Most ordinary folks in America want to achieve the same goals – they just might disagree on the best way to get there. When it comes to peace, prosperity, security, equality, etc., the fair-minded readily acknowledge the good intentions of their ideological opponents. All too often, however, certain political forces sacrifice this mindset – and the comity of the political landscape suffers tremendously as a result. How refreshing it was, therefore, to hear a hero of the Left say this over the weekend:
“We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here”—meaning Washington D.C.—”or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.”
That was Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show, speaking at the “Rally to Restore Sanity” that he co-hosted with fellow Comedy Central comic Stephen Colbert on Saturday. In his own peculiar way, Stewart appeared to be trying to reach beyond politics and ideology, just as Glenn Beck did a few weeks ago, in order to find common ground. Stewart being Stewart, his more serious point was delivered at the end of an event that was full of satire and showmanship. The crowd at the Mall expected to be entertained and Stewart didn’t disappoint. Yet, Stewart’s seemingly more earnest message, in sharp distinction to his usual comedic persona, was obviously the point of the exercise. In Stewart’s world, conservatives and liberals ought to dispense with all the rhetoric and political nonsense. Instead, we should all go out for a couple of beers, figure everything out, and tell the politicians and pundits to find something better to do.
There might be some legitimacy to Stewart’s vision – no matter how naïve it may be. Indeed, if equally applied across the political spectrum, reasoned, respectful discussion would be a marvelous thing. The problem is that his audience doesn’t see rhetoric and scare-tactics as being a problem on their side. That the Left flocks to Stewart, perhaps more than to anyone else, says a lot about the state of leadership on the Left today. Though the “Rally to Restore Sanity” was billed as an apolitical event, the comic’s audience could not help but display its true colors. The Left was out in force, using the rally as another excuse to hit back at what they call right-wing extremism. They mocked Republican candidates like Christine O’Donnell, called for the legalization of marijuana and, above all, belittled the Tea Party movement.
It’s a very odd, morbid world that leftists live in. They have an obsession with dissecting the supposedly hidden meanings behind conservatives’ words, insisting that we speak precisely and carefully about any topic. Sarah Palin cannot, in their world, use the word “reload” in a speech because her unstable, dangerous followers will interpret that as a call for armed insurrection. Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar stormed off the set of The View because Bill O’Reilly didn’t qualify “Muslim” with the word “extremist” when he discussed 9-11. Yet, despite their insistence that conservatives use painfully precise language to avoid the slightest possibility of offense, leftists don’t hesitate to label and smear huge swathes of their fellow citizens with whom disagree – even while preaching that society’s greater obligation is to work together to achieve our common goals.
There are two ways to actually restore sanity when it comes to politics in America. One way is for everyone to recognize that the vast majority of ordinary Americans want what’s right for the nation we love and to thus have a respectful, informed discussion about the best way to achieve our common goals. The alternate view, the view that so many of Stewart’s supporters on the Mall on Saturday plainly espouse, is that the other side is morally reprehensible and has nefarious motives. This is not the message that Jon Stewart might have intended to deliver when he started planning the rally, but that’s the message that many of his followers took away. The problem for the Left is that if we actually had a respectful, informed discussion about the pressing issues of our day – the economy, Islamic extremists, the environment, etc. – they’d lose every time.
Unfortunately, the conversation cannot even begin because the Left can’t conduct a respectful, informed discussion. Instead, leftists play their most reliable trump cards: the twin specters of corporate robber barons and ignorant, bigoted backwoods America. Neither stereotype has much meaning in 2010, but that’s all they have. One might suspect that Jon Stewart would really like to see sanity restored to American discourse – he did, after all, come to the defense of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone when the cartoonists satirized Islam – but Stewart is a talented comic, not a gifted thinker. He is grasping for an ideal that has never existed in American politics and, worse for him, an ideal that the people who flock to his message cannot abide.