Magazine | October 19, 2009, Issue

Gone with the Windbags

Like eager children clamoring to know “Are we there yet?” MSNBC’s news anchors always seem to be asking “Is it racism yet?” We can tell from their unrestrained glee that their favorite destination is only a hop, skip, and jump to conclusions away. Just around the bend, in fact, like conservatives in general, whom they regularly call certifiable crazies and paranoid wing-nuts. 

They reveled in the summer’s rich supply of anti-Obama protest marches and African witch-doctor signs, but now their wholesale libels have begun to wear thin. The problem with assigning mass guilt is one of diminishing returns and these are starting to show up. If everybody on the right is a racist, then nobody on the right is a racist. If everybody on the right is insane, then nobody on the right is insane. You have to stand out from the crowd to warrant such extreme accusations, but if everybody stands out from the crowd, the crowd ceases to exist.

MSNBC has used up all of its racial enemies. They are not going to get any more mileage out of Joe Wilson, who is beginning to sound as dazed and weepy as Mark Sanford (they even look alike), and whose experience has put a damper on what little spontaneity politicians have. If MSNBC wants to continue ramping things up they will need to find the avatar of avatars, the ultimate to-die-for “get,” and launch a Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow racist-hunting extravaganza. The question is, Who will be their magic bullet? 

Margaret Mitchell was born in 1900 and died after being struck by a car in 1949. Had she lived a normal life span — say to 1975 — she would have been besieged by the media and hounded at every step of the civil-rights movement, held up as an egregious symbol of the Old South, and attacked relentlessly as the voice of reaction. MSNBC would have loved nothing better than to get their mikes around her neck and sink their soundbites into her Georgia-peaches-and-cream complexion. They can’t get to her now, but they can still get to her book, and I would not put it past them to mount an all-out attack on Gone with the Wind and call it a “teachable moment.” I can see it now . . . 

The show opens with Schultz, Olbermann, and Maddow, all bad mimics, doing their usual tone-deaf Yankee imitation of a Southern accent, the same one they used for Joe Wilson: “special needs” hillbilly, dead drunk. Then each reads the passage in GWTW that disgusted and offended him the most. Barrel-chested, oak-necked Ed Schultz, the liberal who doesn’t look like a liberal, who looks like a bully, sounds like a bully, and is a bully, goes after the character he feels most confident going after — Aunt Pittypat:

“My dear, they want to let the darkies vote! Did you ever hear of anything more silly? Though — I don’t know — now that I think about it, Uncle Peter has much more sense than any Republican I ever saw and much better manners but, of course, Uncle Peter is far too well-bred to want to vote.”

After Schultz beats up on a little old lady given to fainting spells, Olbermann, trembling with fury and breathing hard, reads Scarlett’s reaction to Gettysburg:

“It would have been so much better for the Yankees to pay for the darkies — or even for us to give them the darkies free of charge — than to have this happen.”

This is too much for Olbermann and calls for his specialty, a Special Comment: “You, madam, are a belle from Hell!” He huffs on in this vein, instructing his audience to send their comments to Keith@ShareTheSlaves.com, then rounds on Margaret Mitchell herself: “And to think, madam, that you are on a United States postage stamp! Americans have to kiss you, yes, kiss you!” (Keith@OffTheStamp.com) “Well, hear this, madam. You don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ books, which is why I demand, yes, demand, that your Pulitzer Prize be posthumously rescinded!” (Keith@PullThePul.com)

Now it’s time for a Holy Mackerel story from Rachel Maddow, who has fingered the most rabid secessionist and die-hard racist in the whole book. Would you believe it’s Melanie? Giving her signature “Yup,” Rachel gleefully reads the passage about singing “Bonnie Blue Flag” at the bazaar:

“Scarlett, singing with the rest, heard the high sweet soprano of Melanie mounting behind her, clear and true and thrilling as the bugle notes. Turning, she saw that Melly was standing with her hands clasped to her breast, her eyes closed, and tiny tears oozing from the corners. . . . There was a deep, almost fanatic glow in her eyes that for a moment lit up her plain little face and made it beautiful.”

Slavery? Melanie’s serene denial shaped her belief that all able-bodied men should be sent to the front immediately: “And as for all this talk about the militia staying here to keep the darkies from rising — why it’s the silliest thing I ever heard of. Why should our people rise?”

When Ashley is talked into moving to Atlanta instead of New York as he had planned, Melanie is delighted because it means that their son can go to school: “If we went North, we couldn’t let him go to school and associate with Yankee children and have pickaninnies in his class! We’d have to have a governess, and I don’t see how we’d afford [it].”

Then there’s the ex-convict, Archie, whom Melanie hired as Scarlett’s coachman. A hate-filled mountaineer sentenced to life for murdering his wife, he was pardoned late in the war in exchange for joining the army. When Scarlett discovers this and demands to know why Melanie trusted him, Archie explains: “She reckoned as how anybody who’d fought for the Confederacy had wiped out anything bad they’d done.” To which Scarlett replies: “Melanie had that mixed up with baptism!”

To end on a serious note: I predict that Jimmy Carter will apologize for his fellow Georgian and her book.

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