Olbermann’s “Special Comment” Takes History Analogies Too Seriously

Keith Olbermann did a “special comment” at the end of his Countdown show on Monday night. His subject was a segment of an interview Condi Rice did on Fox News Sunday this weekend, comparing the situation in Iraq to postwar Germany after the overthrow of Hitler. You can go watch the whole video at the Raw Story link.

While I’m generally a big fan of Olbermann, this special comment struck me as a bit overdone and hyperventilating. Of course, Iraq is far from being parallel to World War II in many, many respects, but to be fair to Secretary Rice, I don’t think she was ever saying the wars were the same (at least not in the 42 words Olbermann seized on). Rather, she was drawing a loose comparison based on unstable conditions after a tyrannical leader had been removed from power. Although I think the policy she’s trying to support with the comparison is disastrously wrong, I don’t think this was as egregious as plenty of other inaccurate things administration officials say all the time.

Furthermore, the loose historical analogy is something bandied about in politics all the time. We saw the flip side of this when Amnesty International called Guantanamo “the Gulag of our time,” prompting administration supporters to attack Amnesty by pointing out all sorts of historical facts about the Gulag that have no counterpart in our present-day terrorist detention center. But perfect historical accuracy is never the point with these sorts of comparisons. The point is to invoke a more general principle, and that is something that — however flawed her policy judgment — I think Secretary Rice was doing within the normal parameters of modern-day politics.

Olbermann has received acclaim in some circles for his special comments, and he has said that he tries not to do the special comments too often because he can’t force them — they need to come to him organically, he says. For whatever reason, this one seemed a little forced, and especially now, with a new contract from MSNBC in hand, I would’ve thought the pressure on Olbermann to do this sort of thing would be non-existent. Who knows, maybe it was just an off night for him.

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