I’m so thrilled that Digby has been sticking it to Jon Stewart on his “both sides” meme. Again, I dig Stewart, but this bullshit about how both the left and the right are somehow analogous has to stop. Stewart’s too smart and savvy to be climbing into the David Broder / Mark Halperin / Morning Joe tent.
The interesting thing about all this to me is that the left’s original critique of the mainstream media was that they affected this pose of being “objective” with this he said/she said . ( Jay Rosen has developed an entire thesis about it, called “the view from nowhere.”) And Stewart isn’t doing that exactly, even though he takes great pride in drawing an equivalence between the politics of Fox, which is owned by a giant corporation with an explicit, coordinated partisan goal and the “politics” of MSNBC which is also owned by a giant corporation and has allowed a couple of liberal voices to speak in public for purely pecuniary reasons. Instead, he’s telling liberals (nobody else cares what he thinks) that it’s more important to behave in a dignified, fair fashion than to stand up for your beliefs in a way that could be perceived as unseemly or one-sided. That makes you as bad as the other side.
Except, of course, it really doesn’t. It’s really about what you’re fighting for. Tea partiers were trying to stop the federal government from reforming our health care system so that middle class workers will not go broke or die if they get sick. The Wisconsin protesters are trying to stop the Republican governor from making it illegal for them to belong to a union so that they can live a decent middle class life. Can we all see the pattern here? I’m sorry that people are misbehaving and failing to have the Oxford style debate that Stewart seems to think we should have, but this is a big argument that’s taking place and I’m fairly sure that it’s not going to be resolved by having some elite representatives of both sides sitting around Charlie Rose’s table hashing it all out and then going out for drinks afterwards. Neither do I think that’s what’s important. If the Tea partiers had been well-behaved, would it have made their noxious politics any better? I don’t think so.
Calls for”civility”are usually just a way to shut people up and sadly, I’m fairly sure that the only people who listen to Stewart are liberals who are getting the idea that it’s wrong to get in the streets or call out the other side in rough language.
The ultimate impact of the meme is “if everyone’s wrong, then no one’s wrong.” One of the leading reasons why Democrats (liberals in the broadest sense) don’t retain power for very long in the post-Reagan era is that as soon as we attain power, we engage in this navel-gazing, self-flagellating behavior and attack our own people — often as fiercely as we attack the right. This tends to strip power from Democrats by dividing the message of activists, rather than focusing it in a unified direction — and it ultimately forces Democrats to move to the right where more electoral power exists, and where people are more ideologically focused.
Put another way… You’re a politician. A Democratic member of the House in a swing district. You have to be re-elected every two years and you’re constantly campaigning and fundraising. Would you rather swing to the left where attention is divided between attacking YOU and the Republicans (in the case of firebaggers, perhaps exclusively you)? Or would you rather swing to the right where political support tends to be more consistent (Republican voters aren’t nearly as self-critical as Democrats)? In general, job security means sticking with the people who will have your back more consistently rather than dividing your political strength between your right and your left flanks. If the left is never satisfied anyway, why freaking bother with them?
The “both sides” meme puts Democrats at a disadvantage — even though it’s “both sides” –because you rarely hear “both sides” from Republicans. It’s almost always from liberal and moderate Democrats. So we kick our own asses. It makes no sense. Ultimately, it creates a disillusionment among liberals. Both sides are screwing us, so what’s the use? Vote Green! Vote Nader! And lose every time.
Fact: both sides aren’t the same. They’re not same in the way they argue, they’re not the same in terms of the volume and number of crazies, they’re not the same in terms of TV and radio presence (not by a long, long shot), and they’re not the same in terms of policy. Look at the Obama record and tell me a Republican would have passed any of this. Then tell me both sides are the same.