Welcome to this week’s edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag where Bob, Ben and Chez answer readers questions!! Today, we discuss President Obama’s announcement that he supports gay marriage, Joe Biden’s extraordinary ability to put his foot in his mouth at every given opportunity, and where Keith Olbermann could possibly go to relaunch his career.
Hi guys, love the mailbag! Checking in every Friday! My question: Do you think Obama’s announcement on his support for gay marriage was political? It came just after NC voted to ban it, so I think it was clearly timed for effect. Maybe I’m being cynical….
Chez: Where would you like us to mail your check? I think it would be naive to believe that politics wasn’t a consideration in just about any decision made by a sitting President of the United States during an election year. It seems fairly obvious that Obama has always supported the idea of gay marriage, but that doesn’t negate the overall importance of actually going on record with that support — it’s momentous and hugely important, something that will be seen as a turning point once the inevitable happens and gay marriage becomes a reality nationwide. Regardless of the fact that politics almost certainly played a role in Obama’s decision to stand up on the issue, the result is the same and that’s really what counts; as Rachel Maddow said beautifully yesterday in reaction to the president’s statement, I care less about what a political leader thinks than what he or she does because that’s what has a real impact — whether or not he or she is doing harm or doing good by action. Making a move with potential political overtones — and what Obama did carries both the possibility of extreme benefits and extreme risk — doesn’t necessarily have to be a cynical act, as long as the outcome is an unqualified good. Who gives a crap why it was done — it was done, it needed to be done, and the result is historic and a huge step forward for civil rights in this country. That said, from a political standpoint it was a ballsy and brilliant move: It energizes the base and forces Mitt Romney and the GOP to double down on their anti-gay stance, which they’ve already done. Most importantly, though, it draws a very clear line between what President Obama stands for and what the current Republican party does.
Bob: You’re not cynical. You’re realistic. Everything out of the White House, irrespective of who the president might be, is political. Lincoln notoriously calculated everything for political effect. He was one of our most shrewd political presidents. The Emancipation Proclamation was timed to coincide with the first major U.S. victory in the Civil War, even though Antietam was technically a draw. I’ve always believed that our current president was more “evolved” on the issue than he’s let on. Marriage equality is common sense, and the president is, if nothing else, a reasonable man. However, he’s always been abundantly aware of the mistakes of the previous Democratic president and has attempted to avoid the same traps. In this case, he hasn’t wanted to spring same-sex marriage too early for fear it will backfire and become regressive, as what happened to Clinton with the passage of DADT and DOMA.
Ben: Of course there was a political element to it Stephen – it was definitely timed in response to the anti gay marriage vote in North Carolina and will help get the LGBT community behind him. But so what? He did it, and it was a good thing. To boot, there are serious risks to the move (as I outlined in an article earlier this week) and Obama should get a huge amount of credit for this. Obama’s statement sends a clear message that he is willing to stand firmly on one side of the issue – and it’s an issue that will rear its head in the the election given Romney’s need to appease the religious fundamentalists in his party. Who knows whether it will help or hurt Obama – he is clearly gambling the net effect is positive, but if the economy goes down the toilet, its another weapon the Republicans can use to paint him as an out of touch liberal. I think Obama is gambling that it adds to his re-election strategy of painting the Republicans as wanting to go back to the past, whereas he is providing a progressive vision for the future, but again, it isn’t clear it will work. So yes, it was political, and yes Obama deserves a lot of praise for it.
Great answers from last week fellas [on Gingrich’s career]. Random question: What do you think is going to happen with Keith Olbermann? Will we ever see him back on TV? By all accounts he was a major pain in the ass to work with, but damn, he was a great presenter. Maybe he could do his own podcast so that he doesn’t have to actually work with anyone physically? I love Rachel Maddow and Eliot Spitzer actually does some good stuff, but none of them compare to Keith at his best.
Bob: Olbermann probably deserves to be blacklisted from television. There’s just too much talent out there now and not enough slots, therefore, you can’t go around acting like an entitled dick anymore. So I think he might start his own internet endeavor. I’ve also predicted that he could end up in Piers Morgan’s slot on CNN. Who knows. I’ve just grown very disgusted with Olbermann’s selfish irresponsibility. The progressive movement needs strong voices on television, and Olbermann could be one, but he sabotages himself and embarrasses the broader movement with his silly off-camera behavior.
Ben: I agree with you completely with you on this Donald – Olbermann is leagues ahead of anyone else in the liberal talking heads business. His voice is/was a very important one and its a crying shame he was sabotaged his own career to the point where no one in their right mind would hire him. Olbermann’s pigheadedness and ego made him brilliant to watch as he genuinely spoke his mind and did it with enormous flare, but it clearly also made him an absolute nightmare to work with. I hope Olbermann finds a way of getting his voice out there again because talents like that come around once in a lifetime, and in the murky business of political talk shows, he was a bright light of honesty. I think a podcast or radio show where he has limited staff and no bosses to fight with would be the best way to go for Keith, but it may not be glamorous enough for him (he was getting paid an extraordinary sum of money to work for Current).
Chez: Six years or so ago I went on record saying that while Olbermann was a legendary pain-in-the-ass, he was so good the second the little red light came on over the lens of the camera that it always made it worth tolerating him. I’ve since changed my position — keeping in mind that that Olbermann’s managed to add two more acrimonious departures to his impressive job-loss record in the past few years. The fact is that while Olbermann’s a brilliant broadcaster — really, his skills are nearly second-to-none — he’s a thoroughly insufferable human being and employee: arrogant, petty, bitter, hypercritical and entirely out of his fucking mind. And I’m deadly serious about that last point: It’s simply proven fact by now that if you hire Olbermann you sign on for all of his DSM-IV-level psychoses, neuroses and ticks, the ones that constantly need to be catered to. Bringing him into your organization forces everyone else to walk on eggshells to avoid setting off the time bomb that is Olbermann and that’s not fair to the rest of the staff. Yes, maybe Keith can start his own podcast or something like that, but I can’t stress enough how whatever he does he has to do it alone because he’s proven time and time again that he can’t work with anyone. It’s a shame, because his ego won’t allow him to simply do his fucking job and be an important voice in the progressive movement — as you said, one of the most important and most powerful. But at this point, he just isn’t worth it anymore. He’s a joke — and that’s too bad.
Can we get rid of Joe Biden please? This guy seriously can’t keep his mouth shut. Seriously, what does he actually do other than say stupid stuff that makes the President look silly. Why don’t they trade him out for another VP, that way Obama could have an X factor in the election and cancel out Romney’s announcement. What do you think?
Ben: I’m not a big fan of Joe Biden at all, and don’t really see the point in him as VP. He adds absolutely nothing to Obama other than saying nice things about him (and he usually screws that up too). Biden talks a lot but never puts his money where his mouth is. He made a lot of noise about the Iraq war being a serious risk, then voted for it, then refused to vote for bringing the troops back while still making a lot of noise about how bad Bush was. He voted for horrendous policy that stopped middle class Americans from filing chapter 7 bankruptcy, and has extremely dubious links with the credit card industry. I have it on good authority that there have been serious overtures to get Hilary Clinton to take over and have Biden go to the Supreme Court, but it probably isn’t likely to happen. Biden sometimes works quite well as an attack dog against the Republicans, so I guess there’s some worth there. But generally speaking, he’s a blowhard who has been in Washington way too long.
Chez: Boy did you pick the wrong week to beat up on Biden. That undisciplined mouth of his very likely helped force President Obama’s hand when it came to voicing public support for gay marriage. Look, I get that Biden can be a bit of a boob on occasion, but there’s nothing politically to be gained by dumping him. He’s not the kind of drag on the ticket that would make someone consider not voting for Obama and dropping him carries far more risk than potential benefit. Right now Obama needs to appear steady, particularly considering that his opponents have been all over the place throughout the insane primary season and Romney goes back and forth on every issue depending on how the tea leaves are reading on a given day; dumping Biden would just create unnecessary chaos at a time when it could very likely do a lot of political damage. Besides, again, if you haven’t been paying attention, Biden just became a progressive hero. The smart thing to do is stay with what you’ve got and not appear desperate or fickle — and politically there are very few people smarter than Obama.
Bob: I’m with you on this one. I’m not much of a Joe Biden fan, and haven’t been since he voted for that awful Bankruptcy Bill back in 2005-ish that made it nearly impossible for middle class Americans to file Chapter 7 and, thus, wipe their debt clean. He’s erratic and unpredictable. On the upside, he’s a great lightning rod to attract attention away from the president when needed, so he serves a decent political purpose if nothing else. And I think his gaffes are hilarious, so he’s good for a laugh, but I just can’t get beyond the bankruptcy vote. If that law had not been passed and signed by President Bush, I think the impact of the recession on the middle class might have been a little easier to bear. Instead, his vote helped to force middle class Americans who would have previously qualified for a Chapter 7 clean slate into a less-desirable Chapter 13 bankruptcy and court-ordered repayments to creditors (among other things). Call me stubborn, but it’s unforgivable to me. I’ve held out some foolish hope that maybe Biden and Clinton would swap roles, but not a chance. It’s not in the president’s nature to pull a stunt like that. So we’re stuck with him. The good news is that he absolutely will not run for president in 2016. So there’s that.
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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.