So here’s an Internet-spawned political flap, or mini-flap, I want to weigh in on. Someone found a yearbook picture of Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC journalist and commentator, and put it on the Internet. I don’t know why the person felt this was important, but they did and now it’s all over the place. Rachel Maddow looks different in her yearbook picture that she does now, more than a decade later, on TV. It’s shocking, I know. I’ll give you a second to collect yourself before I go on.
So last week or so, two right-wing drive-time talk radio hosts had Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter call into their show. David Vitter is one of several Republican politicians with a sex scandal in his past. While he was campaigning on a so-called Family Values platform he was a client of the DC Madam. And there, I’ve been mean to David Vitter.
The talk-show hosts said something like, “Rachel Maddow’s yearbook picture is on the Internet. And she looks like a woman!” Tee hee. Snicker. Snort.
This is wildly funny, you see, because Rachel Maddow is a lesbian.
And then Vitter says something like, “It must be an old picture.”
Snicker-snicker-snort! Dude! Witty much?
So of course a day later Vitter sends an apology to Rachel Maddow.
The left wing blogsphere sees the story as a morsel of red meat, so it’s been in lots of places. What’s been interesting to me are the comments.
These are partisan supporters of Maddow. And almost all of them comment on her appearance. There are comments like, “She does not look like a man!” “She’s very willowy and sophisticated!” “I like her with brown hair!” There’s the occasional, “I hate her glasses;” “If I were a lesbian I’d have a crush on her!” Several commenters wrote about how she reminds them of the gym teacher they had their first crush on (too much information, people).
Are they missing the point? Am I?
Hair color technology, and hair cutting technique for that matter, have changed since, I don’t know, the 1800s. It isn’t news to me that someone who had shoulder-length blond hair in high school might have short dark hair now.
What I find interesting here is that a trio of right-wing numbskulls thinks implying that Maddow looks masculine is a) funny and b) somehow degrading or hurtful to Maddow. Frankly, to their crowd, it probably is. This is because they live by a different set of values than Maddow does (which is exactly why Rachel Maddow probably wasn’t hugging her pillow and wailing, “They—they think I look like a man!” after this story broke).
Maddow is open about her orientation and her life. She talks about Susan, her partner. When a story involves a gay angle, Maddow is careful to acknowledge that she may have an unconscious bias, or be conflicted about it. This gives her audience enough information to decide whether they can trust her conclusions or not.
Maddow actually has, on a couple of occasions, commented that she thinks she looks like a man.
Some of the right wing live by different code. That code seems to be that you have one set of statements and behaviors for public life, and another for what you do in private. This is a risky and stressful way to live; David Vitter and his now-public sexual fantasies are an example of why.
The name for this kind of lifestyle is hypocrisy. These people aren’t astute enough to realize that not everyone lives by their two-sets-of-rules; just-don’t-let-the-neighbors-see code. This is why when they try to hurt someone they see as an adversary by implying that she (gasp!) likes girls when she, in fact, does like girls, it falls flat.
At least it does with those of us in the center and left.
The more interesting question for me is this: Is that the best you can come up with? Several right-wingers have talked about Maddow’s “mean” interviews. Dick Armey pretends he doesn’t know what her degree is in. Sarah Palin commented on how Rachel Maddow’s neck tendons stand out when she’s upset. (Maddow’s comment, “I don’t think they do, but I know I get red and blotchy.”) The problem they have with Maddow is that this is the closest thing to dirt they can find.
Maddow may be the smartest commentator on TV. If she’s not the smartest (that might be Steven Colbert, who is a comedian) she’s in the top three. She is certainly the most thoughtful commentator and journalist working right now. Her goal is impeccability and total accountability and she will acknowledge errors publicly on her show when they happen. Her interviews are models for how to respectfully and thoughtfully deal with someone who disagrees with your opinions. Unlike anyone else except Jon Stewart and Seven Colbert, she routinely invites people who hold differing opinions onto her show and lets them talk.
It’s a sign of her growing influence that people like Palin and Vitter feel that they have to attack her; just as it’s a sign of how threatened Glenn Beck feels by MSNBC when he has to write NO RATING on his fingernails and flash them during a monologue about the rival network. (Apparently Beck is not only spelling-challenged, he’s math-challenged as well; he could not figure out how to paint NO RATINGS onto ten fingers.)
Rachel, I don’t care that you wore a strand of pearls and had long hair in your yearbook picture. I don’t care if you shave your head or dye your hair purple. I don’t care if you wear dungarees, bike leathers, tattoos or a bed-sheet to work. I tune in to hear what you have to say, to look at your charts, to listen to your interviews. You are a beacon of journalistic integrity in the dim, murky landscape of cable opinion shows. I don’t care how you look. Keep up the good work.