I’m really dating myself here, but years before Fox News and all of the other political shoutfests even existed, I used to watch a TV program called Crossfire. Airing nightly on CNN back in the 1980s and 1990s, Crossfire was perhaps the primodial political shouting match. And it featured two hosts, one each “from the left” and “from the right,” as the opening announcer intoned.
The regulars were liberal Mike Kinsley and conservative Pat Buchanan. Kinsley, then as now, was very smart but invariably mild-mannered. He seemed perpetually overmatched by the louder and more pugnacious Buchanan. I must confess that I loved Crossfire the most when Kinsley was away. Those nights, CNN usually had Democratic strategist Bob Beckel fill in. And mild-mannered, Beckel assuredly was not. He could easily go toe-to-toe with Buchanan.
I remember one night most vividly when Buchanan had clearly incensed Beckel. Beckel simply exploded, and unloaded on Buchanan with such intensity that Buchanan, yes Pat Buchanan, physically recoiled and shrunk into his seat in fear. At that moment, with Pat Buchanan throughly shut up, this liberal felt as if he had died and gone to heaven. Beckel’s performance that night convinced me that we on the left needed our share of angry loudmouths, too.
That night, now probably at least two decades old, came back to the fore recently watching the controversy unfold around Teamsters chief James Hoffa. In introducing President Obama in Detroit on Labor Day, Hoffa fired up the crowd. Referring to the tea party movement, he declared, “Everybody here’s got to vote. If we go back and we keep the eye on the prize, let’s take these sons-of-a-bitches out and give America back to America where we belong!” Conservatives were immediately in an uproar.
Anger, in politics as in life, is a funny thing. Expressed in the wrong way, it can make you look like a hothead and certainly get you into a lot of trouble. But sometimes you need a little anger, expressed in the right ways, just to stand up for yourself and avoid becoming a doormat. After all, even the Dalai Lama is capable of defending himself and his countrymen when sufficiently provoked. When the Chinese invaded Tibet, His Holiness didn’t just sit there and let the Red Army sack his homeland. He sent an army of Tibetans out to the frontier to fight back in what became a bloody battle. Thousands lost their lives.
Let’s be clear. Hoffa was very explicit in talking about voting the tea party out of existence. He was not advocating violence. What Hoffa said didn’t threaten anyone physically. Not in the way Republican Nevada Senate candidate, Sharron Angle did, for instance, last year when she vaguely advocated for “second-amendment solutions” on the campaign trail, and then refused — like the coward she is, to even explain what she meant by the phrase.
Hoffa, by contrast, not only refused to apologize, he had the courage to come right out and say what he meant.
“We didn’t start this war – the right wing did. My comments on Labor Day in Detroit echo the anger and frustration of American workers who are under attack by corporate-funded politicians who want to destroy the middle class,” Hoffa says. “We’re tired of seeing good-paying jobs shipped overseas. This fight is about the economy, it’s about jobs and it’s about rebuilding America. As I said yesterday in Detroit, we all have to vote in order to take these anti-worker politicians out of office.”
That, in his statement Hoffa criticizes by name the billionaire Koch brothers, who fund many shadowy conservative caucuses, is particularly apropos, because right about the same time this week that Hoffa’s rant was becoming news, it was disclosed that Charles Koch may have referred to President Obama as Saddam Hussein. Either way, Koch readily admits to referring to the coming 2012 election as “the mother of all wars.” I’m certainly hoping Koch wasn’t advocating any sort of physical violence, and I’ll assume he wasn’t. But if the right wants to turn the election into a war of rhetoric and ideas, so be it. We on the left simply will need more loud, angry liberals like Jim Hoffa and Bob Beckel.
God bless ‘em.