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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bizarro Tea Party?

by digby

I'm sure you were just dying for some old fashioned he said/she said punditry on Wisconsin so look no further than Jon Stewart, who is now in the process of becoming an iconic representative of the genre. It started off well, calling out the Governor on his union breaking goals. But then he turned on the Democratic Senators implying that they were being wimps instead of strategists playing for time and proceeded to denigrate the protesters as fools, taking them and the media to task for comparing these silly hippie protests with the Egyptian uprising. (Nobody's been killed fergawdsake!) He finally took Rick Santelli to task for comparing it to 9/11 after which he went after MSNBC and Fox for being hypocrites etc, etc, etc., ending up calling the Wisconsin protests the Bizarro Tea Party.

I'm so glad we have Jon Stewart around to reduce all political activities of ordinary people into a clown show. It makes it much easier to maintain our ironic distance. Silly people making noises in public is really beneath all smart liberals like ourselves -- the only respectable way for people to engage in politics is to let Jon Stewart explain it all to us in our special coded hipster humor, as he did in the next segment:

See? He's a real liberal with real liberal ideas. But he doesn't engage in all the ridiculous double standards of your average fool out there in the hinterlands (or the earnest "professional left" either, thank God.) And that's what's important. Liberals aren't allowed to be uncool or unfair. It makes us all embarrassing and shit, taking sides, acting out, being like ... well ... dirty hippies or Teabaggers.

The interesting thing about all this to me is that the left's original critique of the mainstream media was that they affected this pose of being "objective" with this he said/she said . ( Jay Rosen has developed an entire thesis about it, called "the view from nowhere.") And Stewart isn't doing that exactly, even though he takes great pride in drawing an equivalence between the politics of Fox, which is owned by a giant corporation with an explicit, coordinated partisan goal and the "politics" of MSNBC which is also owned by a giant corporation and has allowed a couple of liberal voices to speak in public for purely pecuniary reasons. Instead, he's telling liberals (nobody else cares what he thinks) that it's more important to behave in a dignified, fair fashion than to stand up for your beliefs in a way that could be perceived as unseemly or one-sided. That makes you as bad as the other side.

Except, of course, it really doesn't. It's really about what you're fighting for. Tea partiers were trying to stop the federal government from reforming our health care system so that middle class workers will not go broke or die if they get sick. The Wisconsin protesters are trying to stop the Republican governor from making it illegal for them to belong to a union so that they can live a decent middle class life. Can we all see the pattern here? I'm sorry that people are misbehaving and failing to have the Oxford style debate that Stewart seems to think we should have, but this is a big argument that's taking place and I'm fairly sure that it's not going to be resolved by having some elite representatives of both sides sitting around Charlie Rose's table hashing it all out and then going out for drinks afterwards. Neither do I think that's what's important. If the Tea partiers had been well-behaved, would it have made their noxious politics any better? I don't think so.

Calls for"civility"are usually just a way to shut people up and sadly, I'm fairly sure that the only people who listen to Stewart are liberals who are getting the idea that it's wrong to get in the streets or call out the other side in rough language. Conservatives just think he's a useful idiot. I find this attitude very perplexing coming from a comedian, especially one who commonly does things which could be perceived as unfair, silly and undignified.

This is why Colbert's satire is so much more effective and, frankly, much braver. His satire is firmly aimed at the right, so he cannot take both sides. That's why it works --- it takes a position. By contrast, I'm increasingly not finding Jon's church-lady finger wagging all that funny, much less cool, and I fast forward though his opening segments more often than not. If I wanted a nightly lecture on proper behavior I'd consult Miss Manners or go to church.