Wednesday, February 23, 2011

False Alarm

Digby examines Jon Stewart’s critiques of the demonstrations in Madison and finds his attempts to play both sides against each other to be tiresome.

I’m so glad we have Jon Stewart around to reduce all political activities of ordinary people into a clown show. It makes it much easier to maintain our ironic distance. Silly people making noises in public is really beneath all smart liberals like ourselves — the only respectable way for people to engage in politics is to let Jon Stewart explain it all to us in our special coded hipster humor….

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The interesting thing about all this to me is that the left’s original critique of the mainstream media was that they affected this pose of being “objective” with this he said/she said. (Jay Rosen has developed an entire thesis about it, called “the view from nowhere.”) And Stewart isn’t doing that exactly, even though he takes great pride in drawing an equivalence between the politics of Fox, which is owned by a giant corporation with an explicit, coordinated partisan goal and the “politics” of MSNBC which is also owned by a giant corporation and has allowed a couple of liberal voices to speak in public for purely pecuniary reasons. Instead, he’s telling liberals (nobody else cares what he thinks) that it’s more important to behave in a dignified, fair fashion than to stand up for your beliefs in a way that could be perceived as unseemly or one-sided. That makes you as bad as the other side.

Except, of course, it really doesn’t. It’s really about what you’re fighting for. Tea partiers were trying to stop the federal government from reforming our health care system so that middle class workers will not go broke or die if they get sick. The Wisconsin protesters are trying to stop the Republican governor from making it illegal for them to belong to a union so that they can live a decent middle class life. Can we all see the pattern here? I’m sorry that people are misbehaving and failing to have the Oxford style debate that Stewart seems to think we should have, but this is a big argument that’s taking place and I’m fairly sure that it’s not going to be resolved by having some elite representatives of both sides sitting around Charlie Rose’s table hashing it all out and then going out for drinks afterwards.

I think that’s what bothered me about the Stewart/Colbert rally last October; it was more about the method and the theatrics than it was about what the two sides were saying. Mr. Stewart has effectively said that both sides in the national argument have merit, and the liberals, in their natural state, stroked their chins and said, “You know, you might be right.”

Well, you know what? They’re not. The false equivalency between the Obama supporters and the Tea Party people basically concedes that the cranky white people demonstrating to keep the government out of Medicare are right, or that they might have a point in looking into why the State of Hawaii hasn’t sent out copies of the president’s original birth certificate, or that maybe the direct election of the United States Senate by the people of their state isn’t such a good idea after all. To even entertain these ideas means they win because it’s the same as saying that while Charles Darwin came up with a very plausible and provable theory about the origin of the species, the story with the two naked people and the talking snake is also scientifically valid. It’s one of the things that drives me crazy about liberalism. Sometimes there are very bright lines.

What I think is bringing this home to a lot of people is that now all the Tea Party rhetoric is no longer just abstract ideas and misspelled signs at rallies. We have elected officials who are trying to implement laws that will have tangible results on their lives. It’s more than the reduction of benefits; it’s the right to organize that is at stake. Jon Stewart can poke fun at both sides of the argument in Madison, but I’m pretty sure that if his union — the Screen Actors Guild — had its collective bargaining rights in jeopardy, he’d not be so quick to try to find the false equivalency. As it is, he’s no different than Joe Scarborough being shocked, shocked, to find people carrying snarky signs about the governor of Wisconsin. (This is my favorite one, by the way.)

I also find it slightly ironic that when state and federal governments were passing laws that restricted the rights of people to live their lives — i.e. the Defense of Marriage Act and tighter restrictions on reproductive rights — there wasn’t a groundswell of public opinion that rallied people to state capitals and shut down the legislative process. I don’t remember the Democrats taking it on the lam when marriage equality was up for a vote. But now that it’s about the rights of workers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, being on the line, it’s — rightfully — a big deal.

It’s a pretty damn good illustration of the idea that rights are binary; you either have them or you don’t, and if you take away one right from one person or group, you take all of them away from everyone. It’s nice to see people getting it.