Politics & Policy

Jerry & Me

Jerry Springer thinks we're all suckers. He's largely right.

Keith Olbermann, often described as the thinking man’s idiot (or is that the idiot’s thinking man?) said on MSNBC a few nights ago: “Jonah Goldberg of National Review said on CNN that you would bring ‘slack-jawed yokels, hicks, weirdoes, pervs, and whatnots.’ And apart from considering the source there, at what point did we stop letting yokels, hicks, weirdoes, pervs, and whatnots vote? We let Jonah Goldberg vote.”

Jerry Springer responded, “Well, you make a good point. But that’s the elitism. That’s the elitism that is part of the problem. Our government right now is very good at protecting the interests of the wealthy and the powerful. But anyone who isn’t in that group, they’re just not part of the equation.”

Now, in this tiny slice of the space-time continuum we can see the mass of so much asininity crammed into such a small confining space, it’s astounding that the studio didn’t implode on itself sucking in all light and heat.

But before we unpack this black hole — for want of a more apt hole — let me back up.

Jerry Springer is running for the Senate against, well, me.

Generally, we fancy-pants political-pundit types would say Springer is “running against Washington” or that he’s taking on the role of “outsider.” But in this case, Springer has elevated me to the status of all that is wrong in Washington. If he were William Jennings Bryan, I would be his Cross of Goldberg.

On January 26 of this year, on CNN’s Late Edition — the Sunday show on which I appear regularly — I was asked what I thought about the fact that Jerry Springer was considering a run for the Senate from Ohio. After noting that as mayor of Cincinnati, Springer had gotten into trouble after paying a hooker by check, I tried to make a simple point: “To me this proves that voter turnout is not this glorious thing…because if Jerry Springer shows up, he’ll bring all these new people to the polls, they will be slack-jawed yokels, hicks, weirdoes, pervs, and whatnot.”

I stand by that. If you thought it wasn’t worth voting until Jerry Springer came along, our society doesn’t really need your vote (longtime readers know my views on democracy) And don’t let Springer’s Jovian ego distort the issue. In the classic tradition of fascists and populist demagogues, he says the “establishment” is afraid of his ideas. But Springer’s positions — to the extent he has any — are indistinguishable from almost any run-of-the-mill liberal Democrat limousine liberal. He talks about better schools, insuring the uninsured, etc., etc. This is interesting? This is new? Jerry, get over yourself. Every high-school kid who’s interned for a Democratic congressman can spout the policies Springer adheres to.

No, if you think it’s only worth voting if Springer’s on the ballot it’s not because you like his ideas. It’s because you like the man. You like what he represents. Or, you’re just bored and think it’s all a big joke to send the human incarnation of a burning bag of dog droppings to the U.S. Senate. In fact, the most charitable excuse for supporting Springer is that he can afford to run for the Senate on his own dime. After all, this populist man of the people who was paid a base salary of $6 million a year to humilate fat strippers and geriatric sluts, has the one thing the Democratic party needs more than ideas, principles, and vision: cash-on-hand.

So, anyway: on July 11, Springer unveiled his fundraising infomercial. In it he takes my quote about “slack-jawed yokels, hicks, etc.” and makes it sort of the central theme of his campaign. His infomercial amounts to a one-man cavalcade of ignorance, whining about how I represent the “incestuous relationship” between the national media and the administration. The multimillionaire sleaze merchant is even selling pictures of himself — for $100 a pop — standing in front a sign, outside a small Ohio town, saying “Welcome to Hicksville” with my quote superimposed over it.

Now, there are only two problems with Springer’s effort to run against me. It’s dishonest and it’s stupid. Let’s take the dishonesty part first. Springer is the person who’s said that my quote applies to the citizens of Hicksville, not me. I have no idea if the residents of that town are weirdoes, pervs, or even hicks. I’d never heard of the town until Springer said my words applied to them. Still, if the town were full of glue-huffing morons who live with their parents and boff their siblings then, yes, I suppose it would be fair to say Hicksville is Springer Country.

But since that’s not the case, it’s not surprising that the people of Hicksville are furious with Springer for what amounts to slander. “I’ve always thought it would be good to put Hicksville on the map, but not this way,” Mayor Janis Meyer told the Columbus Dispatch. “If Springer’s running for office, I don’t know why he’d want to tick off 3,600 people.”

No, no, explained Springer’s spokesman Dale Butland “He’s not calling them hicks,” Butland said. “It’s the elitists, not Jerry Springer, who think everybody in middle America is a slack-jawed yokel hick.”

The scrotal-torsion-inducing spin of this nonsense could sterilize an elephant. The stretch required to say my description of Springer-voters applies to every decent, hardworking and non-rich American gives new meaning to the word elastic. Anybody who has watched The Jerry Springer Show — or if they heard my comments in context — understands that I was referring to the toothless hookers, incestuous pimps, drug-dealing wastoids, transgender Klansmen, and the rest of the freaks, weirdoes, and perverts Jerry Springer has exploited to make himself very, very rich. Moreover, “hicks” — of the sort who live in Hicksville — vote Republican in this country in general and in Ohio in particular. You could look it up.

Which brings us to the stupid part. To believe the bunk Springer is peddling you’d have to be dumber than a guy who says “Okay, honey, proposing to you on the Jerry Springer Show sounds like a great idea! And, you know, I can’t wait for you tell me your ‘big surprise!’”

Which brings me back, naturally, to Keith Olbermann.

Go back and look at their chummy exchange. Olbermann, another millionaire media bigwig with his own TV show, says “we let” hicks, yokels, pervs…and Jonah Goldberg vote. Who is “we” Kemosabe? Here’s a guy who outranks me by several orders of magnitude in the Washington food chain saying “we let” so-and-so vote as if he’s got something to do with allowing that, as if his permission is required. And Jerry Springer replies “good point” and proceeds to talk about how I represent the attitudes of the elite media and the U.S. government. CNN’s Miles O’Brien asked Springer if there isn’t “a little bit of arrogance” in my comments, to which Springer replied, “There’s a lot of arrogance, isn’t there? I mean that’s the elitism. Honestly, that’s the elitism which is affecting our government right now.” For some inexplicable reason, it doesn’t occur to O’Brien to say something to the effect of “Um, Mr. Springer, Jonah Goldberg doesn’t work for the government. Can you name anyone else — in or out of government — who shares his views?”

Springer can’t because I’m all alone here. And that’s the irony of this whole thing. Springer had to pick me — a relatively obscure conservative pundit — as his symbol of all that is unholy because there was no better candidate. After all, if the entire media establishment is against the little guy, why are all of Springer’s interviewers taking his side? Perhaps it’s because the elite media buys this nonsense out of liberal guilt. They are terrified of seeming snobby but they are so far above the little guys financially and egotistically they can’t tell the differences between the ants on the ground — all the little guys just look, well, little. These journalists may not have Springer’s morals, but they are Springer’s enablers because at the end of the day they buy into the idea that you can’t draw meaningful distinctions between scummy people and decent ones — if they are poor.

Indeed, the real Washington elite pays tribute to high voter turnout everyday. I doubt there’s a major establishment journalist — save for a few explicitly conservative cranks like me — who could even fake making an argument against high voter turnout. In effect, the establishment media in Washington — and the Democratic party — does, in fact, think Jerry Springer voters are indistinguishable from the residents of Hicksville. They do think there’s no moral difference between pimps and hustlers and plumbers and home-schoolers when it comes to Election Day. Whores should have as much say as nurses, according to a worldview which says nobody can be judged, all citizens are equal, all views valid.

Well, to hell with that or to hell with us, literally. Springer thinks elitism is by definition wrong and by doing so he once again re-qualifies as a dangerous fool. It may be elitism to say hookers are bad role models but it also happens to be true. Must we really buy into the idea that belief in any standards at all — pimps and drug dealers are bad, for example — should earn us the scorn of latte liberals like Keith Olbermann?

At the end of the day Springer’s the cultural equivalent of a slumlord who claims to speak for the poor. He is an updated remake of the would-be fascist Lonesome Rhodes from the classic film A Face in the Crowd. Rhodes declared, “This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!” Springer’s just starting with Ohio, but the attitude is the same. He thinks we’re all suckers. And judging from his easy treatment in the media so far, he’s largely right.

When he whispers that “everybody” in Washington is scared of “real” Americans and that our laws and our problems are the deliberate design of “elitists” who want to keep the little guy down, he is spewing an outrageous, and outrageously cynical, lie. There isn’t a politician on either side of the aisle who thinks his constituents are the sort of freaks displayed in Springer’s televised carnival. But the media is too scared to call him on that because Springer claims to speak for the little guy. Instead, they take shots at me because, that’s easy. It doesn’t require thinking and won’t rattle Olbermann’s viewers out of their intellectual narcolepsy.

Look: Springer became wealthy by exploiting and mocking damaged and unfortunate people. He shamed those too ignorant to realize they should feel shame — and hence did real damage to the social utility of shame itself. He even staged fake wedding ceremonies for dying children — just to make a buck. Fine, it’s a free country, we all said. You didn’t have to approve. But now, Springer’s not satisfied with fame and money. He now wants to be rewarded with a Senate seat too. In other words, Springer believes he should face no consequences, no trade-offs whatsoever, for the choices he’s made, no standards at all should apply to him. As I said, to hell with that, or to hell with us.


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When I saw the chop-suey font in the CNN story I was reminded of a powdered-drink product from my youth: Funny Face.