I once saw an interview with the actor James Cagney who, in relating his personal background and its influences, described his father as "a good man going downhill, fast." It seemed his dad waged a daily war with alcoholism, and every day, he lost. The quoted phrase is not from a transcript, just a faulty memory, so don't quote me on it.
At any rate, the accuracy of my memory is immaterial in this instance; the point being, the above phrase flashed relevantly to mind when I read of Keith Olbermann's latest firing-tamtrum-resignation-quarrel-banishment. When I would watch him on MSNBC, Olbermann seemed to be fighting a daily battle for humanity -- ours, and to an uncomfortably and increasingly noticeable extent, his. He had a passion for seeing that we received truth, justice and the real American Way in his broadcasts, even if he had to mangle the contours of good journalism to deliver them.
Like the Cagney quote, I can offer only from rough memory the sad escalation of Olbermann's editorial tabloidism, in which the actual story would often substantively depart from the program's sensationalist headline; and those "special comments" by Olbermann, staged as colorized imitations of Edward R. Murrow celluloids, were wretchedly histrionic and unprofessionally overwrought. In time, I found myself not only cringing at their promotional mention, but seeking refuge elsewhere, anywhere, upon their presentation.
Olbermann, I would think to myself, is better than this. He is manifestly a "good man," clearly in possession of good intentions, but his on-air persona appears to be approaching a kind of reverse-Oscar Wildean mutation: his core, internal goodness is there, plain to intuit, but his pursuit of 'the Cause' is rendering him hideously self-righteous.
In my view, the Cause's virtues speak for themselves when presented straightforwardly and undramatically; but whether out of a need for greater celebrity or a growing conviction that booming passion trumps quiet reason, Olbermann took the meretriciously theatrical route.
I guess it became a habit. A daily, downhill habit.
I don't know. Perhaps it is, in a way, self-righteous of me to point out others' self-righteousness. But if there's any one quality among contemporary progressives -- personified acutely by Keith Olbermann -- that turns me off with an excruciating thud, it's the immediately aforementioned one.