So, Barack Obama was in the general vicinity last week. Being in such close proximity to Evil Incarnate stirred many of my fellows and relations to rhapsodize ’bout revolution. The topic du jour was assassination. “Why weren’t you there with your hunting rifle, man?” “Shit, I thought you were gonna take care of it!” “Hey, what do Dallas, Memphis and Charlottesville all have in common? Change you can believe in! Haw haw!”
(Don’t let the reference to Memphis fool you. This has nothing whatsoever to do with race, you know. It’s just legitimate anger over taxes and bailouts, that’s all.)
In and of itself, this doesn’t bother me overmuch. I’m all for showing contempt for politicians as a general rule, and empty braggadocio from yahoos about gettin’ all Patrick Henry wit’ it up in this bitch rah cheer is just that. Still, I’ve been listening to this shit all my adult life. It’s wearying to go day after day, listening to idiots turn petty disagreements over policy, or plus-or-minus three percentage points in marginal tax rates into staging grounds for apoca-fucking-lyptic, arma-goddamn-geddon, good vs. evil, winner-take-all fights to the death. It just never fucking ends. The perpetual outrage machine never sleeps. I’m so goddamned sick of being around people who turn absolutely everything into a political argument, who treat politics as a blood sport.
Which is why, even though I can’t disagree with much of anything Chris Hedges says here, I find myself unable to feel too angry at Jon Stewart. Of course, many people, including myself on occasion, have criticized him for his false equivalencies. In general, it is intensely annoying when people always look to split the difference in an argument, regardless of the actual merits of either side, by assuming that both parties must be equally wrong. But then again, Stewart has never claimed to be anything other than a centrist. Much of the criticism of the Rally to Restore Sanity over the last few days has been tinged with a sense of betrayal, as if he owed it to us to single out the right wing for more criticism, as if he and Colbert should have revealed themselves to be the reincarnations of Eugene Debs and Big Bill Haywood. But finding fault with both sides is pretty much the definition of a centrist; if he came out staunchly in favor of the left, well, I guess he’d be a leftist. But he’s not, so I don’t see any point in criticizing him for that. And as a rule, court jesters probably don’t make good kings, so I’m not sure why people act like they want him to step up and lead us anyway.
And even given the limitations of working within the conventional wisdom, he still manages to do a fair job of presenting perspectives that the serious media doesn’t touch. A couple years ago, his show was more critical of Israel’s aggression than you are likely to ever see anywhere else in American media, and then he pissed a lot of the fanatically pro-Israel people off by interviewing Mustafa Barghouti and Anna Baltzer together, which isn’t trivial either.
So I guess I just tend to see the glass as half-full when it comes to Stewart. I’m pleasantly surprised at how well he does with his material, despite not being all that radical. And while it seems absurd to any objective onlooker to portray the emaciated, feeble, withered excuse for an American left as anything akin to the radical movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, let alone the mirror image of the teabaggers, I don’t mind being used as a rhetorical foil if his words make people like my acquaintances stop, take a deep breath, and calm the fuck down.