for out of touch elitism when he called America a “stupid country” on the 'Situation Room' this week. Here’s a transcript of the exchange.
Wolf Blitzer: Do you think she (Sarah Palin) has a future nationally as a presidential candidate?
Bill Maher: I don't know about a presidential candidate but I would never put anything past this stupid country.
Blitzer: So people are already complaining that you're calling the United States a stupid country and I'm giving you a chance to clarify.
Maher: I don't need to clarify. It is.
Blitzer: Well, tell me why you think the United States is a stupid country.
Maher: Because Sarah Palin could be president. I mean, please, do I need to expand on that any more? Uh, yeah, I do. I think this is in general... I mean, it's a big country. That's the great thing about it. There's 300 million people here. So, within this large country, there are tens of millions of very bright, intelligent people, you know, the ones who are watching us, um, not the ones who are writing the emails. Uh, but, you know, in general, um, gosh, uh, you know, this country just gets dumber and dumber by the day. And uh, I don't think I have time on your show to list all the reasons.
There’s an arrogance in professional polarizers that causes them to honestly believe that people who disagree with them are not just wrong but stupid or even evil. It’s a slippery slope that leads to the demonization of political difference. If Sarah Palin doesn’t always appeal to the better angels of our nature, Maher ends up as evidence in her argument about the media elites on the coasts looking down on their fellow Americans who live in what they dismiss as "flyover country” and she calls “real America.” They both end up increasing the heat of our domestic political debates but add very little light.
Republicans love to tar Democrats with the elitist label but they are susceptible to stereotypes that they stoke the fires of the ugliest and oldest appeals American politics – racism. Glenn Beck blurs the line between political pundit and partisan entertainer and he tried to flip the race formula this week by calling the President of the United States a racist in the wake of what we’ll one day call Gates-gate. In the process, he intentionally threw fuel on the flames of America’s oldest and most divisive debate. Here’s the transcript.
Glenn Beck: This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy — over and over again — who has a deep-seeded hatred for white people, or the white culture. I don’t know what it is…
Brian Kilmeade: But listen, you can’t say he doesn’t like white people. David Axelrod’s white, Rahm Emanuel’s his chief of staff, this, I think 70 percent of the people we see everyday are white. Robert Gibbs is white.
Beck: I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people. I’m saying he has a problem. He has a, this guy is, I believe, a racist.
“A deep-seeded hatred for white people”? This is the same Barack Obama who won the presidency by preaching the need to reach across black and white as well as left and right divides. The man who is the son of a white mother and black father, brought up by his white grandparents in the Pacific melting pot of Hawaii. The man who became the first African-American president by transcending the protest presidential candidacy model of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton before him. The first Democrat to win the states of Indiana and Virginia since 1964.
You can disagree with Barack Obama’s policies, but to accuse him of being a racist is a slander – an attempt to drum up ratings by dividing the United States. And in calling the President racist it gives cover to those who oppose the president because of his race by creating the false comfort of moral equivalency.
Beck’s performance drew a quick distancing move from Fox News Senior VP of Programming Bill Shine, who released a statement to TVnewser.com saying the following: “[Beck] expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions."
Hate is a cheap and an easy recruiting tool. It may be good for ratings but it’s bad for the country.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.