Olbermann calls Bloomberg a "tinpot tyrant"

The Current TV host links the Zuccotti Park fiasco to a history of state overreaction to legitimate social protest

Published November 16, 2011 2:52PM (EST)

Keith Olbermann's editorial on the Zuccotti Park fiasco was an incendiary piece of writing even by his standards. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary rhetoric. The Current TV host's screed against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was one of the most quotable rants he's delivered -- not merely a bracing attack on a public official who instantly turned himself into this generation's Richard J. Daley circa 1968, but a valuable reminder of the historical big picture of yesterday morning's police action.

"For the entirety of the life of our nation, democracy has been protected, not merely by the strenuous efforts of those of us who cherished it, but mostly -- and most profoundly -- by the limitless stupidity of those who would ration it, keep it for themselves and themselves alone, or destroy it," Olbermann said.

The piece started by noting points in recent history when politicians who tried to defend the status quo miscalculated so flagrantly and savagely that public opinion turned against them, and ensured the triumph of whatever values their enemies espoused. Olbermann cited the thrashing of demonstrators by cops at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Daley's Chicago and the vicious treatment of anti-Jim Crow protesters in the years following Alabama Gov. George Wallace's "segregation forever" speech. For good measure, he folded in red-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy's overreaching, which eventually turned off even mainstream conservatives -- no small feat in Commie-crazed 1950s America.

"Pick any moment in our history -- our history as a country founded by and invigorated by and reinvigorated by protest -- and you will find ... that American freedom has not flourished in spite of these morons of history, it has flourished because of them: because they overreacted, because they under-thought, overreached, under-understood," Olbermann said. "We owe them our traditions of freedom, we owe them our protests, we owe them our very independence. None of them has ever understood that -- not around these parts, anyway. Suppression always creates the opposite of the effect desired."

All of which eventually led him to Michael Bloomberg, "the most valiant, the most essential, the most irreplaceable man in the Occupy movement. Who else but a cliche like Bloomberg could take a protest beginning to grow a little stale around the edges, and vault it back into the headlines, complete with mortifying scenes of police dressed up as storm-troopers, carrying military weapons, using figurative bazookas to kill figurative mosquitoes?” he asked. “Who else but an archetype like Bloomberg could claim a group of protesters were making too much noise in a residential area, and then choose to try to disperse them by bringing out LRAD Audio Cannons, machines that send painful waves of sound indiscriminately over the very same residential area? Who else but a cartoon like Bloomberg could have become rich creating a multibillion-dollar media company, and then authorize illegally preventing reporters from witnessing police actions he claims were utterly legal -- and then authorize the arrest of four reporters at a church?”

The piece has many incidental pleasures as well -- especially the part where Olbermann skewers Bloomberg for shutting down an entire sector of the city during production of the new Batman film, while complaining that the recent Occupy Wall Street action on the Brooklyn Bridge was disruptive. (His contemptuous "Goddamned Batman" is a cellphone ringtone waiting to happen.) This was a first-rate example of righteous eloquence -- one for the ages.

By Matt Zoller Seitz

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