Jon Stewart’s False “Moderation”

jon_imageMark Engler at Dissent writes:

Back in December 2007, I was visiting my home state of Iowa. The presidential primary season was in full flower. It seemed like you couldn’t make a run to the supermarket without bumping into Hillary. My brothers and I joked with a neighbor (perhaps the strongest Biden supporter in the precinct) that the future vice president had been so ingratiating that we expected to see him come over soon to personally shovel the snow off her sidewalk.

That month, I went out to see both John Edwards and Barack Obama stump. Obama gave a solid speech, but he was far less specific and unrelenting in taking on corporate power than Edwards. Instead, Obama stuffed his speech with a lot of filler. He savored lines such as, “I don’t want to be president of Red State America or Blue State America. I want to be president of the United States of America.”

OK, I get it. The line got a lot of applause. But I had a hard time taking that stuff seriously. After all, what politician doesn’t claim to want to transcend the fray, work as a diligent bipartisan, and be a “uniter, not a divider”? Far from shaking up the political status quo in Washington, such appeals to high-minded moderation are an ingrained part of business as usual. I guess some people view these pledges as refreshing; I think they are pretty cynical.

Obama’s line came to mind when I saw that Jon Stewart—an undeniably funny guy and often brilliant satirist—has announced a “Rally to Restore Sanity,” which is to take place in Washington the week before the midterm elections. His premise with the event (originally dubbed the “Million Moderates March“) is that politics has been taken over by the lunatic fringes on “both sides.” He believes that everyone needs to “be reasonable” and “take it down a notch.” As of this writing over 160,000 people on Facebook have vowed to attend, and the rally has garnered enthusiastic support from some political commentators as well.

I understand what Stewart is going for. Most Americans are fed up with the overheated hectoring of the political class. Glenn Beck’s posturing deserves to be challenged. And, sure, it’s possible to find examples of excess on both ends of the political spectrum. I’ve written against the “End of America” or “descent into fascism” thesis presented by folks like Naomi Wolf, and I strongly oppose 9/11 conspiracy theorists (although they are as likely to be right-leaning libertarians as leftists). Moreover, I didn’t like it when lefties carried signs comparing Dick Cheney or George W. Bush to Hitler; I think it reflected a lazy and unhelpful analysis. (On a side note, I’m currently in a debate at Dissent in which my interlocutors have invoked Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini in describing elements of the Latin American Left. I don’t think it has been particularly helpful in that instance either!)

Read more here.

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  • Vox Penii

    re: “corporate power”

    But just what does this vague word “power” mean when it comes to businesses?

    Wal-Mart is the big bugaboo these days but what “power” does Wal-Mart have? I lived three-quarters of a century without ever setting foot in a Wal-Mart store and there is not a thing they can do about it.

    It so happened that this past summer in Page, Arizona, I needed to buy some toiletries, which caused me to go into a nearby Wal-Mart for the first time. Inside, it looked more like a small city than a large store. But the prices were noticeably lower than in most other places. Is that the much-dreaded “power”?

    Apparently Wal-Mart does not pay its employees as much as third-party observers would like to see them paid. But obviously it is not paying them less than their work is worth to other employers or they probably would not be working at Wal-Mart. Moreover, third parties who wax indignant are paying them nothing.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/12/hollywood_economics.html

  • Adaugeo

    Seriously this writer is a Republican douche. It’s not that Republicans or Democrats or any other party are necessarily bad in my opinion, much like religeons.

    I know John is left leaning, but he’s moderate and that’s what we need. No more single sided arguments.

    • Tuna Ghost

      Are you quite certain the writer is Republican? That’s what you took away from this article? Did you, um, read it very closely? I am not sure that you did.

    • Synapse

      Jon Stewart isn’t moderate. He’s a leftist trying to feign moderation to bring people to his version of the left (and some of his views are rather wacky). Stephan Colbert has always been better at this because feigning extreme rightism is hilarious in itself without necessarily pushing your agenda on anyone, just making comedy.

  • Adaugeo

    Seriously this writer is a Republican douche. It’s not that Republicans or Democrats or any other party are necessarily bad in my opinion, much like religeons.

    I know John is left leaning, but he’s moderate and that’s what we need. No more single sided arguments.

  • gemmarama

    should this be in quotation marks (as usual) or are you actually 75? cos dude, that would explain a lot…

  • Word Eater

    If the Tea Party has taught us anything, it’s that moderation is for pussies.

    Nothing unites a base like hard line, divisive rhetoric. You become part of an underclass fighting for recognition, striving to be seen as “right” (as in “correct”). You get your emotions tied up in the cause and start to feel like you are a part of something that might make a real difference.

    All that conflict and outside attacks only strengthen the group and bring you all closer together.

    Moderation doesn’t work because it isn’t sexy enough. It doesn’t get the endorphins flowing.

    • http://www.nickmeador.org/ ndmeador

      The only thing the Tea Party has taught us is that there are brain-damaging chemicals present in the public water system around the nation.

  • Word Eater

    If the Tea Party has taught us anything, it’s that moderation is for pussies.

    Nothing unites a base like hard line, divisive rhetoric. You become part of an underclass fighting for recognition, striving to be seen as “right” (as in “correct”). You get your emotions tied up in the cause and start to feel like you are a part of something that might make a real difference.

    All that conflict and outside attacks only strengthen the group and bring you all closer together.

    Moderation doesn’t work because it isn’t sexy enough. It doesn’t get the endorphins flowing.

  • http://disinfo.com/ Majestic

    Just read that Huffington Post is offering free bus transport for as many people as want it from NYC to DC for Jon Stewart’s rally. Check twitter feed @HuffPostBus for details.

    Different thought – is this a reaction to the Glenn Beck rally? For those of you who forgot about that piece of nuttiness: http://www.disinfo.com/2010/08/interviews-from-glen-becks-restoring-honor-rally/

  • http://disinfo.com Majestic

    Just read that Huffington Post is offering free bus transport for as many people as want it from NYC to DC for Jon Stewart’s rally. Check twitter feed @HuffPostBus for details.

    Different thought – is this a reaction to the Glenn Beck rally? For those of you who forgot about that piece of nuttiness: http://disinfo.com/2010/08/interviews-from-glen-becks-restoring-honor-rally/

  • Andrew

    The main problem is when corporations–which, legal fiction aside, are collectives and not people–amass enough money to drown out individual citizens in politics.

  • Tuna Ghost

    Are you quite certain the writer is Republican? That’s what you took away from this article? Did you, um, read it very closely? I am not sure that you did.

  • Synapse

    Jon Stewart isn’t moderate. He’s a leftist trying to feign moderation to bring people to his version of the left (and some of his views are rather wacky). Stephan Colbert has always been better at this because feigning extreme rightism is hilarious in itself without necessarily pushing your agenda on anyone, just making comedy.

  • http://www.nickmeador.org/ ndmeador

    The only thing the Tea Party has taught us is that there are brain-damaging chemicals present in the public water system around the nation.

  • gemmarama

    should this be in quotation marks (as usual) or are you actually 75? cos dude, that would explain a lot…

  • Andrew

    The main problem is when corporations–which, legal fiction aside, are collectives and not people–amass enough money to drown out individual citizens in politics.

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