Keith Olbermann on the Tea Party

A near-perfect 20-minute summary of the right-wing crazies who might triumph today.

The MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, my second-favourite US broadcaster (after Jon Stewart!), concluded his show on 27 October with this "special comment" on the right-wing, populist Tea Party movement and the dangers it poses to American democracy and civil rights. It's long – around 20 minutes – but it's well worth watching. Or, alternatively, you can read the transcript of his typically impassioned remarks.

Here's an extract:

It is as if a group of moderately talented performers has walked on stage at a comedy club on improv night. Each hears a shout from the audience, consisting of a bizarre but just barely plausible fear or hatred or neurosis or prejudice.

And the entertainment of the evening is for each to take their thin, absurd premise, and build upon it a campaign for governor or congressman or senator. The problem is, of course, when it turns out there is no audience shouting out gags, just a cabal of corporations and the US Chamber of Commerce and political insider bloodsuckers like Karl Rove and Dick Armey and the Chicken Little Chorus of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

And the instructions are not to improvise a comedy sketch, but to elect a group of unqualified, unstable individuals who will do what they are told, in exchange for money and power, and march this nation as far backward as they can get, backward to Jim Crow, or backward to the breadlines of the Thirties, or backward** to hanging union organisers, or backward to the trusts and the robber barons.

Result: the Tea Party. Vote backward, vote Tea Party. And if you are somehow indifferent to what is planned for next Tuesday, it is nothing short of an attempt to use democracy to end this democracy, to buy America wholesale and pave over the freedoms and the care we take of one another, which have combined to keep us the envy of the world.

You do not think your freedom is at stake next Tuesday?

He goes on to outline, in great detail, and with supporting quotes, the craziness, hypocrisy and bigotry of these far-right Republican congressional and gubernatorial candidates who affect to be the disillusioned voices of grass-roots US conservatism. It's a must-watch.

On a side note, for those of you here in Britain who don't know Olbermann, or aren't familiar with his "Special Comments", check out the 2007 Rolling Stone profile here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.