These Obama-campaignesque graphics promote faux competing political rallies that may or may not actually happen next month in Washington, D.C.
I love Jon Stewart. Always have. Probably always will. But his faux October 30 “Rally to Restore Sanity” at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (which may or may not actually be an actual gathering, since, according to The Associated Press, no permit has been granted for any such rally) misses the mark.
I’m all for sanity and reason, and I love the fact that Stewart is mocking Glenn Beck’s “Christo”fascist rally to “restore honor” last month at the National Mall in D.C.
But I’m disturbed that Stewart apparently is afraid of proudly wearing the mantle of liberalism or progressivism but instead talks about a “million moderate march” of the “70- to 80-percenters” (Americans whom he claims are moderates, despite the fact that the left wing and the right wing both seem to have the support of at least around 30 percent of the electorate, leaving no more than around 40 percent actually in the middle).
Stewart, in his Thursday announcement of his “Rally to Restore Sanity,” paints both those on the left and the right as not having lives, and thus they are politically vocal — you know, having nothing else better to do.
You know, we don’t have enough civil and political engagement in the United States of America as it is, so for Stewart to (probably unintentionally) be popularizing political apathy, or at least political nonparticipation, doesn’t serve our nation or the system that we call “democracy,” that I can see.
I understand that most Americans have (to a large degree self-inflicted, unnecessarily) busy lives, but to broadly brush those who do take a stand on political issues as losers with too much time on their hands is harmful, not helpful. Even if I disagree wholeheartedly with the “tea-baggers” (and I do), at least they make time for civic and political engagement, even if I view their gatherings as akin to KKK rallies (and I do).
Stewart also apparently lumps the likes of the 9/11 “truthers” in with the left, which is a categorical error. A conspiracy theorist may be a leftist, a right-winger, a moderate (as Stewart seems to love so much) or fairly entirely apolitical. A conspiracy theory is a conspiracy theory, and it may be politically ideologically inspired or not. (The conspiracy theories about Barack Obama certainly seem to be politically ideologically inspired, as well as inspired by racism and white supremacism, but I see little political ideology in the 9/11 conspiracy theories, which seem to be more about a generic “government” than even about a political party or even about certain politicians.)
Stewart also apparently lumps in the members of Code Pink, who have worn red paint on their hands at public hearings to give the (correct) message that certain public officials have blood on their hands, with the gun nuts who have thought it a great idea to bring assault rifles to public political rallies. I don’t know about you, but I am a lot more concerned about socially retarded, NRA-card-carrying, wingnutty males carrying assault rifles in public than I am about some pissed-off progressive women wearing red paint on their hands at public hearings.
Stewart in announcing his rally also focuses on the more extreme messages that are put out there. Sure, comparing one’s political opponent to Adolf Hitler more often than not is trite and usually is inaccurate. (One of Stewart’s pre-made signs for his rally, he joked, reads: “I Disagree with You, but I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Hitler.”)
However, to stop at the argument as to whether or not George W. Bush accurately can be compared to Adolf Hitler overlooks the fact that George W. Bush, while he didn’t exterminate six millions Jews and millions of others, was responsible for the deaths of at least tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.
And that’s the problem (or at least one of the largest problems) that I have with “moderates” — “moderates” are almost always willing to overlook a certain amount of evil. Six million innocents slaughtered: Baaaaad! “Only” tens of thousands of innocents slaughtered in our name and in the name of “liberation”: Meh — we can overlook that! People die in war! (“But this was a bogus war!” you remind the “moderate,” who then promptly shuts down because he or she no longer wants to discuss politics.)
So I have a problem with Jon Stewart further fostering the already too-prevalent attitude of “I’m too busy to be a politically active citizen,” “Politics is for losers,” etc.
More often than not the reason that “moderates” hate political messages isn’t that the messages are extreme as much as that the messages themselves, being about politics, remind the “moderates” that the “moderates” haven’t bothered to educate themselves about or involve themselves in politics — and who wants to be reminded of their deficits?
Way too many people in the mushy middle, these “moderates,” these “independents,” these “swing voters,” claim that their centrism puts them on higher ground than the left or the right when, in fact, the actual case is that they’re just too fucking lazy and/or wussy to carefully study both sides of the arguments and then pick a side, good or evil.
I see nothing to admire in someone who’s too lazy or cowardly or selfish to pick a side on our most serious, most pressing issues. I see it as an abject abdication of one’s civic duty. (And I’d call it un-American, too, except that political and civic laziness seem to be as American as apple pie and cell phones and SUVs.)
Jon Stewart’s faux right-wing nemesis, Stephen Colbert, has announced that, in response to Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity,” on October 30 he’s going to hold a competing “March to Keep Fear Alive,” which is a lot closer to how the right wing actually operates than how the left wing operates according to Jon Stewart. (Colbert admonishes us to “never forget — ‘reason’ is just one letter away from ‘treason.’ Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance.”)
I can’t help but notice that in the faux October 30 rallies of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who apparently are supposed to be diametrically politically opposed to each other, we see the right wing and the apolitical, mushy middle represented, but we see no real representation of or for the left wing, which is telling. So far to the right has the nation’s political discourse gone, and so much do media corporations (Comedy Central is corporate, of course) fear pissing off the right wing, that Jon Stewart’s “clarion call” for centrism is seen as the counterbalance to the extreme right.
I get it that ultimately it’s all a joke — Stewart and Colbert appear on Comedy Central, for fuck’s sake — but let’s face it, in this day and age, entertainment and news are so intermixed that the line between the two is so blurry as to be invisible, and millions of Americans get their political “news” from Jon Stewart’s show on Comedy Central.
And Jon Stewart is telling these Americans that it’s OK to use one’s busy-ness as an excuse to be apolitical, and Jon Stewart is telling these Americans, essentially, that all impassioned public political speech essentially is the same, and that those who participate in impassioned public political discourse are losers who should get lives.
Jon Stewart isn’t promoting democracy or civic and political engagement. He’s promoting (again, probably unintentionally) nihilism.
And we have more than enough of that already.
Update: I see that fellow sexy gay blogger Glenn Greenwald has taken on this topic too, and basically he said what I said, only in his more academic style. First and foremost, Greenwald also talks about the false equivalencies between the left and the right that those who proclaim themselves to be centrists/moderates put forth.
I wrote back in May that it was writer John Avlon’s string of such false equivalencies, one after the other, as well as his blatant hearsay that he presented as fact, that prevented me from being able to get into his book Wingnuts. Much of what I wrote about Avlon, unfortunately, could be said also of Jon Stewart. I wrote of Avlon in May:
About all that [Avlon] points to, in the 18 pages [of Wingnuts] that I was able to stomach, in order to exemplify the far left or the far right are some examples of some political figure, usually George W. Bush or Barack Obama, being compared to Adolf Hitler. Ooooo! Insightful!
However, while skimming through his book, I noted that apparently anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is a “wingnut” for having stood up against the Bush regime’s bogus Vietraq War that killed her son — a war that the majority of Americans now acknowledge, fucking finally, was a bogus war.
Hmmm… A woman’s young son is killed for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Dick Cheney’s Halliburton profits obscenely in that bogus war (as do the BushCheneyCorp’s other oily subsidiaries), and because she has the gall to protest her son’s pointless death, that makes Sheehan a “wingnut,” according to Avlon, who, I take it, hasn’t had a loved one killed in the Vietraq War or ever even been in harm’s way himself.
Overall, Avlon reminds me of a lazy, mediocre parent or teacher who witnesses two children fighting, and, because he doesn’t want to bother to try to figure out what they’re fighting about — and whether one child might actually be in the right and the other child might actually be in the wrong — he labels both fighting children as equally guilty. There. Done with it. Why bother to unravel the facts? And why take sides?
Except that the real world is so much more complex than that, and our crumbling democracy didn’t really need another book put out there to tell people that instead of closely examining the facts and taking a principled stand on important issues based upon the facts, they need to just join the mushy middle, because obviously there’s no difference between the impassioned right and the impassioned left (or, as Avlon calls everyone who isn’t a milquetoast, apolitical, apathetic sleepwalker, the “wingnuts”)….
For Avlon to make the false equivalency between the far left and the far right — to lump everyone who feels strongly about politics together as “wingnuts” — isn’t only grossly inaccurate, but it’s dangerous to our already endangered, dumbed-down democracy.
Those last three paragraphs I could have written about Stewart, unfortunately — and Stewart, too, pointed out that members of both the left and the right have compared a sitting president to Adolf Hitler, as though this were some stunning insight.
Anyway, Greenwald writes on this topic:
I think Jon Stewart is one of the most incisive and effective commentators in the country, and he reaches an audience that would otherwise be politically disengaged. I don’t have any objection if he really wants to hold a rally in favor of rhetorical moderation, and it’s also fine if, as seems to be the case, he’s eager to target rhetorical excesses on both the left and right in order to demonstrate his non-ideological centrism.
But [an] example he chose to prove that the left is guilty, too — the proposition that [George W.] Bush is a “war criminal” — is an extremely poor one given that the general in charge of formally investigating detainee abuse (not exactly someone with a history of leftist advocacy) has declared this to be the case, and core Nuremberg principles compel the same conclusion.
Leave aside the fact that, as Steve Benen correctly notes, Stewart’s examples of right-wing rhetorical excesses (Obama is a socialist who wasn’t born in the U.S. and hates America) are pervasive in the GOP, while his examples of left-wing excesses (Code Pink and 9/11 Truthers) have no currency (for better or worse) in the Democratic Party.
The claim that Bush is “a war criminal” has ample basis, and it’s deeply irresponsible to try to declare this discussion off-limits, or lump it in with a whole slew of baseless right-wing accusatory rhetoric, in order to establish one’s centrist bona fides.
It’s admirable to want to apply the same standards to both sides, but straining to manufacture false equivalencies doesn’t accomplish that; sometimes, honestly applying the same standards to each side will result in a finding that one side, at least in that regard, is actually worse.
When that’s the case, a person engaged in truly independent, non-ideological inquiry — rather than the pretense of such — will expressly acknowledge the imbalance, not concoct an equivalency where it doesn’t exist.
By stark contrast, Stephen Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive” seems extremely well-focused and on-point.
Colbert, because he’s only pretending to be a right-winger, has that pretension as cover, but Jon Stewart just couldn’t bring himself to be a strong standard-bearer for the left. Instead, apparently in order to appeal to the apolitical, he apparently felt that he had to assert quite incorrectly that the left is just as insane as is the right — thus actually undercutting, not strengthening, his position.
Finally, I wrote that “millions of Americans get their political ‘news’ from Jon Stewart’s show on Comedy Central,” and this article posits that while the old farts get their “news” from Faux “News,” the members of the younger demographic indeed get their “news” from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Holding a journalism degree, I find it incredibly odd, if not sad and pathetic, that Americans who want real news these days have to turn to Comedy Central. (Well, OK, there is MSNBC. I love Rachel Maddow.)
However, it being the case that Stewart has so much influence — regardless of the argument as to whether he should have that much influence — Stewart should wield his influence much more carefully and responsibly. Falsely conflating the left and the right as Stewart has done is reckless and irresponsible, because, while he ostensibly is a comedian, millions of Americans take him quite seriously.