Following massive victories that put Democrats in control of the Executive and Legislative branches of government in the November 2008 elections, spirits on the left were flying high. But not as high as they could have been or should have been. In California, Proposition 8 was passed by a majority of voters, which effectively ended same-sex marriage in that state. As Keith Olbermann so memorably stated in his Special Comment following the passage of Proposition 8: “This isn’t about yelling, this isn’t about politics, and this isn’t really just about Prop 8… and yet to me this vote is horrible. Horrible. Because this isn’t about yelling and this isn’t about politics, this is about the human heart. And if that sounds corny, so be it.”
Keith Olbermann did something that night that would go down as one of the most memorable and referenced moments during his eight-year run on Countdown. Keith, in the midst of a massive liberal victory at the federal and state level, tempered his celebration with a sobering reminder of the consequences the public sphere can have on the private sphere. For years politicians and media had been exploiting the ‘gay issue’ for votes and ratings. Genuine arguments were hard to come by. So many dealt with the hypotheticals. The slippery slopes. The sort of arguments that placed proponents of equality at a financial and organizational disadvantage. The power was tipped significantly in favor of those with money and a means to be heard.
During the days leading up to the 2008 elections, the Mormon Church, one of the chief sponsors and contributors to the proposition’s success, poured an estimated $25 million into California’s battle over gay marriage. Citizens were flooded with false and wildly exaggerated claims. But money speaks. And the proponents of Proposition 8 were just loud enough.
Enough to successfully pluck the private sphere and place it under the scrutiny of the public sphere, anyways.
In all 31 states where gay marriage has been put to a public vote, it has failed.
But as Keith reminded us in November 2008, this isn’t about politics.
As the consequences of Proposition 8 and other similar initiatives have been to shown to tear families apart and be recognized as second-class citizens, this argument has become increasingly genuine and not a falsely spun gimmick by 24-hour news networks. Keith left his popular MSNBC program in January, but announced today his return to television in a deal with Al Gore’s Current TV, which would place Olbermann as the network’s chief news officer and an executive producer and host of his own nightly show. The move will give Olbermann a considerable amount of freedom in his new role at Current, a relatively new and small news network independent from much of mainstream media’s conglomerate influences. He built a primetime line-up, but can he build a channel? Olbermann has tirelessly fought for equal rights, and it’s important that all of us continue to stand up and speak out against those who wish to advance an argument that is false and deceiving or put minority rights up for majority vote.
Keith isn’t without his own sins, and his show may have eventually become something of a self-parody. But for speaking up so eloquently and from the heart, he deserves credit.