False equivalence mars the ‘why can’t we all get along?’ message
I attended the entire pre-election ‘rally’ by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert today. If the health and well-being of the nation and countless future generations, including my daughter, weren’t at risk in the election Tuesday, one could revel in the entertainment.
But Stewart aspires to be more than an entertainer. While he was clearly trying to walk a fine line here and not be overtly politically, the fact is it’s long, long past time to pick sides. The political message basically equated Tea Party extremists and people like Limbaugh and Beck on one side with people on the other side who have sometimes pointed out the extremism of the Tea Party, like Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.
Sorry, Jon, but Matthews ain’t Palin or O’Donnell. Olbermann ain’t Beck. Not even close.
It is precisely the kind of false equivalence that Jon Stewart skewers on his show. More than anything else, the rally’s whole, “why can’t we just all get along through compromise and reason” message reminded me most of Barack Obama circa 2008 or is that circa 2009 or is that circa now?
When a prestigious scientific journal talks tougher than you do, maybe you missing something (see Nature: “Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight”).
The other ‘side’ simply does not believe government has a role in solving our problems. They think government is the problem. They don’t know why we have clean air and clean water (hint: progressives and what we’d now call moderate Republicans established science-based pollution standards that EPA enforced) — and they don’t even believe human emissions of greenhouse gases are problem. And the last thing they’d spend taxpayer dollars on is clean energy.
A large part of the problem with this rally is Colbert. Fundamentally, he isn’t trying to defend and advance progressive values the way Stewart often does. Colbert mainly skewers and deflates some conservative pomposity. But since those folks are showing up on his show less and less often, he is content to skewer progressives.
Yes, the music was good, the show was funny (other than the lame opening act), with good comic camaraderie between Stewart and Colbert. It pushed back on stereotyping, especially of Muslims, and Stewart/Colbert put some classic video montage media critiques. In a different time, it might get an A, but this was a rally 3 days before election in which the most extreme slate of candidates this country has seen in a long time is poised to seize role of at least one house of Congress. It deserves a C at best, I think.
And that’s not even considering the terrible logistics. As I learned later from several other attendees, they totally misjudged the size of the crowd and where they should put the speakers, so that a great many people could barely hear anything — or simply couldn’t hear anything at all of last. As a TPM reader put it:
They were really unprepared for the size of the crowd. No secondary speakers or jumbotrons set up. My friends and i left because we couldn’t see anything.
That is inexcusable for a rally run by professional entertainers as experienced and well-heeled as these.
But it was certainly a huge crowd — bigger than the Earth Day rally, I think, and therefore probably 200,000 or more. A CBS- commissioned estimate put the number at 215,000 — compared to Beck’s 87,000, and I’m sure Stewart lost many thousands of people because of poor organization.
UPDATE: Based on some of the comments, I want to re-emphasize that I was not actually calling on Stewart to endorse candidates. I just strongly disagree with his false equivalence. Science blogger PZ Myers of Pharyngula nailed it:
But in the end, I was disappointed. It was also an afternoon of false equivalence, of civility fetishism, of nothing but a cry about the national tone, of a plea for moderation. And you can guess what I think of moderation.
A thing moderately good is not so good as it ought to be. Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. — Tom Paine
I don’t want moderation, especially when the only people who will listen to Stewart and Colbert are the people on our shared side of the political aisle. I can understand where they’re coming from; people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Andrew Breitbart are poison, Fox News is a propaganda organ without bounds working for the far right-wing, we’ve got evangelical Christians demanding the installation of a theocracy, and on and on and on. But who, exactly, do Stewart and Colbert regard as the equivalent of Beck and Limbaugh on the left? Is it Rachel Maddow? Amy Goodman? Keith Olbermann?
Once again, we have someone bravely standing up and telling the people on their own side to stop being dicks, while being vague on the names and specifics.
So I’m at a loss about what we’re supposed to do in the world according to Jon Stewart. Hey, all you people working for gay and lesbian equality, all you women asking for equal pay, all you workers trying to unionize, all you peaceniks trying to end the war in Afghanistan, all you nurses and doctors and clinic workers trying to maintain reproductive freedom and keep women alive, all you teachers trying to teach science and history without censorship, all you citizens trying to build a rational health care policy, all you scientists and doctors who want our country to progress in medical research, all you damned secularists who want to keep religion out of our schools and government, hey, hey, HEY, you! Tone it down. Quit making such a fuss. You’re too loud. Shush. You’re as crazy as the teabaggers if you think your principles are worth fighting for.
I was left cold by the fuzziness of the event. It could have been great; instead of embracing an apolitical perspective and saying nothing at all about values, it could have been a rally for moderation that emphasized the actual values that moderates hold: we believe in tolerance for people of different ethnicities and religious views and sexual preferences, we believe in building an egalitarian social and economic infrastructure, we believe in privacy and personal freedoms, etc., etc., etc., and they could have held to the theme of the rally by advocating rational argument and unified, organized activism within the system to advance those goals”¦but they didn’t. There was no purpose given other than a generic insistence that we all get along nicely. And to what end, I ask?
The question wasn’t answered. All we need is the right tone, apparently.
Hear! Hear! (shouted in a quiet, mouse-like tone)