Keith Olbermann and I started from the same place, the same school, the same English teacher–Arthur Naething–who changed our lives. I’ve always had a soft spot for Keith as a result, even when he called me one of the worst people in the world (based on a wildly inaccurate interpretation of something I’d written). I’ve criticized him, too, for his melodramatically over-the-top effusions. I’m not so sure what this dispute with MSNBC is all about, but I’m sad that Keith won’t be around (at least, for a while). If there is a place for the nonsense-spew of Fox News, there has to be a place on my cable dial for Olbermann (who, while occasionally obnoxious, operates from a base of reality–unlike some people we know [see below]). Keith is a brilliant writer, and presenter; I always enjoy watching him, even when he’s occasionally wrong. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do so again soon. In the meantime, I hope he’ll heed the words of the master and “Go forth, and spread beauty and light.”
On another decidedly hilarious front, Glenn Beck has found yet another enemy of the people in a 78-year-old Columbia University professor named Frances Fox Piven. I’ve always thought that Piven’s work was foolish and inhumane. There was a brief, disastrous time in the 1960s when her desire to flood the welfare system with new recipients was the tacit policy of the city of New York, which produced absolutely terrible results–as Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted–in the 1970s and 1980s. I also remember Piven railing against a brilliantly successful welfare-to-work program called “America Works” because it was for-profit, even though the company only was paid by the government if the recipient remained on the job for six months (and even though the ability to do honorable work gave the women involved new-found confidence, according to study after study of the results). But the notion that Piven’s ideas had any widespread influence, or are even worth commenting on 45 years later, is beyond absurd; it is another case of Beck’s show-paranoid perversity. It seems academic and sophisticated, to those who don’t know any better: Glenn’s soooo erudite, he’s found a secret part of The Plan to turn America into a socialist gulag, hatched by a college professor. The reality is that he’s focused onto an obscure form of left-liberalism that was found wanting a long time ago, as the sociological results of Aid to Families with Dependent Children became known, and better ways to help the poor were developed.
Beck’s essential sin is a matter of proportionality. He has, as ever, latched onto an obscurity, blown it out of proportion–as he did with Van Jones’ stupid but essentially harmless comments about communism–and turned it into a lie. He is an extraordinary liar, on matters large and small, as I’ve learned from personal experience with the man. That Beck remains on the air and Keith Olbermann–unpleasant and extreme at times, but no fantasist–isn’t anymore is a travesty.