Thursday, 30 October 2008

Reflections on Hating Rosie O'Donnell

There are some celebrities who are unjustifiably hated, and there are some celebrities who can be despised for legitimate reasons. I truly despise Rosie O'Donnell, and I feel that I am not wrong to do so.

The woman is belligerent, hectoring, and self-righteous. What's worse than that, she's given to making screeching tirades defending various liberal positions. Now, I don't disapprove of her politics. Actually, in broad terms, I agree with her expressed opinions, but this very agreement, together with a disapproval of her behavior, has aroused in me a real dislike of the woman. Not only is O'Donnell a consistently unpleasant harridan, which is reason enough to dislike her, but, what is more, when she acts as a spokesperson for liberal positions, she can elicit a devastatingly negative reaction to those positions. She is about as bad an ambassador as liberals could have. Oddly, however, many people seem to admire her, though, by valorizing her behavior, they set up for themselves a despicable ideal.

I don't have a problem with conservatives making foolish or mean comments. When Ron Paul declares that he doesn't believe in evolution (and reveals that he doesn't know what a theory is in science), he just exposes himself to be so uneducated that his opinions can be dismissed. By doing so, he, of course, harms his own position. Conservatism comes across as the ideology of individuals who are either stupid or woefully ignorant.

Similarly, when Jerry Falwell blames the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on homosexuals, feminists, supporters of abortion rights, the ACLU, and the like, he just reveals himself to be a hateful, loathsome individual whose opinions can also be dismissed. Again, he harms his own cause, weakening its appeal for anyone with an iota of compassion or reason.

If the conservative movement in America is hurt by its leaders, by their ignorance or viciousness, that's fine with me. I do not, however, desire to see liberalism harmed by being espoused by a nasty, selfish, badgering virago. Regrettably, Rosie O'Donnell is just such a person.

Of course, I do uphold her right to speak her mind, and while I wish to express my disapproval of her behavior, my anger at the damage she does to so many liberal causes, and my horror at the way some people admire and emulate her, such denunciations do not mean that I am advocating her removal from the public sphere or that I am championing a boycott of her products or protests against her person. I simply urge people to be aware of her disreputable actions so that they will neither follow such a person nor behave in similar ways. We cannot stop unpleasant individuals from harming causes we believe in, but we can avoid both helping them and following in their footsteps. If we do not take such persons as models, and if we do not hand over positions of leadership to them so that they can act as our spokespersons, we can, at the least, diminish the damage they will do to causes we ourselves hold dear.

Unfortunately, O'Donnell is popular and prominent in the public sphere. She is, consequently, able to project an unflattering image of what kind of individuals liberals are while, simultaneously, convincing many liberals to emulate her behaviors (as a result of her being something of a role model). The end result of O'Donnell's influence is, of course, the very opposite of what I would desire. Liberals are made to appear to be self-righteous, strident, narrow-minded, and rude, even as many such persons actually are motivated to adopt these traits.

I do not think that I am exaggerating in my characterization of O'Donnell, either. Just look at her behavior. Instead of engaging in level headed, fact based debates, O'Donnell screams at and badgers her opponents. She never listens. She never genuinely interacts. She never grants that an opponent might have a legitimate perspective. The notorious verbal assaults conducted on the television program The View, which she hosted, against co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck provide wonderful examples of just what I'm talking about. I have hardly seen all of O'Donnell's tirades from that show (and have no desire to do so), but I can say that, of all those I have seen, I agreed, at least in general terms, with O'Donnell and disagreed with Hasselbeck. Nevertheless, because of O'Donnell's vicious, snide, manipulative manner and apparent lack of reason or empathy, I was horrified and offended by her while feeling sorry for her opponent (who, I might add, is a pretty shrill and unsavory person herself). Her behaviors, instead of helping to make her point, made Hasselbeck's. O'Donnell's not doing any good for liberalism by making people feel so chagrined that they turn to a marginally more sympathetic conservative.

O'Donnell's comments are, moreover, not her only way of doing harm to liberalism. Over and over again, she seemingly demonstrates herself to be intent on revealing herself to be a malicious, thoughtless, and utterly self-righteous shrew. I am genuinely distressed that such an individual is misrepresenting people like myself and associating our views with particularly despicable personality traits. It would be difficult even to list all of the ways O'Donnell has shown herself to be unpleasant. I have been repeatedly mortified by how judgemental, strident, and even cruel she can be. For instance, her comments about the winner of the Miss USA pageant, also made on The View, are monstrous. She mocks and parodies the winner, describes the woman as a moron, and implies that she's a drug addict (or, at the least, the kind of person who might become one, whatever sort of individual that might be). O'Donnell's ugly malevolence is breathtaking.

Regrettably, O'Donnell's vileness is not confined to her diatribes. It seems to pervade her nature. There are certainly a sufficient number of public examples of her coldheartedness, arrogance, and bigotry.

Much of O'Donnell's relationship with the magazine McCall's, which was renamed Rosie's McCall's after she came to be associated with it, puts the woman in a negative light. I will concede that I do not know the details of O'Donnell's relationship with the magazine. It is even possible that she was right to be angry with the magazine's editors. I certainly cannot commend the editors of the magazine for their wisdom in forming a business association with O'Donnell. Nonetheless, it is apparent that O'Donnell was both unwilling to compromise with the editors and completely unconcerned about the welfare of the magazine's employees, who would be thrown out of work by her actions. When she affiliated herself with McCall's, O'Donnell might have viewed doing so merely as a chance to express her opinions while pocketing millions of her admirers' dollars, but she also took on some responsibilities. Her decision did mean that her actions would affect the magazine's employees, and by callously disregarding them - when she didn't get her way in every matter - she revealed how unworried she is about the welfare of others.

Moreover, whatever faults the magazine's editors might have had, I cannot imagine that they would have behaved as badly as O'Donnell did. During the trial for breach of contract that followed O'Donnell's departure from McCall's, one of her former employees, who happened to be a breast cancer survivor, testified that when she remained silent in a board meeting, O'Donnell informed her that doing so was tantamount to lying and that, "You know what happens to people who lie? They get sick and they get cancer. If they keep lying, they get it again." Just to make things worse, O'Donnell's apology for her comment was qualified by the claim, "I'm sorry I hurt her the way I did. That was not my intention." It is a real indictment of O'Donnell's character that she refused to apologize for being cruel. Instead, her 'apology' implicitly blamed her employee for failing to understand her. I am genuinely shocked by O'Donnell's viciousness and by her lack of repentance. Apparently, she sees nothing wrong with such behavior, as long as she's the one behaving that way.

I am not, however, surprised by her treatment of her employee. O'Donnell has proven herself, over and over again, to be ready to attack and bully any person who dares contradict her wishes or opinions.

Inevitably, because of O'Donnell's nasty verbal assaults, I feel sympathy for the people she is abusing, even though these people are frequently expressing opinions that are opposed to my own. Instead of nodding my head along with O'Donnell when she speaks, I despise her during such moments. It is such a shame that she makes liberals look like self-righteous verbal thugs and their opponents like innocent victims. The woman is a great help to conservatives everywhere.

Not only are O'Donnell's attacks mean-spirited, but they are also frequently indicative of her narrow-mindedness. I am a liberal, but I am not the sort of liberal who believes that those who disagree with me are wicked or that they should be censored.

Many progressive liberals go on and on about how narrow-minded conservatives are. They talk of themselves as people open to other opinions, other ways of life, and other visions of the world. However, when any such person refuses to listen to another viewpoint, when he even sometimes demands that another viewpoint be censored, then he exposes his true feelings. What such a person means by the term "open-minded" is having his own views rather than being willing to listen to others. What he means by "freedom of speech" is his freedom to speak rather than another's. This individual should, however, remember that if he seeks to censor the opinions of others because he finds their opinions offensive, then he is doing the same thing they are, and he is no more justified, and no better, than they are.

Sadly, O'Donnell has often shown herself to have a remarkably closed mind and to be very ready to silence those whose opinions, by differing from hers, offend her sensibilities. In one particularly weird incident, when the cast of the musical Annie Get Your Gun was scheduled to appear on her television talk show, O'Donnell, a supporter of stricter gun control laws (unless these happen to affect the rights of her bodyguards to carry such weapons), demanded that they remove the line "I can shoot a partridge with a single cartridge" from the song "Anything You Can Do," which was to have been performed on the program. Apparently, the woman can't stand hearing anyone sing about shooting firearms around her. I too am opposed to private gun ownership, and to killing partridges for sport, for that matter, but anyone can sing a song about either around me if he would like to.

This sort of narrow-mindedness, this angry bigotry, is hardly admirable. Whatever O'Donnell's opinions are, and however much I might agree with them, if they are mingled with a lack of respect for the rights of others to express their opinions, then they are tainted. I admire workers' movements and socialism, but I don't admire totalitarian communism. Intolerance can transform even the most noble of beliefs into the stuff of nightmares. Refusing to hear (and hoping to stifle) differing opinions is a very dangerous path to tread, and anyone following after someone walking that way should be grabbed and warned of of the evils ahead. O'Donnell and those like her are truly leading many liberals astray. We ought to be wary of her kind.

In fact, any liberal who holds his opinions with a closed mind, or even one who will silence opinions that are so utterly stupid that they are unworthy of consideration, is no better than the conservatives he or she claims to oppose. I might oppose private gun ownership, but I am far more opposed to anyone who would restrict the rights of another wanting to argue in favor of such ownership. I might oppose the death penalty, but I am far more opposed to anyone who would restrict the rights of another wanting to argue for that punishment. I might oppose discrimination based on race, religion, or sexual orientation, but I am far more opposed to anyone who would restrict the rights of another wanting to express disapproval of individuals based on these factors. As ignoble and potentially harmful as some of the beliefs here mentioned are, allowing them to be expressed is far less dangerous than is censoring them. Without freedom of speech, no freedom is safe. It is the single most important freedom we have, the one essential freedom that safeguards all the rest, and to try to silence an opponent is the single greatest offense any liberal can commit.

I am not, of course, claiming that O'Donnell is advocating censorship. I am not aware of any occasion when she has done so. Her lack of tolerance of others' opinions does, however, trouble me. When we cannot stand hearing someone else expressing his beliefs, when we try to silence him, if only by shouting him down, we are putting ourselves in the mood to restrict his rights. Censorship is born from narrow-mindednesss, from the hatred of other views that leads a person to enjoy seeing his opponents gagged. Open-mindedness, obviously, protects us from this danger. Admittedly, there are times when a view is not worthy of consideration, but we still have no right to keep anyone from expressing it. We need to be accepting of the rights of others, even when we find their opinions to be malignant or offensive. Although one person may say the arts should be censored, and another may say expressions of homosexuality should be banned, and a third may say that racist sentiments should be prohibited, not one of these persons has any right to take away the freedom from another, as much as he disapproves of that other. We should, therefore, not turn for inspiration to those who cannot abide other opinions. They are a dangerous lot.

Lastly, I should say that there are two core elements of liberalism, a valuation of individual freedom and a desire to help others. While I am willing to admit that O'Donnell could be a liberal in the sense that she fights for the first of these, I cannot believe, in spite of her ostentatious donations to charity, that she attaches great importance to the second. To be blunt, it is absurd to think that any currently wealthy person is particularly concerned about other human beings (if a rich individual did find himself troubled by the sufferings of others, he would surely be prompted to make such use of his money that he would soon cease to be wealthy). Given that O'Donnell is a rich woman, I have to question how much she really cares about the welfare of others, even though she presents herself as being both compassionate and giving. Whatever charitable acts she does perform are invariably self-aggrandizing (like writing an autobiography for charity), self-congratulatory (like naming a charitable organization after herself), or even a little vain and spiteful (like when she responded to Scope's naming her one of America's least kissable celebrities by getting Listerine to give money to charity each time she was kissed on her television show by another celebrity). Despite such criticisms, I am sure that the charities to which O'Donnell has contributed do real good (for which she and they should be applauded). Nonetheless, it is a shame that her philanthropic activities are, at the same time, lavish spectacles which call attention to O'Donnell's showy generosity and, in a real way, weird potlatches which enhance her prestige in the world of celebrity. They evince none of the self-sacrifice and the desire for anonymity that are the hallmarks of a truly generous person. Of course, they are typical of the sort of charitable acts that the rich prefer. That, however, does not so much exonerate O'Donnell as it demonstrates the ulterior motives of those of her class.

In fact, there simply is no way that I can consider O'Donnell to be a liberal in the sense of someone who works for the well-being of her fellows, any more than I can consider any other wealthy person to be. If she were genuinely concerned about others, she could use the excessive bulk of her substantial wealth to fight for them, without promoting herself by doing so. She wouldn't even have to do anything herself. She could just give the heaps of her hoarded money to groups that would fight the battles for her. After all, she has more money than any person requires for living a physically comfortable life. Now, I'm well aware that O'Donnell does give a substantial amount of money to charity (and I do praise her for that), but I'm sure she makes certain that any giving she does will not affect her own lifestyle, which, I'm equally sure, is far more important to her than are the living conditions of any other person. I suppose that there are those who will accuse me of being unduly harsh in this judgment, but I don't believe I am being unfair. Perhaps an example would help to illustrate my point. A man who makes twelve-thousand dollars a year (whose basic needs will be hard to cover with his income) and who gives away a hundred dollars will actually be making a sacrifice by doing so; he could well find himself enduring hardships for the sake of his generosity. The person who makes fifty million dollars a year and gives away forty-five million will still be living in luxury. He will still be making over four-hundred times what my poor man will be. There's really no comparison between the two. I am impressed with the former's generosity, by his obvious concern for others, but I am not so impressed with the latter's. It's a sop for his conscience at best.

In spite of all of what I have said, I am glad that wealthy people do donate to charity. They can so do a great deal of good, and I wholeheartedly encourage them to give. Though I am not particularly impressed with their generosity, I would certainly say that it is better for them to donate some portion of their riches than to keep the whole of their fortunes for themselves. I do, therefore, commend O'Donnell for her philanthropy. I just want people to think about how generous she actually is before they bestow lavish praise upon her. As is the case with any other rich individual who engages in such charitable activities (like Bill Gates, Jean-Claude Duvalier, and the CEO of McDonald's), her giving does not entail her enduring any hardship, but it does mislead people into believing that she is a self-sacrificing individual.

What is more, though the wealthy, such as O'Donnell, do sometimes show symptoms of having a conscience, and do sometimes toss pennies to the crowds of the less fortunate, they still can't be said to be unduly worried about those others. In fact, their lack of concern is made obvious by their actions, by the way they live their lives. These people are part of a system that gives some individuals huge advantages while imposing equally huge disadvantages upon others. Instead of fighting against inequity, they enjoy the benefits of playing carnivores to the ordinary man's herbivore. They employ maids, pool cleaners, bodyguards, nannies, and all the other sorts of servants that those who think other people exist only to satisfy their own needs employ. Let's be honest. Rosie O'Donnell is just such a person. I'll grant that she might be genuinely concerned about others taking away her freedoms or imposing their beliefs on her (and might so fight for things in which she believes, which she does), but I am doubtful about the depth of her concern for other people. I'm sure she helps others when it's amusing to her do so or when she doesn't have to make any effort, but such actions are hardly admirable. The woman's wealth reveals the dishonesty of her ideological harangues, just as the wealth of every other rich person who calls himself a liberal reveals the dishonesty of that person's words. I have no idea why we so often insist that our leaders come from the monied classes. These people are not on our side. We're like zebras who think a lion is going to help us.

Though I disapprove of O'Donnell's unpleasant, selfish behavior, it does not baffle me. She is just a sharp-tongued, narrow-minded person who thinks primarily of her own welfare. What does baffle me is the way that so many people, and so many decent people, apparently admire her. I cannot understand why anyone would respect O'Donnell's behavior. If someone treated me like O'Donnell treats others, I would be angry and offended. I suspect most people would feel similarly. Nonetheless, there are those who seem not to have a problem when bile and malevolence are directed at others. I would implore anyone who enjoys O'Donnell's misbehavior and who respects her for it to think of how those she assaults feel, to have a little empathy. There are a sufficient number of nasty people in this world. We do not need to try to valorize such behavior and increase their number.

As I said before, though I am denouncing Rosie O'Donnell's behavior, I am not opposed to her expressing her opinions. I am horrified by her actions, and I am horrified by the damage those actions may do to the cause of liberalism as a result of her advocacy of several liberal positions. I sincerely hope that anyone who reads this will be as disgusted by O'Donnell's actions as I am and will neither behave as she does nor admire those who do. Instead of acting like petty totalitarians, like irate bigots enamored of our own obnoxiousness, let's behave considerately and show that our opinions are wedded to genuine decency, real intelligence, and actual open-mindedness. Let's also choose leaders who, though not perfect, are courteous, compassionate, reasonable, ordinary people. We don't need to run yelping behind the heels of rich, harsh masters.