Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Here's Hugh Hewitt on the upcoming Jon Stewart rally:

Stewart's gathering, like Stephen Colbert's "testimony" to Congress last month, is another exercise in mocking middle America --the middle of the country geographically, the middle when it comes to income, the middle when it comes to politics.

So that's all Stewart is about? Mockery of the middle? Did anyone catch Stewart's lead sketch last night -- the very first sketch of his week in Washington, where Hewitt thinks he's set up shop expressly to sneer at the heartland?

It was this:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
NPR Staffing Decision 2010
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Yup -- a slam on NPR for firing Juan Williams and a mockery of everything NPR-related, followed by a discussion that mocked all the criticism of the Juan Williams remarks about Muslims.

Contempt for Middle America? Hardly.

Of course, Stewart's just operating in the liberal comic tradition. A few years ago, The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik reviewed Seriously Funny, a book about the "rebel comedians" of the 1950s and 1960s, and made this smart observation:

For what is really striking about all the "rebel" comedians of the time, hard and soft, is that their main target was almost never the excesses of the right wing in power. From ... Shelley Berman's nervous flier to Woody Allen's mockery of CUNY ethics and Nichols and May's sublime catalogue of the sounds of tolerance ("Well, Al Schweitzer is just a great guy. Al is a lot of laughs. I personally have never dated him"), their subject was liberalism and its pieties.... the bulk of Mort Sahl's material, beyond a couple of anti-McCarthy jokes long after McCarthy was out of power, wasn't political -- and, to the degree that it was, it mostly mocked liberal saints like the Kennedys.... Lenny Bruce may have been victimized by the police and the judiciary, but he seldom made fun of them -- partly because he had a twisted, junkie's respect for anyone who had contempt for him, but mostly because there wasn't enough life in what they did to be very funny.... Nichols and May are funny because they have perfect pitch for the holy words of progressive culture ("I can never believe that Bartok died on Central Park West"). Well past the high-water mark of McCarthyism, the comedians were mocking liberalism....

Although they certainly do mock "the excesses of the right wing in power," this is what Stewart and Colbert often do -- and I think the phrase "respect for anyone who had contempt for him" absolutely applies to how Stewart, in particular, feels (on behalf of his own liberal team) about Fox News. Check out the clip above if you don't believe that.

Hewitt was responding to an Anne Applebaum column in The Washington Post, which argues that moderation exists these days only as a Stewart/Colbert joke, because right-wingers contemptuously call conservative moderates "liberals" and angry left-wingers call Blue Dogs "conservatives." On the right, there's hardly anything but that kind of purism -- I think the phrase "Stalinist purge" is apropos here, and is just a slight exaggeration -- but on the left, there's at least as much Stewart/Colbert/"rebel comedian" self-mockery as there is Firebaggerism, and probably a lot more.

We make fun of our side. We laugh at comics who make fun of our side. We want what we want politically, and we think right-wingers are more absurd than we are ourselves, but we have plenty of disrespect for our own kind. Do righties? Do righties ever mock their own?

Stewart and Colbert are trying to be the kinds of partisans Applebaum wants -- partisans who are willing to concede some points to the other side -- but the thanks they get are responses like Hewitt's.

And that's why moderation is dead right now.

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