Monday, November 01, 2010

Why We (Don't) Suck


As anybody who reads this site regularly knows, Bob Cesca is not only someone I consider a good friend, he also happens to be the person within the blogosphere whose worldview tends to line up most closely with my own; he's progressive, but not to the point of being an ideologue and despite his scalpel wit, he prefers healthy debate to the idea of standing on opposite sides of the fence shouting at each other. Most importantly, he's a realist -- and this has always been one of those qualities I think more combatants in the digital political arena would be wise to embrace.

So with that in mind, I'm not going to attempt to refute the point he's making right now over at his site about where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert supposedly went wrong during Saturday's Rally To Restore Sanity. First of all, unlike me Cesca was actually there, and I know for a fact that he considered it an overall success; second, his argument against what he didn't like hinges on something I've mentioned here before and happen to agree with -- namely that the false equivalence meme perpetuated by those who for whatever reason feel it best not to be or even appear partisan is largely horseshit. Cesca makes his case by asserting that, as both whip-smart journalist Will Bunch and NYU media critic Jay Rosen have also said, Stewart tends to try to operate from an enlightened state that's well above the fray. While this seems like a laudable position to strive for at face value, it's not -- and here's that word again -- realistic. It disregards the way things really are in favor of forced objectivity. In Stewart's case specifically, what it means, according to his critics, is that he draws a direct comparison between the left and right when it comes to behaving like raging psychopaths in the service of their respective ends; and that, those critics argue, is just not the case.

They're of course right about that. While there are definitely a couple of howlers on the left, with the exception of those moments when Olbermann really does kind of go off the rails -- his points being excellent, but the way he makes them being unnecessarily melodramatic and self-serving -- they don't have the legitimacy, the authority or the influence of their counterparts on the right. The left's fringe is, well, the fringe; the inmates don't run the asylum of left wing politics the way they do on the right these days. So, no, comparing both sides as if they're guilty of emitting the same level of white noise is slightly dishonest.

But two things: 1) I don't think Stewart was actually doing that, and 2) I understand why he felt the need to spread the blame at least a little.

It's true that the right was always going to completely diminish and discount the Rally To Restore Sanity; it has to. So with that in mind, the people the rally was meant to appeal to were those center-left -- the independents and realistic progressives -- and I have to believe that those people are smart enough to know that Stewart's point would find more accepting ears if he went out of his way to make that point expressly non-partisan. And the only way to do that was to, at least on the surface, imply that each side has amplified the rhetoric to deafening levels. The ones who understood that the right was and is doing it in far more ridiculous and pronounced ways were always going to know that one side was worse, and they were probably also well aware that Stewart knew that too.

But in the end, he and Colbert chose honey over vinegar, and while some will argue that their point will be lost on those who most need to hear it -- the shriekers and crazies who seem poised to unleash their self-righteous fury across the land tomorrow -- the end game has to be that our country and its discourse somehow survive. And once again, Saturday stands as a show of force against the current tide of lunacy -- a true uprising of the generally silent majority of Americans. You know, the normal people. The rest of us.

9 comments:

vince said...

The shriekers and the crazies simply are not reachable, because their motto is "Never let facts sway them in the face of a higher truth."

veralynn said...

I agree Chez. I love Bob but I disagree with his take on this. It feels more stranahan-like for me.....

Chez said...

Jesus, I wouldn't go that far -- Lee's way the hell out there in his beliefs. Good guy but I don't agree with him on much of anything, certainly not his unwillingness to compromise.

Mackenzie said...

The problem with yesterday's rally was that while thousands of people were gathered, there was no "real" political point and at the same time thousands of Republicans hit the streets and knocked on doors with their message. I'm sorry, but while it was funny, it looks just as stupid as a tea party rally. Imagine if those same people took an organized message and knocked on doors in their neighborhoods. The rally would have been great a month ago, but with only 2 days until the election this was no time to fuck atound.

Chez said...

I disagree, Mackenzie. I think the highly publicized. image of that many people taking that sort of stand may be a more powerful inspiration than you're giving it credit for. And as for the timing, as unfortunate as this is, I think you're misjudging the average attention span these days.

Nicole473 said...

Good points, but I still have to agree with Bob on this.

In my opinion, the both sides meme is just too poisonous to overlook no matter who promotes it, whether it be Jon Stewart [who is my very fav "newscaster"] or Rush Limbaugh.

Stephen said...

Did the tea party rally have someone holding a "Welcome Great Pumpkin" sign? I think not. Point- Mr. Stewart.

Deacon Blue said...

Of course, there's also an important point with Colbert and Stewart (particularly the latter). Their shows, while insightful and important, need material...they are, in the end, formed around a core of comedy. You have to be willing to skewer both sides or you cease to have a show when you personal favorites are largely in power.

veralynn said...

you know, reflecting on my comment above and Bob, I need to apologize to Bob. I went to the rally and got back home on Sunday and read what Bob had to say and then saw this....I was still very emotional, apparently. :)

Bob, I still don't agree, despite yesterday, but I do apologize for the 'stranahan-like' comment. You are and have never been that.

I still think the rally was an excellent idea. It was almost as inspiring as the 08 election. I think it the future it may surpass it. I agree the timing sucked, but in the long term I think it will make a difference. Midterms are midsterms and the American public is so used to instant gratification. I think they will find out that the ride is over and we have major problems and if they aren't fixed within the next 10 years, we are screwed.