Adieu, Randi Rhodes
Ernest Partridge, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers.
April 15, 2008
Randi Rhodes has left the building, but the controversy lingers on.
I rarely write about personalities, being much more interested in issues
and ideas. Celebrity-obsession is a major pox on the American
body-politic, and I’d just as soon ignore the AAR-Rhodes contretemps. But
l’affaire Rhodes bears larger implications that deserve
Quite frankly, I will miss the Randi Rhodes show on Air America Radio.
She is smart, sassy, witty, and she deftly stroked my political biases.
But a typical RR show was like a feast of carnival junk food: enjoyable
at the moment, but devoid of much nourishment. (I exclude from this
assessment her interviews with such outstanding guests as John Dean,
Jonathan Turley and Brent Budowsky). I prefer to listen to the radio
with the expectation that I might learn something. Far better to listen
to Thom Hartmann and Rachel Maddow, each of whom possess a high-wattage
intellect and awesome critical skills, gained through years of serious study.
Plain brilliance is a rare commodity in talk radio, and Hartmann and Maddow
both have it in generous abundance.
On the other hand, the Randi Rhodes show was my guilty pleasure, evoking
many grins and chuckles, and suitable for multi-tasking: background for
housework, driving, or typing and filing at my desk. Yes, I will miss
The Randi Rhodes Show, but will be none the worse for her departure.
As I learned long ago, when for a couple of years I had a talk show in
Salt Lake City, a microphone can be a mischievous ego-inflator.
On Air America Radio, Hartmann, Maddow, Flanders, Kennedy, Papantonio have displayed a
commendable ability to keep their egos in check. Sam Seder, on the other
hand, might benefit from their example.
Of late, Randi’s ego has got the better of her, as she has become
increasingly abusive of her callers, even those who are approximately
80% in agreement with her. Hillary-supporters could expect to be
insulted, shouted-at, and cut off at any moment. The number of McCain
supporters heard on Randi’s show was roughly equivalent to the
appearance of authentic liberals on the Rushathon or the Hannity-Calamity.
(This in contrast with Thom Hartmann, who invites conservative
guests on his show and puts dissenting callers at the head of
Moreover, Randi has acquired the strange notion that informed liberals
give a fractional goddam about her personal showbiz enthusiasms. OK, so
she likes to watch "American Idol." But enough, already!
Even so, there is an audience for that sort of thing, for, as we were
reminded daily, The Randi Rhodes Show was promoted as the “top liberal
talk show in the nation.”
While I regret Randi Rhodes' departure from Air America Radio, I endorse
the decision of AAR’s management to suspend her. This incident could
have had a better outcome if Randi had used her time off the air to
reflect on her performance and her role in the upcoming political
contest. Then she might have returned to AAR both a better person and a
better performer. The AAR owners gave her that opportunity.
But reflection and contrition are not part of Randi’s moral repertory.
So she quit.
Randi’s regrettable “f***ing whore” outburst, aimed at Hillary Clinton, put the AAR management in an
impossible lose/lose dilemma. Toleration of such behavior was unthinkable
(as I will argue shortly). A summary firing was overkill, which would
have outraged her many fans and seriously muffled the already faint
voice of liberal talk radio. (Just consider the outcry that resulted
from her suspension). But while suspension was the judicious
middle-road, this too has had its costs. Once Randi Rhodes uttered those
two words in public, there was to be no easy solution for AAR
management. Suspension was merely the least-worst alternative.
There is no first amendment issue here, so may we please put that
nonsense aside? No one has a “right” to gain or keep a microphone or to
demand space in a publication. I have no first amendment claim on the
New York Times to publish my essays, nor a first amendment claim on
Random House to publish my book. (Alas!) Just read the relevant portion
of that amendment: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom
of speech, or of the press." This does not forbid AAR from taking the
microphone away from Randi Rhodes. It simply forbids the government from
telling AAR what it can or cannot broadcast, just as it forbids the
government from telling The New York Times and The Washington Post that it
can’t publish the Pentagon Papers. (Ah, those were the days! RIP free
and independent press).
So we turn now to those “larger implications” of Randi Rhodes’ outburst
in that San Francisco night club.
Like Randi Rhodes,
Barack Obama, and find much
to criticize in
the behavior of Hillary Clinton, who, prior to this campaign,
I had once greatly admired. But Obama’s advantage today is such
that the prize is all-but won. Like the wolf in the Russian tale, “Peter
and the Wolf,” Hillary Clinton is trapped: the more she tries to throw
off the lasso, the tighter its hold on her. Clinton’s negative attacks
on Obama are backfiring: he is rubber, she is glue. Barring a colossal
blunder by Obama, anything that Clinton might do to win the nomination
will be so destructive to the party and to her reputation that the prize
will be worthless.
The wise decision of the Obama campaign, thus far brilliantly conducted,
is to hold back while the Clinton campaign self-destructs. All the
while, Obama projects calm, poise, and respect for his rival.
Into this well-considered and well-executed strategy, storms Randi
Rhodes. With “friends” like this, who needs enemies?
Remember, above all, that while Randi was attacking a fellow
Democrat, she was at the same time alienating that candidate’s
supporters. In a recent poll, more than thirty-percent of Hillary
Clinton’s supporters said that they would not be inclined to vote for
Obama if he gets the nomination. If even half of those sore losers feel
the same way on election day, John McCain will be our next president.
So, at the very least, those two abusive words were tactically stupid.
Next, there is the question of the preferred “tone” of the
post-convention campaign. Aside from a small and shrinking contingent of
“dittoheads,” the American public has had just about enough of the
right-wing screech-merchants. Evidence? Consider the “retirement” of
Tucker Carlson, and declining audience of FAUX News and of Limbaugh,
Hannity, Savage, O’Reilly and the other “Lords of Loud.” At the same
time, MSNBC, with its emerging contingent of responsible liberals and
centrists such as Keith Olbermann, Dan Abrams, and now Rachel Maddow, is
overtaking FOX and CNN, while CBS’s 60 Minutes is willing to give air
time to an investigation of the Siegelman persecution.
If the public is, at long last, turning away from
politics-as-personal-destruction, then it ill-behooves progressive
broadcasters to perpetuate this misbehavior by imitating it. The last
thing we need this season is a left-wing version of Rush Limbaugh or Ann
Coulter. The Republicans, under the tutelage of Lee Atwater and Karl
Rove, have perfected the art and craft of political skullduggery. If the
Democrats choose to play by the rules of these scoundrels, they will
lose. But if, instead, the Democrats treat these tactics with the
contempt that they deserve, and direct the public’s attention to
indisputable facts and compelling issues, they can win in November, and
there is a chance that we might take our country back from the outlaws,
thieves and oligarchs.
I am not, however, counseling rhetorical disarmament by asking the
Democrats to bring bare knuckles to a knife-fight. Al Gore thought that
the “inventing the internet” was unworthy of a reply. So too John Kerry
when confronted with the “Swift Boat Vets.” And we know how all that
turned out. Be assured that this time, Karl Rove, though out of the
White House, is still very much in the fight. So we must be prepared for
more of the same gutter politics from the GOP.
But while the Democrats need not fight dirty, they must fight smart.
They must use “rhetorical judo,” by turning the opponent’s strength to
their own advantage. That is precisely what Rove did with the “swift
boat” caper. But that attack, like the Bush/Rove attack on McCain in
South Carolina in 2000, was based on lies. The Democrats have more than
enough truth in their armory to do fatal damage to the Republicans in
There is a fine line between well-deserved ridicule on the one hand and
abusive insult on the other. Well-crafted ridicule yields political
advantage, while insult has a way of backfiring. The Democrats should
watch that line very carefully.
Howard Dean says that the Democrats will not use McCain’s age as an
issue. Well, yes and no. Calling him “Grandpa” seems out of line. But
pointing out, and, better yet, showing video clips of “senior moments,”
is fair game. A candidate’s capacity to function as Chief Executive is
most assuredly a valid issue.
McCain has acquired the label, “Senator Bomb-Bomb.” Fair enough. He did,
after all, sing “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.” The public needs to be
reminded that bombing appears to be McCain’s favored “instrument of
diplomacy.” And that photo of McCain hugging Dubya deserves to be shown
at least as often as the image of Bill Clinton hugging Monica at the
rope line. The media will not oblige, of course, but in a country with a
genuinely free press, it could be possible. And, more to the point, the
McCain/Dubya hug really happened, and that image conveys a deeper truth:
that McCain will do anything to further his career, even cozy-up to the
man who insulted his wife and child. Furthermore, it bears repeating
that McCain is now up close and personal with the detested George Bush
and his policies.
Simply put, that fine line between deserved ridicule and insult is the
line between truth and slander. Slander is the mother’s milk of Karl
Rove and his kind, and slander and lies are all that the Republicans
have left. The Democrats have no need of it, for the truth will suffice.
As Harry Truman put it, “I didn’t give ‘em Hell, I gave them the truth
and they thought it was Hell.”
Let that “truth” be the truth that cruelly impacts the lives ordinary Americans.
The truth that their sons are being sent abroad to fight and die in
fruitless and immoral
wars. That their country has been demeaned by an illegal war and is
being led by war criminals who lied us into that war. That their government’s treasury has been
looted, that their jobs have been exported; that they have lost or are
about to lose their homes, their pensions and their health care.
If these truths can somehow break through the iron curtain of the
corporate media, and if somehow enough votes can be fairly counted, the
Democrats can win in November.
This can be accomplished without calling our opponents “f***ing whores,”
least of all those “opponents” within our own party. Those who resort to
such behavior must be condemned, and the public at large must understand
that such behavior will not be tolerated within the ranks of the
supporters of the Democratic party.
We are better than that. Let the world take note.
Let’s face it: though there is a light-year’s distance between the
intellectual capacities and moral qualities of the presumptive
candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, this election campaign
promises to be brutal. As Al Gore will testify, a simple “win” will not
suffice. GOP partisans own the media and count the votes, and they are
even today hard at work throwing millions of Democratic voters off the
rolls. Either the Democrats win overwhelmingly or they lose. There will
be no photo finish this time.
Even while the pre-convention contest continues, it is not too soon for
Democrats to unite. Obama and Clinton must now direct their critical
fire, not at each other, but at the presumptive Republican nominee. So
too the liberal and progressive advocates on the minuscule authentic
“liberal media.” The punditocracy tells us that the early resolution of
the GOP contest has worked to the advantage of the Republicans. This
need not be so. That same resolution gave the left a singular and very
vulnerable target. So have the Democrats used this early decision to
their advantage? Don’t be silly!
Leave it the Democrats never to miss and opportunity to miss an
It is past time for the establishment Democrats to wise
up. Bush, Cheney, Rove, and their chosen supplicant, John McCain, are
the enemies, not the Clintons or, alternatively, Barack Obama. The end of the GOP/corporate kleptocracy
and the restoration of the American republic and its Constitution are
the over-arching issues before us.
Those who promote discord within the party ranks, be they Hillary
Clinton or Randi Rhodes, are doing the devil’s work, and they must be
If Randi Rhodes has used her unintended hiatus to cool down, reflect, and
redirect her considerable talents to an engagement with the appropriate
adversaries and issues, then her return to the struggle on Nova Radio will be both
valuable and welcomed.
Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge
Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications
Conscience of a Progressive:
Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field
of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at
the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He
publishes the website, "The Online
Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website,
"The Crisis Papers".
His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org .