By Emily Gold Boutilier
Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host, is not only a cable news celebrity but also a local kid who made good. She got her start at two radio stations in Western Massachusetts—WRNX in Holyoke and WRSI in Northampton. Now she splits her time between the Pioneer Valley and New York City, where she hosts The Rachel Maddow Show.
On Sat., March 30, she arrived in Johnson Chapel to deliver a talk that centered on warfare. But first, several a cappella groups warmed up the crowd; President Biddy Martin and Association of Amherst Students President Tania Dias '13 gave short introductions; and the Zumbyes led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Maddow, who turned 40 on April 1.
In front a full house, Maddow referred often to her recent book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. Her talk touched on U.S. nuclear bombs: “Our current arsenal of nukes is about 5,000”—far higher than necessary, she argued. She also tackled the subject of tax cuts during wartime: “Normal countries do not do this. But for us, war feels free.” And she argued against leaving Congress out of the decision to go to war.
Noting that fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population fought in Afghanistan and in the current war in Iraq, Maddow maintained that one way to not have to convince the American people to go to war is to ask only a few citizens to fight it. She said veterans of those wars return home with the fear that their fellow citizens will pity and fear them. “We as civilians," she said, "are alienated from the people who have been fighting in our name."
Maddow gave detailed answers to the 11 questions she took from the audience. One woman asked about the idea of reinstating the draft. The draft is one way to connect many people to the sacrifice required in war, Maddow said, “but it’s not a magic bullet.” Other questions took up Republican support of gay marriage (the supporters are a vocal minority, she said, not the decision makers in the party) and whether MSNBC is to the Democratic Party what Fox News is to the Republican Party (No, she argued; “The guy who runs MSNBC—I don’t even think he votes.”)
Maddow's talk was sponsored by the Office of the President.