The bosses at PBS must not mind their taxpayer-funded network being defined as liberal in the public mind, because on Sunday's Meet the Press, NBC matched Joe Scarborough on the right with PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley on the left. Smiley slapped President Obama for trying to be the "collaborator in chief" instead of commander-in-chief on health care, and denounced protesters at town hall meetings as forces of "unadulterated hate."
He also warned against what Martin Luther King called "the tranquilizing drug of gradualism." The host of a nightly talk show based at Los Angeles PBS station KCET blamed Obama for being too moderate, not too radical:
SMILEY: The reason why he's in trouble right now on this bill is precisely because he's tried to be bipartisan rather than -
SCARBOROUGH: No, no.
SMILEY: - try and - hold on - rather than trying to lead by putting his plan out front. And to David's question, yes, he has backtracked on the public option. When you look at what he said last summer running for office, David, taxing the windfall profits of the insurers, out the window; single payer, out the window; buying medicine in bulk to keep cost down, especially where generic drugs are concerned, out the window. And now here we sit at the end of summer and we're debating whether or not the public option is still on the table? We have moved a long way from where we started.
Host David Gregory quoted Speaker Pelosi and radical Rep. Maxine Waters that a "public option" is mandatory, and it's time for the brass knuckles:
GREGORY: Supporters of the president are saying, to Joe's point, "You own Washington. You campaigned hard on this thing. Knock some heads, get people in line to get behind you."
SMILEY: I think they're right about that. The only point I'm making here is had he not started by trying to be bipartisan, he'd be getting whipped up side the head for not trying to reach across the aisle, number one. Having said that, Congresswoman Waters and others are right about the fact that a public option, I think, ought to be essential here. The American people can't buy it if you can't sell it. He's the commander in chief, but he's tried to be the collaborator in chief. That doesn't work.
Next, Gregory ran videotape of Sen. Tom Coburn from the previous Sunday, suggesting that harsh anti-government talk outside town-hall meetings might be warranted by how massively the federal government is spending money, and asked Smiley:
GREGORY: Fear of loss of control over their own government. Is that what's out there?
SMILEY: No. This is not about angst, this is not about anger, this is about hate. There is a, there is, there's a set of folk in this country - thankfully not, not, not everybody - but there is a group in this country that does not, will not accept a legitimate Democratic presidency, Joe, under any condition.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Or, or Republican.
MR. SMILEY: They - exactly. They will not accept a legitimate Democratic president. And as a result, the pushback on Obama is even worse than the pushback on Clinton. When you show up with these guns strapped to your waist and these comparisons to Hitler, that isn't anger about government taking control of your life.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Right.
MR. SMILEY: That is, that is unadulterated hate, and it's got to be called for what it is.
Smiley insisted that radical health "reform" is essential:
Back to the health care debate though, where this hate is spilling out in these rallies. I don't understand how we can even have a debate about the fact that health care's got to be reformed. That's the one thing I'm heartened by, that at least the leaders here in Washington seem to agree that the problem has got to get fixed. When you got 46 million people left out of a process, when those persons who think they are insured find out how underinsured they really are when a catastrophic illness hits. In the most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America ever, we still have health disparities that we could have balanced those disparities out by the year 2000. Eighty-five thousands folk in the year 2000 alone would still be living. When 80 percent of the folk who are not insured, David , come from families that have part-time and full-time workers, the system is broken. It's got to be fixed.
Scarborough talked about how the leftists like Pelosi and Henry Waxman may ultimately find a passable bill by talking to more moderate legislators, but Smiley concluded the segment by warning against compromises:
The bottom line is that Dr. King warned years ago against taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. We're not going to reform health care doing it gradually. He's got to be bold about this. My granddad, David, said all the time, if you're going to stand, stand. If you're going to sit, sit. But don't wobble. The president is wobbling on this issue, and he can't do that if we're going to reform health care.
-Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.