Frum Accuses Maddow of Increasing the Ugly Tone of Politics

National Review's David Frum on Monday accused MSNBC's Rachel Maddow of intensifying the ugly tone that exists in politics today.

Appearing on "The Rachel Maddow Show," the former Bush speechwriter, after watching the first part of the program from the Green Room "in horror," was apparently "unprepared for the sarcasm and anger" that is the show's -- and the network's! -- trademark.

As a result, when he "was asked about how awful and hateful the John McCain campaign was" instead of his recent trip to Afghanistan as planned, Frum, feeling "a little grouchy," marvelously replied (video embedded right, h/t Hot Air):

Well, I think you were talking through much of the show about the matter of tone in our politics. And yet, I think, we are seeing an intensification of some of the ugliness of tone that has been a feature in American politics in the last eight years. And this show, unfortunately, is itself an example of that problem, its heavy sarcasm and smearing and its disregard for a lot of the substantive issues that really are important.

And I would hate to see Republicans go probably into opposition sustaining this terrible cycle of un-seriousness about politics, turning it into a spectator sport. The party is going to have some important rebuilding to do. It's going to do that in an intelligent way and we're all going to have to do better than we've been doing, including in the past 40 minutes.

Ouch. To her credit, Maddow didn't flinch, and instead engaged Frum in a very thoughtful discussion concerning this issue:

MADDOW: Do you think that my tone on this show is equivalent to people calling Barack Obama somebody who pals around with terrorists, people yelling from the audience at McCain-Palin rallies, "Bomb Obama. Kill him. Off with his head. Traitor." Are you accusing me of an equivalence in tone?

FRUM: I don't think that's an important question. I think the question is, given the small plate of responsibility that you personally have, how do you manage that responsibility? The fact that other people fail in other ways is not an excuse for you failing in your way.

MADDOW: But you did just say it's the same thing, that you're seeing the same thing on this show in a lot -

(CROSS TALK)

FRUM: I worry about that. No, and I think we all - so I hope that my party, as it probably goes into opposition, will do better. And I hope that when we are looking in the next cycle of politics, that we will that the quality of discussion is more thoughtful, that the substance is more important, and that questions like whether or not North Korea is a terrorist state and belongs in that list, can be discussed on their merits and not on what they tell us about the games in the shift of politics.

MADDOW: The thoughtfulness issue, though - I wonder if part of the problem, in the way that we haven't moved through these things - we decry them on all sides, people, left, right and center, complaining about the tone in politics.

But I sense also that there's a devotion to coming up with a sort of false equivalence, the idea that bringing up John McCain's experience in the Keating Five, for example, is somehow equivalent to calling Barack Obama somebody who pals around with terrorists.

You're saying that my tone on the show, sarcasm, being playful, the way that I approach issues, would be somehow equivalent to McCain, I'm guessing, saying that I want to talk about the economy. I don't see those two as equivalent.

FRUM: I'm suggesting - the line is often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. I don't know if it's really his - that we should be the change we want to see or that we say we want to see. And so if we want to have a more intelligent, more grown-up politics, and I think we all say that, then we ought to do it.

And if we're given the opportunity to do it, we should do it. I mean, you raise a very interesting point about the question of arming these militias in Afghanistan. I was just there for a little more than a week within date of the mission. We spent a lot of time talking about that question. It's a really important question and a really hard one.

And it does demand some of the best thinking we can do because there is a war going on that the United States has a commitment. It's a war that's not going well. We've got a major financial crisis. And I absolutely am concerned and unhappy with the kind of campaign my party has been running. And I'm doing my best to try to raise the tone, my little best, and urge that we do better. We're talking more substantively. I think we should all do that. It would be better for everyone.

MADDOW: I didn't intend for my interview with you to be about this.

But because you raised it, I feel like I've got to talk to you about it. And I guess when you say that you want the discourse to be more grown up and more intelligent, I agree with you on intelligent. I don't necessarily agree with you on grown up. I think there's room for all sorts of different kinds of discourse including satire, including teasing, including humor.

There's a lot of different ways to talk about stuff and Americans absorb things in a lot of different ways. But I do think there's something qualitatively different about threats of violence and about accusations that people are un-American or that they would sell out their country -

FRUM: If John McCain were making threats of violence, that would be really bad. But if -

MADDOW: Does a candidate, standing at a podium - when somebody in the audience at a political rally responds to their rhetoric by saying, "Kill him," does the candidate not have a responsibility to stop, mid-sentence, whatever they're doing and say, "You know what? This is America and we don't do it that way. And where is the Secret Service?"

FRUM: Well, here's what I would guess. I wasn't there and as you know, there's some controversy about whether that was exactly what the person said. But you're the candidate. You're in this huge bowl of 16,000 people or whatever it is. You can't hear what they are saying. You read about it in the newspapers the same day as anybody else.

And I think, you know, John McCain, you know, has tried to dial it back. I agree, a lot of unfortunate things have been said by people associated with the campaign. There have been indications. And the McCain campaign is doing a non-substantive job and doing a lot of politics of cultural resentment. That's all true. And they are going to pay a heavy price in November.

But unfortunately, when you run a bad campaign, it isn't the candidate - the candidate does pay, but the country pays. And we are going to be moving into a situation where we are likely going to have a Democratic president. We are certainly going to have a Democratic Congress, maybe with an expanded majority. And that opens the way to some potentially very destructive changes, both at home and abroad.

There is a financial crisis that can be used as an opportunity to build a much bigger state that most Americans I think want. They are signing up for something quite blind. And in the same way, internationally, there are some real dangers out there that are real whether we (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

You know, I complain to a lot of people in my party that they don't want to see the truth about the party's problems. But, it's also true that there are people on the Democratic side who don't want to see the truth about the threats to America in the world.

MADDOW: Well, I couldn't disagree with you more about the Democrats not seeing threats in the same way that Republicans do. I think that that's been an accusation sort of leveled at liberals specifically and Democrats for a long time without much evidence. But -

FRUM: Well, look, if you took it seriously, you'd invite Paul Wolfowitz on to talk about why does he believe that indeed America has to reinvest more in modernizing his nuclear arsenal rather than just making jokes about it.

MADDOW: Well, you know, making jokes about it -

FRUM: If it were important to you.

MADDOW: Well, making jokes about it -

FRUM: If it were important.

MADDOW: Can you hold on a second, just one second? Making jokes about it is part of the way that I am talking about it. If I believed that Paul Wolfowitz would come on the show, I absolutely would ask him. At your suggestion, I will. The fact that the John McCain campaign in all of the weeks that I've been on the air has made one person available once for three minutes to me doesn't make inspired about these prospects. But I understand that you feel frustrated.

FRUM: Well, you guys have a symbiotic relationship.

MADDOW: Why?

FRUM: You guys have a symbiotic relationship of negativity.

MADDOW: I just don't think that what we're doing in the show is at all equivalent to people yelling, "Kill him" from the audience of political rallies. But I appreciate that rhetorically, you're trying to make the point of equivalence. I just couldn't disagree with you more strongly. I hope you enjoyed being on the show anyway, and thanks for doing it. .

FRUM: Thank you.

MADDOW: David Frum is a former speechwriter for President Bush and a columnist for "The National Review Online." He joins us tonight from Washington. Very glad to have this opportunity to have him here on the show tonight.

Interesting, wouldn't you agree?

For the record, Patterico on Tuesday debunked the leftwing claim that the person in the crowd at the McCain-Palin event in question was shouting for Obama to be killed. 

That said, if Maddow wants to be taken seriously, then she should do a serious news program without the satire, teasing, and humor. If not, she should go on "Comedy Central" with Colbert and Stewart where current events and those involved in them are openly mocked in a forum where the audience is totally cognizant of the comedic intent.

Is her program designed to be entertainment or news talk? You really can't have both, for a goodly percentage of your audience either won't get the sarcasm and/or are going to be offended by it.

And, like it or not, that adds to the ugly tone in politics today.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.