Progressive Profiles: With New TV Show, Radio Talker Thom Hartmann Brings Substance to Style
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Hartmann is a true believer in the power of media to convert the skeptic to the progressive point of view, and his radio guests are mostly conservatives, whom he debates with gusto, armed with an historian's knowledge of America's distant and recent past.
"I think many of them come for the same reason that I'm having them on, which is that they believe in their cause and they know that having a debate is one of the most effective ways to get the word out, because...people love genuine debate," Thom explains. "This isn't gratuitous bullshit debate like 'Crossfire' [the famed CNN show of the 1990s] used to be. We try to do genuine debate about real issues that we really care about. It's not just Republicans and Democrats throwing talking points and politicians yelling at each other. And...I think they do our show because they know that I don't do ad hominems."
Indeed, "The Thom Hartmann Program " is an unusual mix of substantial subject matter with the high energy and on-air calls from listeners that define the tried-and-true talk radio format. Thom is passionate about maintaining that mix, believing it a format that can change minds: "I just got an e-mail today from a guy who said, 'I've just been listening to your show for a couple of weeks and I want to tell you it's the best radio show on the air and I love it so much. And, by the way, I'm a die-hard conservative but I'm not listening to Limbaugh anymore because I can predict what he's going to say and I'm learning from you.' My prediction is that in a year I'm going to get an e-mail from him saying, 'I used to be conservative.' Because it happens constantly. Literally constantly. People call into the show or send e-mails or post on our message board, 'I thought I understood politics until I started actually listening.'"
Obama as Rorschach Test
Progressives often forget how many people voted for Barack Obama reluctantly; he won their votes simply because he didn't represent the administration that tanked the economy. On the other hand, progressives pinned such hopes on the new president that they were destined to be disappointed, though Thom thinks it's just a matter of time before they come to terms with Obama, the politician.
"I think most people who voted for Obama just voted for a politician," Hartmann says. "They thought he was a better politician than John McCain. They voted for a politician, they didn't make a big emotional investment. But in many ways, Obama -- because his candidacy was so novel and so vague -- he was a Rorschach test. He was our nation's Rorschach test. And for real hard-core conservatives, they saw in him their greatest fears... And for a lot of liberals, they saw in him their greatest hopes. He's the savior. He's the guy who's going to lead us to the promised land. Just like many conservatives in 2000 fell in love with George W. Bush -- and by the end of his administration they were trash-talking him on television because they had gone through the five stages of grieving."
"I'm quite serious about this," Hartmann continues. "Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages apply to relationships just like they do death. There's denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Conservatives went through that with George W. Bush and finally around 2007 they got to acceptance. And liberals and progressives are going through that right now with Barack Obama. Some of them are in depression, some of them are in bargaining, some of them are in anger, some of them are still in denial, and some of us have hit acceptance."