Alan Colmes probably feels like Leon Trotsky on some days. It was Trotsky's fate, of course, to be laid low by an ice axe at the behest of the very revolution that he helped to spawn. But here he is (Alan, not Leon) with a very visible television gig, a daily radio program, and now a book. Yet liberals treat him like a redheaded stepchild! You'd think he was Joe Lieberman! Why is that? The answer, I think, is contained in his book RED, WHITE & LIBERAL.
Colmes seemed to spring out of nowhere onto Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes. He's been around for a while, however. His radio program dates back to the 1970s. On October 1, 1990 he came to be renowned as the first nationally syndicated liberal radio talk show host (he's not, but that's an argument for another time). His program in most markets immediately followed Rush Limbaugh, the thought apparently being that stations could stir up a little right-left interest. And in some cases it worked.
I used to listen to him every day, primarily for his "Radio Graffiti" feature. Listeners could call up and say one sentence over the air, then it was on to the next caller. It moved quickly and was on for about three minutes at the beginning and end of his program. It was fairly easy to get through --- Alan, alas, didn't have much of an audience --- so there were regulars who called in such as myself. There was also a really entertaining guy who called himself "The Alabama Dittohead" and who occasionally, though not always, made more sense in one sentence than Alan did in two hours. But in between Radio Graffiti, there was Alan, reliably liberal as he attempted to defend the indefensible Bill Clinton and a host of other causes du jour. It was on the strength of that program that Sean Hannity recommended Colmes to co-host the program now known as Hannity & Colmes. And, of course, he has a new radio program.
Colmes often comes across as Howdy Doody to Hannity's Buffalo Bob Smith, but that is merely because he is passionate in what he believes. You can tell when Colmes has had his buttons pushed because he bounces up and down in his chair. One of the cardinal sins of our current age is to look bad on television, and Colmes in the past has raised that to an art form. But he is doing better. True, the old Alan has been manifesting himself lately as he reminds everyone each night that he has written a new book. But that's almost endearing; it's actually kind of refreshing to see a media figure like Colmes being proud of something he did without a hint of faux modesty. So more power to him.
I want to assure you though that Colmes really frosts me. I spent as much time throwing RED, WHITE & LIBERAL across the room as I did reading it. It has more air miles at casa de Hartlaub than the Concorde. Some people accuse Alan of being a closet conservative but it's hard to read RED, WHITE & LIBERAL and still believe that. No, Colmes is still reliably liberal. Go down the checklist and he's right on the Left. Abortion, check! Gun confiscation, check! Increased taxes, check! Blame Bush for everything, check!
Sponge Al Frankenpants has taken Colmes to task --- confronted him, actually --- for not taking the fight to Hannity directly on the program they co-host. Such criticism misses the format of the program, wherein the co-hosts confront the guests, not each other (think Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff? and you'll get it). If Colmes has needed to establish his bona fides, however, RED, WHITE & LIBERAL does that. I mean, one chapter is entitled "Bill Clinton, Our Greatest President." Another is called "Jesus Was A Liberal." But you know what? As strongly as I would disagree with those statements, they are argued reasonably. Forcefully, but reasonably. Colmes occasionally distracts from his arguments by sprinkling the chapters with transcripts of e-mail he has received from disgruntled viewers, but for the most part he stays on track.
So why then is Colmes disliked by liberals? The answer, I believe, is ultimately contained in Chapter Eleven, entitled "Where Right Is Right." It's one of the shortest in the book, as one might expect (Colmes IS a liberal, after all, and the presence of the chapter in this book is remarkable in itself). But Colmes ultimately gets it. He is not part of the "blame America First" crowd, and I have a feeling that if one of the ne'er-do-wells who are fronting for A.N.S.W.E.R. came on his program he'd hand them their head as quickly as Hannity would. I mean, here is a guy --- a liberal --- who closes a chapter with a transcript of the lyrics of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." No wonder Franken takes off on him! Colmes doesn't hew to the party line!
Yes, RED, WHITE & LIBERAL infuriated me, but only because I disagreed so strongly with so much of it (except of course with Chapter Eleven). If you want to understand where that scatterbrained sister of yours (or her husband) is coming from, however, or if you're a liberal seeking to better articulate your worldview to your conservative friends, this (and it pains me, oh how it pains me to say this) is the book you should pick up.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
Let me describe a job to you.
You're in the public eye, but as a sidekick to the main man. Well, "sidekick" is too kind. You're more of a patsy, a sparring partner.
Jab, jab, jab. You're feeling good, you throw a real punch --- but it never connects. The other guy? Pound, pound, pound. He never misses. You might as well be a bobblehead.
And tomorrow? It's Groundhog Day. In front of everybody, the same old same old.
Would you do this job for any amount of money?
Alan Colmes would. And does. He's the lesser half of Hannity & Colmes, a Fox News show. The job of this wimp of a liberal is to put up a good fight, take a punch from an aggressive Ditto-head and then do a face-plant on the canvas.
And that, folks, is "fair and balanced" in action.
[Think I'm kidding? This is from Colmes's very own web site: "Finding a liberal in conservative times was not easy. Perhaps that is why conservative Sean Hannity had already been hired and the working title for the show was Hannity and LTBD, or Liberal to Be Determined. Colmes's nickname during his first few months at Fox was 'LTBD.'"]
Maybe it's fun for some people to see the President of the Bill Clinton fan club get his face ground into the mud.
Maybe it would be fun for some others to see a liberal return the favor (don't hold your breath waiting for that one).
Me, I declare a plague on all of them.
I've had enough of conversations where gray has been excised from the color chart, conversations in which someone has to be 100% wrong, conversations in which even basic facts are disputed because they came from the New York Times, which once had nice things to say about Castro, or The Nation, a magazine that, seventy years ago, had a crush on Stalin.
Can it be that I'm the only one who's sickened by the screaming and name-calling that passes for debate on television? Am I possibly the only one who feels assaulted by the stream of so-called political books that read like talk-radio rants? Could I really be the only one who senses the country's in a hard-of-thinking phase that's going to last for a long, long time if we don't get some bright new ideas, and fast?
To dispense with Colmes: His book is flat. Oh, his instincts are decent --- he wonders why there can't be love, peace and understanding. But his pages are filled with cut-and-paste outrages from the daily paper. If you haven't been living under a rock, you know that the Administration has had an agenda it didn't announce when George Bush was running for office; if you've been in a coma for the past few years, you'd be better to read David Corn's THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH.
But in my view, what you should really do is dig deeper and read real books --- books by professional thinkers and analysts that will give you a deeper understanding of what's going on, and why.
You might, for example, look at INTELLIGENCE IN WAR: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al Qaeda, by the acclaimed military historian John Keegan.
Or, though expensive, Robert Asprey's classic WAR IN THE SHADOWS, THE GUERILLA IN HISTORY.
And, just to remind yourself what happens what people turn against one another and life becomes a religion-fueled crusade, read William Manchester's account of life in medieval Europe, A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE. If nothing else, you'll love the factoids. Like this: "Charlemagne gave Saxon rebels a choice between baptism and immediate execution; when they demurred, he had 4,500 of them beheaded in one morning." Now that's something you'll never hear from Colmes, Hannity, Coulter, O'Reilly, Franken and the rest.
--- Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub and Jesse Kornbluth on January 23, 2011