I think Rachel is eclipsed only by Obama in meteoric rise from relative obscurity during 2008. She first got national attention in 2004 on Air America Radio. In 2005, she started providing occasional commentary on Tucker Carlson’s old show (the only good thing that ever came from that), and last January (which seems like ages ago!) began doing political analysis for various MSNBC shows, and subbing for Keith Olbermann during the summer. Her appearances were so popular (the blogosphere followed her every word) that by August the brass were persuaded to give her her own hour, making history as the first openly gay/lesbian anchor to host a prime-time news program. The show was immediately a huge hit, surprising only the suits.
Getting her that hosting spot was apparently Keith Olbermann’s mission in life this year. Hey, good work, Mr. O. He’s seen as a genius for pushing it now, but can you imagine the first meeting at NBC on the subject? To have been a fly on that wall! No, it wasn’t so obvious it would fly, certainly not that it would revolutionize the channel’s stagnant lineup and sent its ratings souring.
Here are a few of the many profiles done on Rach in the past few months when it became apparent that she was on to something with her charming wonkery and progressive intellect.
In addition to promoting progressive ideas with a wider audience, she’s become an unlikely sex symbol, a butch lesbian that makes men and women alike into groupies. By being herself — disarmingly kind and funny — she’s advancing civil rights by huge bounds without breaking a sweat.
She’s taken issues that are otherwise archaic or complex, and broken them into digestable chunks. She keeps up with mainstream news, the blogosphere, the think tanks, and backroom politics, and digests it for the rest of us. It’s almost like she’s a Rhodes Scholar or something. She does need a little help with pop culture, which we all like to help her discover and exclaim over.
So, there was really no other choice for 2008 Progressive Person of the Year. Rachel has been our favorite pundit, our proud representative, our champion.
What’s most heartening to me is that Rachel will be questioning and challenging Obama and other Democrats from the left as his administration works with Congress to begin to set this country right. She’ll do so without all the mean-spirited dramatics that is the typical cable news fare, but rather with deep knowledge of history, keen insight and careful research. And she’ll demonstrate how an oppositional press is supposed to work.
All in all, Rachel Maddow is the most exciting and unexpected gift to the progressive movement in years. She’s made smart sexy and fun again.
And she’s just getting started!