The scary part is that central to Stewart’s message on Saturday was what one of best media critics around — the New York University professor Jay Rosen — calls “the view from nowhere,” the same kind of high-minded pooh-pooing of the messy fray of actual democracy, including passion and commitment that involves fighting in the muck of ideas, that the kind of people who gathered on the National Mall once detested from the likes of the punditocracy’s naysayer-in-chief, David Broder.
When you have an obligation to remain outside the arena, it is also tempting to feel above the partisans who are struggling within that arena. (But then where else are they going to struggle?) You learn the attractions of a view from nowhere. The daily gift of detachment keeps giving, until you’re almost “above” anyone who tries to get too political with you, or at least in the middle with the microphone between warring factions. There’s power in that; and where there’s power, there’s attraction.
Unfortunately, the real work of restoring sanity in America is hard, and it begins “somewhere.” On Saturday, I found myself agreeing with the Twitter observations of cartoonist Tom Tomorrow (whose strips were also a breath of sanity during the worst of the Bush years), who wrote, “Jon Stewart 1964: let’s just agree to disagree on this whole “civil rights” issue,” and Keith Olbermann, the first major TV figure to call “insanity” during the mid-2000s, who wrote, “The America before today’s cable wasn’t reasonable discussion.It was the 1-sided lockstep of Fox and people afraid of Fox.That got us Iraq.”
Obviously I couldn’t agree more. The centerpiece of any democracy is fierce debate, and what Stewart missed with the conception and execution of the Rally was the fact that democracy depends upon fiercely arguing a position based on reality and facts. Instead, he lumped in that ideal with people like Beck, Limbaugh and others who often fiercely argue positions based on conspiracy-mongering and bumper sticker sloganeering without any actual substance.
It’s not insane to get up in Sarah Palin’s face on Twitter or in Bill O’Reilly’s face on cable news and instruct them with significant toughness of the provable reality that the Democrats cut the deficit by $122 billion this year, or that global warming is real and man-made, or that “right-wing extremism” exists and is being stoked by right-wing talkers, or that certain high-profile leaders of the tea party have displayed racist behavior. It’s our obligation as participants in a democracy to do this. It’s not insane. And it’s not the same as Glenn Beck drawing gibberish on a chalkboard and using it to prove the existence of history’s first and only African-American Nazi (??).
Too often throughout the last 30 years, liberals/progressives have taken the high road. And too often, we’ve been manhandled. Enough of that. I sincerely hope no progressives were dissuaded from fighting, from getting loud, from counterattacking the insanity on the right with unwavering strength. As Bunch and Rosen are suggesting: to STFU in the chaos of democracy for the sake of not wanting to ruffle any feathers isn’t an admirable position — it’s giving up and conceding the fight.
Adding… Another clarification here. I have issues with one — ONE! — aspect of the Rally: specifically the thing that I’ve been writing about for months now, which is the “both sides” meme. Not the whole Rally or what it achieved in terms of participation. And yes, I still dig Jon Stewart.