Friday, November 12, 2010

Where Jon Stewart goes wrong

Jon Stewart's interview Thursday night with liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow of MSNBC went on a little too long, but there was some interesting dialogue. As I see it, Stewart made two main arguments:

1. There is as much unfairness and irresponsibility on the left as on the right, and

2. The real division in the country is not between left and right but between sense and nonsense, or extremism and moderation.

Point No.1 is hard to prove either way. It's almost impossible to quantify irresponsible behavior. I'll remain undecided on that point and focus on argument No.2, which I think is (mostly) wrong.

Stewart says early in the interview that left/right disputes are really irrelevant, and blames this division of the 24 hour media cycle. He's a thoughtful,intelligent man but I think he's way off here. There's a lot of things about the media that I don't like, but they did not create ideological divisions among the American population. There are issues such as health care, abortion, affirmative action, etc.. that liberals and conservatives sincerely disagree on. Those divisions would continue even if CNN, FOX, and MSNBC went off the air tomorrow. Stewart would like to ignore these disagreements and call for a restoration of "sanity" or "moderation." To be sure, Stewart has a legitimate point when he says we should not demonize people who disagree with us, and he's certainly right that there's been a lot of overheated rhetoric on both sides on the political spectrum.

However, there remains a huge problem with his argument. His call for "sanity" or "moderation" really doesn't mean anything coherent. It's meaningless, feel-good rhetoric. Who's running for office in 2012 on a platform of insanity.I'm curious, John: What is the "sane" position on health care? What is the "sane" position on climate change? For most Americans, it's the position we personally hold. Sanity and moderation are in the eyes of the beholder. Many of you may remember the platform of Steve Forbes for President in 1996? He was for "hope, growth, and opportunity!" Of course—who could be against hope and growth? Stewart's movement is at the same level of discourse. Empty slogans make for poor arguments.

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