Reviews

A Conversation with Rachel Maddow: 21 April 2012 - Milwaukee

The MSNBC political commentator drew thousands to Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater Saturday, April 21.


Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

Publisher: Crown
Price: $25.00
Author: Rachel Maddow
Length: 288 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-03
Amazon

Despite the huge crowd, bright lights, and lavish theater setting, Rachel Maddow's book tour event, "A Conversation with Rachel Maddow", mostly did feel like a conversation. The Riverside Theater's stage was set with two cozy armchairs separated by a floor lamp and coffee table this Saturday, looking more like a college study lounge than a Milwaukee landmark. Guests filtered in, listening to college-friendly music (Feist, Ben Folds, and Vampire Weekend) while chatting with friends or leafing through Maddow's new book -- Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power -- as they found their places among the two-thousand-odd theater seats. The atmosphere was casual but distinctly energized, populated with a bright, impassioned audience ready to engage.

Before the show, pockets of applause erupted as notable guests arrived, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett; clearly, the crowd was awake. Still, I wasn't prepared for the explosive standing ovation Maddow would elicit the moment she took the stage. Like many, I'm a fan of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show; I respect her intelligence (she's a Rhodes Scholar, you know), and I'm charmed by her trademark "adorkable" humor. But who knew she was a bona fide superstar? Upon hearing the whoops and hollers, she humbly laughed it all off, implying that this is a conversation, not a rock concert. "Have you guys met each other?" she asked, joking that since she was raised Catholic, she felt we should offer each other the sign of peace, Sunday mass-style.

This was a cute way to start the evening. More than that, though, it set the tone; after all, "catholic" means "universal", and the sign of peace invites churchgoers to express their mutual love and respect for each other through contact. Throughout the event, Maddow would stress her promotion of intelligent discourse, mutual respect, and human connection to change America for the better. We should use our ideological differences to solve problems, not to victimize one other, she argued. America should go to war as a nation (if we go at all), not simply ship troops off and forget about them, letting the decision-making process slip away from us. We should expect more from Congress, ourselves, each other. We should all be in this together.

Of course, she didn't say all that up front; she just made a pithy joke about Catholicism and then answered the first, easygoing interview question: "What cocktail goes best with Drift?" Everyone laughed. Maddow -- ever the witty mixologist -- answered "a French 75", named after a French artillery piece. She listed the ingredients with the animation of a Food Network star but the intimacy of a charming party host.

Then she moved on to other questions. Roughly half the discussion was devoted to Drift and the military, while the rest revolved around Wisconsin politics, her MSNBC show, and her own musings and advice. (The evening's final question wondered how young people could actively create the world they want to live in.) Notably, many of these questions were written by audience members and chosen by the event host, Next Chapter Bookshop owner Lanora Haradon Hurley. Even before the show, we were invited to engage via e-mail.

Turning the subject matter of Drift into a laugh-studded discussion is no small task, but Maddow managed to keep it light yet substantive. When describing how America began to drift from a nation that was fully involved during wartime -- sending reservists, guardsmen, enlisted soldiers, draftees, and some professional military members overseas when necessary -- to a country separated from the process of war, she reflected on President Lyndon Baines Johnson's choice to increase the Vientnam War draft in order to, ahem, avoid distressing Americans. The audience tittered. Imagine, we said with our laughter, increasing the draft in an effort not to worry anyone! It's absurd, the way American Homeland Security money spent on small-town fire trucks and water system upgrades is absurd. It's funny (if distressing) and interesting.

Maddow took the funny/distressing/interesting tactic elsewhere during the talk. She took particular glee in roasting current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for supporting "the concept of equal pay" for equal work, while refusing to say if he actually supports the Fair Pay Act. She drew out the word "concept" excessively -- "the caaaahcept of equal pay" -- practically choking on it with the delivery of a stand-up comedian or, say, the funniest guest at the party. It's the kind of condescending humor that irks Republicans and woos Democrats even deeper into love. As a moderate liberal, I chuckled.

On the other hand, Wisconsin politics were not so funny. Deafening boos erupted from the Milwaukee audience when the names Scott Walker and Paul Ryan came up. The state has been in the national spotlight for months now, with its union-related protests and recall elections. When Maddow asked the crowd if we knew why American is so fixed on Wisconsin, one bold audience member shouted, "It's because of you!" The political commentator balked at that a bit, saying modestly that no, really, she feels like just another American watching Wisconsin's action because the state reminds Democrats of what they -- "the people who have to work for a living" -- stand for. But really, American is kind of watching Wisconsin because of Maddow and others like her. Still, she's reluctant to accept credit.

Early in the talk, Maddow mused that when she heard Drift would top The New York Times bestseller list for the third consecutive week, she wanted to ask everyone, "Do you guys know what this thing is about?" But that's the thing: I’m convinced (especially after Saturday's event) that if she'd simply called it The Rachel Maddow Book and philosophized about broad political topics and not how America goes to war, many people would still read it. That's a dangerous power, but not one she misuses. Her work is always thoroughly researched and coherently presented. From where I stand, she uses her considerable powers -- her humor, her intellect, her warmth -- for good. If she wasn't on TV, I'm sure she'd make an excellent, influential teacher.

The genius of Rachel Maddow is her ability to be such a super-achiever (she cited the "competitive spirit" as a vital contribution to broad influence) while also being so easygoing, so relatable. She's the Rhodes Scholar who was once landscaper. She'll admit what she doesn't know without mentioning Socrates. This is all done consciously, no doubt, but it's attractive all the same. She's the liberal cable news anchor who actually wants to hear from her disparagers. She seems open, civil...even nice.

At one point, Maddow told the audience that she doesn't really mind that people disagree with her; what really disturbs her is indifference. The best ideas emerge from smart debate, so we should come together for that -- to discuss, to act, as well as to vote in large numbers (with none of this shady voter restriction business), to welcome war veterans home with parades. Whether you agree with her politically or not, it's tough to deny that she's changing the conversation, making it more engaging, more inclusive, more civil.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.