Taking down “Taking it down a notch for America”
On Thursday night, Jon Stewart, the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central announced that he would lead a rally on the mall on Oct. 30, just three days before the midterm elections. Pivoting between cameras, between smirking and declaiming, he trumpeted “A Rally to Restore Sanity.” He will be joined by a faux counter-demonstration from Stephen Colbert, who will archly lead what he called “A March to Keep Fear Alive.” … Mr. Stewart suggested that he was speaking for the “70 to 80 percent of you out there who care about the issues.” (They might be called the Silent Majority, but probably not the historical allusion Mr. Stewart is shooting for.)
The first time I caught the Daily Show in ages was the day Jon Stewart called for a “March of the Reasonable.” The idea bummed me out. To a severe extent. It sounded like a show that likes to be sharp and attentive leading its audience into exactly the kind of aggrieved, inattentive pose that allows politics to seem so shallow and comical in the first place — this pose where it’s all just a bunch of crazies arguing, while some secret, reasonable majority just wants to agree on commonsensical solutions to everything. The irony is that this pose isn’t the antidote to, say, Tea Parties: it’s the source of them. It’s precisely how a lot of your immoderate “crazies” see themselves and their peers.
One study found that white supremacists vastly overestimate the percentage of people in the general population who agree with their beliefs. Politics, of course, is an area rife for group homogeneity, and what particularly struck me about Stewart’s assertion is that he was expressing, almost verbatim, a belief about politics known as “stealth democracy.” Political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse argue that Americans are fundamentally uncomfortable with basic aspects of democratic practice like disagreement, debate, and participation. One aspect of this belief is encapsulated nicely in Stewart’s assertion that our problems “have real, if imperfect, solutions that I believe 70 to 80 percent of our population could agree to.” This is not, of course, true; if any policy solution had 70 to 80 percent support from the public, I’m sure any sensible politician would rush to implement it, and it’s certainly rare to see these levels of support in opinion polls. Stewart, then, is expressing a fundamentally undemocratic belief. He thinks that a healthy democracy is one in which everyone basically agrees, not one in which different people have different interests and values that need to be worked out through the medium of politics.
(updated) Making Light:
The premise of Jon Stewart’s “Million Moderate March” is vacuous. There’s no inherent virtue in political “moderation.” The “moderates” weren’t the ones who were right about whether we should have marched into Iraq; it was the so-called extremist peaceniks who had it right from the start. The “moderates” aren’t the ones who are right about the priority we should be giving to the threat of global climate change; again, the people who are correct on this issue are labelled as “extremists.” And contrary to Jon Stewart’s foolish assertion, while it may be “moderate” to reject charges that the Bush Administration committed war crimes, it’s also wrong. Because in fact they committed war crimes. (Nor are the current administration’s hands much cleaner on this score, and those who point this out continue to bemarginalized.)…When Jon Stewart claims a parallel between the racism of the “tea party” movement and its insane alternate-world beliefs (Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim Stalinist, etc) and the idea that the Bush administration committed war crimes, what he’s promoting is a “moderation” that is about nothing more than identifying the range of socially-acceptable beliefs and planting one’s self safely in the center of that range. It has nothing to do with discerning or respecting the truth, and everything to do with assuring one’s social status. In that sense it is radically self-centered—not actually “moderate” at all.
And, of course, Greenwald.