February 2010, Yankette of the Month

Feb. Yankette of the Month: Rachel Maddow

Yes indeed. It’s that controversial time of the month again—the time that makes my editor lose sleep. And seriously, that’s not a great thing. The guy sleeps about as much Ed Norton in Fight Club. My editor’s lack of sleep balances out here at TYAC; writer Raf Crowley’s natural state is sleep (he doesn’t take naps, he takes “awakes”); Jon Levy sleeps with girls, singular these days, and follow the advice of the great Ron Zook, current Illinois Head football coach and the man who recruited two of the three University of Florida National Championship teams—who needs eight hours of sleep when you can sleep four hours fast? But it is…that time. Yankette of the Month time. This month, we celebrate 36-year-old political commentator and extremely popular weeknight talk show host, Alameda County, California native Rachel Maddow.

It isn’t just the fact that she’s a Stanford alumna, an AIDS activist, and a Rhodes Scholar with a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford. It’s not that she’s a self-described “jock,” or that she’s made all ends of the political spectrum appear helpless in interviews, from Chris Matthews to Pat Robertson, from Pelosi to McCain, from sea to shining sea, and that she’s done so with charm and sass. It’s not that she, like the writers here at TYAC, is a self-admitted newbie in the business, wondering out loud when she’ll “wake up from this dream.” It’s not even that she’s an enormous soccer fan, whose fervor and support of the Iraqi National Soccer team (and yes—our Yanks) has made it on air and whose rants about the Iranian national team are the stuff of YouTube lore.

We chose Rachel Maddow as the February 2010 Yankette of the Month because she represents so much of what is good and what is possible in America. Her ascension to prominence is remarkable—only a few years ago she was hosting a radio show in Holyoke, Massachusetts (a gig she landed after winning a contest, no less). She then found herself on the left-leaning Air America Radio with Janeane Garofalo and Al Franken, parlayed that into subbing in for MSNBC’s bellcow Keith Olbermann, and after shining in the 2008 election, is living her dream with a 9 PM show that consistently challenges Larry King in the ratings. However, her rapid ascension is not without parallels. CNN’s Anderson Cooper became famous in two weeks in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

What’s remarkable is that she’s done it by remaining true to herself and true to her convictions. Maddow was the first openly gay individual to win a Rhodes scholarship. She spent her post-Stanford years studying policy at Oxford and being an activist raising awareness about AIDS epidemics in prisons. She’s not glamorous. In fact, she’s self-admittedly a bit “nerdy.” Her politics are left-leaning, no question. Yet unlike partisan hacks—Maddow didn’t endorse a candidate in the 2008 election and as mentioned above, even her fellow MSNBC mates aren’t beyond the reach of her criticisms and incredible wit. They take off her glasses, and they do a bit of make-up, but Maddow is essentially what you see on TV. She’s the first left-leaning female to breakthrough in an industry that has always embraced mostly blond, beautiful matinee-idol conservatives like Michelle Malkin and Megyn Kelly and Ann Coulter, and she’s done so simply by being smarter and more charismatic than most everyone else. That’s sexy, and Yankette of the Month worthy. But there’s more.

Maddow is a hero. There are countless gay women less afraid of being open now because they see Maddow achieving goals and doing so by being authentic and open, not afraid of herself. In 2008, the New York Times online ran a story “Why We’re Gay For Rachel Maddow.” They aren’t the only ones.

There are countless blogs and sites with open fan letters pouring out the love for Rachel—among the best linked here, calling her a “hero.”  Ratings and ravings suggest Maddow’s popularity transcends sexuality and sexual orientation at a time when the country is continuing a push towards being “postracial” (a dangerous phrase indeed) and postgender. It is possible that adoring fandom is simply, in the form of Maddow, postgay.

She’s not without her detractors. Fox Newsman John Gibson remarked that the only way MSNBC could get more leftist than Maddow would be to exhume Che Guevara from his grave. Perhaps. Then again, once you put aside the fact that this statement textually compares Maddow to a mass-murderer, it is important to note that Maddow is often times underwhelmed by the President, and his Democratic Congress. So count us “out” in the detractors column. After all, as a young professional, it is hard not to swoon over anyone who cheers for the National Team, and the Iraqi national team, who breaks traditional commentator molds without being typecast as a mainstream media member, who spares a moment for pop culture in her medium (which I believe is the point of Yankettes and Jacklegs), and who less than a decade ago was working odd jobs in western Massachusetts, including one at a Northampton coffee-bean factory where she cleaned out buckets. Eat your heart out, Horatio Alger.

Neil W. Blackmon is a senior staff writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at neil@yanksarecoming.com.

Neil W. Blackmon