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Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Debate With Martin About the Jon Stewart Rally for Sanity

Upgraded and Adapted from the Moot, long-time friend-of-blog Martin writes:
Of course, everything that PZ said was wrong. Stewart implied none of that. He made it pretty clear that there were big problems and hard work ahead.

"This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and we have nothing to fear. They are, and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times."

His criticism was aimed at politicians and pundits, the "the country's 24-hour politico pundit perpetual panic conflictinator." Less explicitly, it was aimed at wingnuts on both sides -- the people he had seen at Tea Party rallies and the Glenn Beck rally, which was the prime motivator for this rally.

The Rally to Restore Sanity was not designed to get out the vote or get people to vote democratic (some complaints that I've seen). It was exactly what it was advertised as from the beginning: a rally to show that the politicians, pundits, and wingnuts that we have been seeing on television don't represent average Americans; that the inability of Washington to get things done is not reflective of the millions of people who make compromises every day and get things done, despite their political and religious differences.

And yeah, I think Ed Schultz is just as bad as Glenn Beck, and quite *obviously* says outrageous things to get ratings, just like Beck and O'Reilly. This strategy pads their wallets, but it doesn't move America forward.

To which I reply:

Although Stewart said his rally was not ridiculing activists, his "balanced" montage included Glenn Beck saying false deranged things and Keith Olbermann saying true intense things and he acted as though these are equally problematic. And the montage was comedic, it posed Olbermann and Beck as not just the same, but as equally ridiculous.

If your problems are extreme (as ours surely are) and there are factions engaged in widespread deceit in the face of those problems (as climate change denialists and bigots and neo-cons eager to lie us into illegal immoral wars of choice palpably, factually do), there will be few ways for activists to address these problems that will not be vulnerable to Stewart's charge of immoderateness.

Like it or not his rhetoric diminishes the space in which activism equal to the problems at hand can function and does so through ridicule.

Stewart is a rich celebrity in New York. Because he seems to be a man of sense and feeling I do not doubt he grasps that these are hard times. But countless people die in warmonger adventures, countless people die due to the disruptions of anthropogenic climate change, neoliberal financialization and developmentalist SAP and austerity measures are class war with real casualities. I agree that little is helped by figuring these crimes and catastrophes through the narrative of theological apocalypse, but I do not agree that denial about the real violence and real end-time deaths of fellow human beings is sanity.

Of course his event was "aimed at wingnuts on both sides," a completely phony equivalence that is not the problem however much gentle-souled (that is to say, pampered and lazy) liberals would prefer to believe it is so that by ratcheting up their self-recrimination in the comfort of their homes they fancy they have struck a blow for freedom in the face of an ongoing reactionary class war that technoscience has exacerbated onto a planetary field.

I do agree that the Rally to Restore Sanity wasn't finally about getting people to vote. It was an entertaining promotional event for the one hour programming block of TDS and Colbert, rather like a Christmas Special or summer tour. I enjoy both shows myself, but the confusion of this extended ad for organized politics is profoundly demoralizing to me.

What will "Move America Forward" depends on where it is you want to go. The slogan is vacuous, precisely because agreement does not exist as to what America should look like.

I personally want a sustainable secular social democracy in the US as a prelude to a democratic federalist world government with a basic income guarantee, lifelong free education, and universal healthcare for every citizen.

Are we moving "forward" to that? Would a Tea Bag Patriot agree?

Democrats don't say what they are for or what they have accomplished, and the result is that people don't know what they are for and believe the lies of Republicans about what they have or have not done.

Stewart said he wants people to be more agreeable and to keep watching his show, and then pretended people who are disagreeable, whether their aims are noble or ignoble, whether they serve up lies or facts, are the problem.

He is wrong, and if enough people buy his line things will get worse not better in my view. If they get much worse it is factually possible that these will indeed be more like End Times than hard times, even for rich entertainers, come what may. It is not my saying this, but those who deny this but know better, who are the problem.

Thank heavens the crowd for the rally showed little sign of falling for Stewart's false equivalencies, and I do not doubt that Stewart himself will proceed in defiance of his own BS and continue producing a show ridiculing the actual wingnuts of the right with occasional nudges at the foibles of lefties that reflects factual reality rather than genuflects at faux balance.


Martin said...
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Martin said...
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Dale Carrico said...

I heard Stewart's speech live and I've listened to it more than once since. You might think BooMan has skewed the emphasis or substance (I don't, but that is surely debatable) but I honestly cannot see how you can say he has gotten Stewart's point backwards, especially not enough to sigh exasperatedly over.

Stewart's speech was very much like Obama's famous speech in front of the Democratic convention in 2004 (and we all know what marvelous praise and support and co-operation that affable tone and civility won him from Republicans), saying that Americans have more in common than divides them.

Stewart is saying that the Tea Party doesn't reflect deeper underlying American realities that will presumably ensure that these will be hard times and not the End Times they might otherwise seem to be if the Tea Party vision really did reflect a deeper reality. But the institutional reality of America is such that the Tea Party and its cynical funders can indeed impose their will on American reality whether majorities agree with them or not, whether majorities suffer for them or not.

Stewart takes altogether false comfort from their non-representativeness and then blames people who see things more clearly and then testify to that reality accordingly as if they and not the factual reality at hand is the problems we face.

I think it is frankly bonkers that right before a mid-term election that Democrats are likely to be punished in, punished for doing as much as they could in the service of the interests of majorities in the face of historically unprecedented obstructionism by being replaced by those who want to do the very opposite and say so, hundreds of thousands of people who are natural allies of Democrats and could have been doing GOTV instead went to a non-political rally -- a promotional event for a commercial TV show to be more precise -- rather than rallying voters, all to be sermonized about how it is equally bad to be passionate in the service of facts as it is to indulge in racist hate speech, patriarchal christianism, and climate-change denialism.

Stewart's extended analogy from the traffic on the Jumbotron was intriguing. Quite apart from its equation of Americans with selfish stupid planet-destroying car owners snarled in traffic (oh dear, what a shrill unappealing thing for me to say -- if only I could be more affable, climate change would cease to be a problem -- oh, it won't? Hm.) It was also intriguing to me because it seemed profoundly misleading -- it isn't, after all, just spontaneous civility -- "you go, now you go" -- that keeps people moving forward in traffic but the government built and regulated infrastructure and a host of traffic laws and a state licensing process that informs drivers of the protocols to which he referred that keeps the system functional. As it happens, one party is ideologically opposed to public infrastructure and regulation, and it is the party almost none of whose members were at Stewart's rally and many of its members revile everything Stewart said at his rally and stands for, even though he quite eagerly and pre-emptively met them half-way along the way to their desired dismantlement of everything he holds dear.

I don't think the Stewart thing will help nor hurt Dems Tuesday -- but what he said is wrongheaded in my view and all too typical of Democrats and that is worth saying, surely?

Dale Carrico said...

And rainbows and kittens... [T]he only political reality that you will ever see is some compromise with your opponents. Again, I know it pains you to read this, but there it is.

On the contrary, I defend Obama and elected Democrats on this blog all the time against people whose ideal outcomes square more closely with my own precisely because I grasp the necessity of ugly compromise in the face of institutional constraints on the long reformist road to more equitable and consensual outcomes. You read this blog enough to know that.

Stewart is not advocating compromise in my view and I am not disdaining it. Stewart is mis-identifying as a problem of civility what is in fact a problem of falsity.

Republicans who are lying or who passionately believe plainly false things (such as that climate change is a hoax, that evolution is on an equal scientific footing as folk-tales, or that gay people or people of color are less than human) are a real force in American politics, and pretending otherwise is advocating that we add one more falsehood to theirs.

The Tea Party exists, the Koch Brothers exist, Congressional rules yielding gridlock in the face of obstructionism exist, the extreme economic downturn exists, the need for government intervention exists, consequences of inaction or, worse, deregulation exist. These are not problem of civility.

There are people fighting hard for bad outcomes with lies and dirty tricks and gaming of the system who must be fought or they will win with consequences that are real. The fact that I am upset about this is not the problem, the fact that my upset is palpable is not the problem, the fact that corporatists or theocrats (not at all the same thing as people who affirm some faith) dislike that I expose their lies and errors as such is not the problem.

One doesn't compromise on facts (to be open to correction on facts is not to be open to compromise on facts), indeed, the context of a shared sense of relevant facts provides the basis for compromise.

Dale Carrico said...

Olbermann says outlandish things sometimes... I lump Ed Schultz right in with Beck, no apologies... There are definitely ridiculous extremists on the left, too.

Watch Olbermann and Beck for a week (hell, watch Schultz and Beck if you prefer) and actually count the outlandish things each says, be willing to quote the outlandish things you count and justify their comparable outlandishness. You really think the equivalence you are positing will hold? You really think there are comparably many and comparably outlandish people on both sides? With comparable prominence? With comparable institutional pull? With comparable audiences? Taken comparably seriously by their parties and/or Bases?