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.