Adieu, Randi Rhodes

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 examination.

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 the queue).
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, I support 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 November.

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 opportunity.

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 marginalized.

If Randi Rhodes uses 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 will be both valuable and welcomed.

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 and is the co-editor of The Crisis Papers. His e-mail is: Read other articles by Ernest, or visit Ernest's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rich Griffin said on April 17th, 2008 at 5:55am #

    I’m glad Randi Rhodes is gone. I don’t want left leaning talk radio to emulate right wing stupidities. I don’t think Randi Rhodes should ever be forgiven for her insulting behavior towards Ralph Nader, harrassing him and not allowing him to express his opinions. Yes, talk radio needs to be lively, but no, it does not need to be abusive!

    While I hope you are wrong about Obama getting the nomination (please, no, no, no!), calling someone such vicious names as she did towards Hillary Clinton is something she should have been fired over. I’ve been on message boards where Ann Coulter has been called vicious sexist names; I hate Ann Coulter, but I don’t believe in being misogynistic.

  2. hp said on April 17th, 2008 at 8:16am #

    ‘Misogynist: A man who hates women as much as women hate one another.’

  3. Martha said on April 17th, 2008 at 8:27am #

    Randi Rhodes is a queen bee. Not only did she attack Ralph Nader, she was even worse to Patti Smith for supporting Ralph Nader. I will never forget that. The article is correct that Rhodes had to go. On all other points, I disagree. Rachel Maddow was a war cheerleader through 2006. She is a corporatist and you’re not listening closely if you’re mistaking her for a ‘progressive’ or anyone worth listening. She had a screaming fit on air one day when the boards were calling out the non-stop pro-war nonsense of Unfiltered.
    Obama doesn’t deserve the nomination. Obama doesn’t deserve to be president. Obama will not end the Iraq war. Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader are real choices.
    The author reduces Randi Rhodes’ sexist remarks (she is a queen bee) to Hillary Clinton. Randi Rhodes used the same phrase for Geraldine Ferraro. That needs to be called out. Not for foul language but for the sexist statments.
    The Air America event was organized and attended by Barack Obama supporters and promoted on Obama’s webpage. Another detail the author can’t find but he’s apparently busy soaking up Keith Olberman — another corporatist and a vile sexist.

  4. Erroll said on April 17th, 2008 at 11:41am #


    Well said. For close to a year I had practically begged Olbermann to present more anti-war voices on his program though he did, shockingly, have former Lt. Gen. William Odom on his program last week, who is advocating that the U.S. immediately withdraw its forces from Iraq. For my efforts, I was blocked from sending any more emails to Countdown. So much for this quasi liberal allowing points of view which run counter to those of that defense contractor who owns MSNBC, General Electric.

  5. Elizabeth said on April 17th, 2008 at 12:28pm #

    With regards to Thom Hartmann and his subsequent canonization within the article:

    I find Mr. Hartmann’s continued censorship and unwilingness to allow discussions and criticisms regarding Israel a rather sad indicator of his own prejudice, not to mention chronic unwillingness to confront the realities and abuses continuously and neverendingly being targeted at the Palestinians. It is a desperate situation that bodes of racism, elitism and barbarism against those who are essentially being fenced in and rounded up like animals by the Israeli government. We must speak out about such abuse and Mr. Hartmann and others do no service by deliberately ignoring and or denying such realities.

  6. Max Shields said on April 17th, 2008 at 3:39pm #

    Obama progressive? Can anybody say Dan Gerstein? He’s an Obama spokesperson. Anyone know Gerstein? He was the non-stop hatemongering spokesperson for Joseph I. Lieberman (the uber-warmongering zionist) when Lieberman was up against anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in the CT Senate race.

    Again, Obama is what?

  7. joe73072 said on April 17th, 2008 at 5:14pm #

    randi may have gotten shrill lately, but she is on target more often than not.

    tom hartmann and rachel maddow are the only somewhat sane voices left on Air America. and sam seder on sunday. they need to join randi and mike malloy at NovaM

    Martha and Rich …..go ahead and vote for Nader. watch the Supreme Court move even further to the right if the GOP wins this time. be a purist at the foodprocessor, not the voting booth.

  8. jacksmith said on April 18th, 2008 at 2:05am #

    DON’T BE DUPED !!!

    Large numbers of Republicans have been voting for Barack Obama in the DEMOCRATIC primaries, and caucuses from early on. Because they feel he would be a weaker opponent against John McCain. With Hillary Clinton you are almost 100% certain to get quality, affordable universal health care very soon.

    But first, all of you have to make certain that Hillary Clinton takes the democratic nomination and then the Whitehouse. NOW! is the time. THIS! is the moment you have all been working, and waiting for. You can do this America. “Carpe diem” (harvest the day).

    I think Hillary Clinton see’s a beautiful world of plenty for all. She’s a woman, and a mother. And it’s time America. Do this for your-selves, and your children’s future. You will have to work together on this and be aggressive, relentless, and creative. Americans face an even worse catastrophe ahead than the one you are living through now.

    You see, the medical and insurance industry mostly support the republicans with the money they ripped off from you. And they don’t want you to have quality, affordable universal health care. They want to be able to continue to rip you off, and kill you and your children by continuing to deny you life saving medical care that you have already paid for. So they can continue to make more immoral profits for them-selves.

    Hillary Clinton has actually won by much larger margins than the vote totals showed. And lost by much smaller vote margins than the vote totals showed. Her delegate count is actually much higher than it shows. And higher than Obama’s. She also leads in the electoral college numbers that you must win to become President in the November national election. HILLARY CLINTON IS ALREADY THE TRUE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE!

    As much as 30% of Obama’s primary, and caucus votes are Republicans trying to choose the weakest democratic candidate for McCain to run against. These Republicans have been gaming the caucuses where it is easier to vote cheat. This is why Obama has not been able to win the BIG! states primaries. Even with Republican vote cheating help.

    Hillary Clinton has been OUT MANNED! OUT GUNNED! and OUT SPENT! 4 and 5 to 1. Yet Obama has only been able to manage a very tenuous, and questionable tie with Hillary Clinton.

    If Obama is the democratic nominee for the national election in November he will be slaughtered. Because the Republican vote cheating help will suddenly evaporate. All of this vote fraud and republican manipulation has made Obama falsely look like a much stronger candidate than he really is. YOUNG PEOPLE. DON’T BE DUPED! Think about it. You have the most to lose.

    The democratic party needs to fix this outrage. Everyone needs to throw all your support to Hillary Clinton NOW! So you can end this outrage against YOU the voter, and against democracy.

    The democratic party, and the super-delegates have a decision to make. Are the democrats, and the democratic party going to choose the DEMOCRATIC party nominee to fight for the American people. Or are the republicans going to choose the DEMOCRATIC party nominee through vote fraud, and gaming the DEMOCRATIC party primaries, and caucuses.

    Fortunately the Clinton’s have been able to hold on against this fraudulent outrage with those repeated dramatic comebacks of Hillary Clinton’s. Only the Clinton’s are that resourceful, and strong. Hillary Clinton is your NOMINEE. They are the best I have ever seen.

    “This is not a game” (Hillary Clinton)


    jacksmith… Working Class 🙂

  9. Max Shields said on April 18th, 2008 at 5:21am #

    What we need is more democracy not less, joe!

  10. Rich Griffin said on April 18th, 2008 at 8:10am #

    The Supreme Court issue: guess what? Some of the most destructive justices for us have been appointed by liberal Democrats! So that argument simply doesn’t wash with me. I don’t trust Obama with this decision at all. I’ll work for progressives, such as Ed O’Reilly, who is running against Sen. John Kerry, for the U.S. Senate. And other progressives, for everything from city council, mayor, governor, congress, etc. And it doesn’t matter which party affiliation they have: they just need to be true progressives!

  11. Hue Longer said on April 19th, 2008 at 1:06am #

    Air America sucks…the only guy they had was Malloy and even he got on the come save us Gore bandwagon (for a buck, I’m sure). The worst think about AAR is that it accepts corporate media definitions and tricks people into thinking they are progressive. Their AP newswire breaks suck worse than Rhandi Rhoads

    Good point Rich,

    I say we beat the Dems…we can’t beat the Repugs, but we can get rid of Dems. Create the vacuum. The great thing about McCain getting in is that liberals won’t go to sleep at the wheel while thinking the only crimes being committed are cigar scandals