September 8, 2008, was a good day for America -- even if I didn't know it at the time.
That day marked the debut of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, and the first real injection of intelligence into modern-day cable news. That was not my opinion of the program when it debuted. In fact, my now-former conservative friends and I mocked the idea of an Air America host being given a prime-time position on MSNBC.
I never listened to one second of Maddow during her Air America tenure, but I assumed that she must have been a self-righteous ultra-liberal shock jock; after all, I thought, Air America wasn't exactly a centrist network. In fact, I didn't watch a single segment of Maddow's program until a year after it began, when she brought on conservative author Jon Henke as a guest. Henke had called upon conservatives to disavow the wingnut website World Net Daily for its promulgation of conspiracy theories about President Obama; I was thrilled that there was another conservative writer who was embarrassed by such right-wing kookiness. I wrote Henke after the segment to tell him that while I was not a fan of Maddow, I thought that she was legitimately fair and balanced in her handling of the segment.
Several months later, in February 2010, I had a chance to watch Maddow, on NBC's Meet the Press, tear apart Representative Aaron Schock (R-IL) for his hypocrisy in showing up for ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- which he had both voted against and denounced. As someone who opposed both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the hypocrisy of Republicans who embraced the fruits of that Act after condemning it, I was thrilled to hear Maddow speak my language. I couldn't believe that Maddow was saying almost word-for-word what I had been thinking regarding this sort of two-facedness. I became a Maddow fan almost immediately.
It was initially awkward to be, in effect, a "Maddow Republican," especially when Maddow and then-Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) feuded over Brown's dubious allegation that Maddow was planning to run against him in 2012. I was still happy that Brown had defeated Martha Coakley in the January 2010 special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, and felt some internal pressure to choose sides between Maddow and Brown before concluding that one could like them both for different reasons, despite the questionable nature of Brown's assertions about Maddow.
I also was happy to see Maddow call out then-Senate candidate Rand Paul for his rejection of the logic behind the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I was horrified that Paul had decided to effectively spit in the late Senator Everett Dirksen's (R-IL) face by scorning the Civil Rights Act's efforts to outlaw private-sector discrimination, and I was relieved to see Maddow debunking his nonsensical arguments. Maddow also called out Fox News and the late Andrew Breitbart for rhetorically assaulting former Obama administration official Shirley Sherrod, and highlighted the right-wing extremism that was beginning to manifest itself in House, Senate and gubernatorial races.
Looking back, it's clear that my support for Maddow -- and my frequent claims that despite her politics, she was far better than anything being promoted on Fox News -- caused a rift among my conservative "friends" that my later writings on climate change worsened. In February 2011, I got into a bitter e-mail argument with a libertarian ex-friend after I sent him a clip of Maddow's explanation for why conservatives were so fixated on destroying public-sector unions. He couldn't make a logical argument against Maddow's claims; he could only attack her personally as a far-leftist, a sign that he simply wasn't bright enough to go toe-to-toe intellectually with Maddow.
Most of Maddow's detractors can't make logical arguments against her claims; that's why they loathe her, and why they are horrified that she has lasted five years. May she be on air for five more years, and five more years after that. Maddow has become for this generation what William F. Buckley Jr. was for a previous generation -- the embodiment of the American public intellectual. Of course, because her politics are the opposite of Buckley's politics, this fact drives the right wing up the wall.
Intellectually honest Republicans have to give Maddow credit: she is one of the few hosts willing to give time to members of the GOP who were around before the party became fully incoherent, and who wish the party would return to some degree of rationality (i.e., Steve Schmidt, Meghan McCain, Michael Steele, Nicole Wallace, etc.). She gives voice to those who want sanity and comity back in American politics, and those who want an end to the "war on brains." For all these reasons -- and so many more -- we'd be lost without her.
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