Back when she had a show on the now-defunct, fringe left-wing Air America Radio, Rachel Maddow ran a regular feature called "Ask Dr. Maddow."
It began with an announcer stating, "Rachel Maddow is a doctor. Just not that kind of doctor." You know, the indispensible kind who can save lives. Instead, Maddow is of the academic variety, courtesy of a doctorate in political science from Oxford.
The purpose of the feature was twofold: first, to answer listeners' questions, and second, to remind anyone within earshot that Maddow has a rarefied advanced degree and, chances are, you don't.
"Ask Dr. Maddow" did not survive Maddow's transition from Air America to MSNBC, but kindred spirits endure. A recurring feature on her cable show is a story on some arcane subject dubbed "Moment of Geek." Maddow rarely misses a chance to remind viewers of her pride in being a "dork" or "nerd." Guests garner no higher praise from the show's host than for "smart" analysis, regardless of what is said.
All serve much the same purpose as "Ask Dr. Maddow" -- subtle reminders that Maddow is really intelligent, despite what you've read at those snarky right-wing blogs.
Problem is, Maddow routinely says things that undercut her much-touted status of brainiac. Latest example, from this past Wednesday, Maddow talking with University of California professor Tracy Weitz about language in the Senate health bill to maintain a federal ban on taxpayer funding of abortion (click here for 1:26 minute long YouTube clip of the discussion) --
MADDOW: In terms of what you just said about the exchange and the other way that things will be if the Senate language passes, can you explain what the Senate language will actually do? As far as I can read it, it seems like it's asking people to specifically buy abortion insurance if they, if they, with their own money, if they want to participate in any form of federally-assisted health care.MADDOW: Right. That's the, I mean, that sort of what this boils down to for me. I mean, on the one hand, we've been talking a lot about Congressman Stupak wanting to make the abortion language even more restrictive. But even with the Nelson language, who on earth would ever buy abortion insurance because nobody ever plans on having to have an abortion. It's the sort of thing that, it's almost a self-defeating concept.
WEITZ: Well, I think it's requiring that people pay two separate checks for their abortion, for their insurance coverage. One check pays for the regular insurance, the other pays for the portion of the insurance that might potentially be needed to cover abortion. So the two-check option, which separates out the money that could be used to cover abortion, and the money that you need for other kinds of health care.
But I think it's important, Rachel, to remember that abortion is fundamentally a service that women need and one in three women in this country wil need at some point before the end of their reproductive years, is for an unplanned pregnancy. So most of us don't buy insurance because we think we're going to need something for something we're not planning for.
A tweak illuminates how asinine Maddow's observation is -- who on earth would ever buy insurance because nobody ever plans on having a (fill in the blank). House fire, for example. Or car accident. How about major illness?
Agreed, paying for insurance is "almost a self-defeating concept." More precisely, it is a self-defeating concept 99 percent of the time a person is covered for protection against, oh, house fires, car accidents and major illness. It's the irksome 1 percent that causes money to change hands between uninsured and insurance provider, with both parties subsequently sleeping better at night. All in all, not a bad deal.
One of the reasons I was struck by this exchange (and Weitz made a similar claim at the end of her remarks quoted above, albeit in inpenetrable form) is that it is revealing of how a person actually thinks. It's as if someone said, why send astronauts to the moon, seeing how it's made of cheese. All at once you realize you've encountered an adult hobbled with a child's view of the universe, one in which the laws of physics and probability no longer apply.
Best to humor such people and wish them well -- and pray they never acquire anything resembling real power.