Jon Stewart this past weekend gave a barn-burner of a speech adjacent to his “Rally to Restore Sanity.” The embed:
And the transcript, thank you, Huffington Post:
And now I thought we might have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity. If that’s okay—I know that there are boundaries for a comedian / pundit / talker guy, and I’m sure that I’ll find out tomorrow how I have violated them.
So, uh, what exactly was this? I can’t control what people think this was: I can only tell you my intentions.
This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear—they are, and we do.
But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke.
The country’s 24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the dangerous, unexpected flaming ants epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.
There are terrorists, and racists, and Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned! You must have the resume! Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Party-ers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult—not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more.
The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker—and, perhaps, eczema. And yet… I feel good. Strangely, calmly, good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us, through a funhouse mirror—and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist, and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead, and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin, and one eyeball.
So why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle, to a pumpkin-assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable—why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution, and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?
We hear every damned day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done. The truth is, we do! We work together to get things done every damned day! The only place we don’t is here (in Washington) or on cable TV!
But Americans don’t live here, or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done—not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.
Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do! But they do it. Impossible things, every day, that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make.
(Points to video screen, showing video of cars in traffic.) Look on the screen. This is where we are, this is who we are. These cars. That’s a schoolteacher who probably think his taxes are too high, he’s going to work. There’s another car, a woman with two small kids, can’t really think about anything else right now… A lady’s in the NRA, loves Oprah. There’s another car, an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter; another car, a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan.
But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief, and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers’. And yet, these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze, one by one, into a mile-long, 30-foot-wide tunnel, carved underneath a mighty river.
And they do it, concession by concession: you go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. ‘Oh my God—is that an NRA sticker on your car?’ ‘Is that an Obama sticker on your car?’ It’s okay—you go, then I go.
And sure, at some point, there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder, and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare, and he is scorned, and he is not hired as an analyst!
Because we know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land.
Sometimes, it’s just New Jersey.
That’s nice and all, but:
I think Stewart’s sentiment here ignores a vital truth about American small-d democracy today, and in fact, which has permeated the political landscape since, oh, I dunno, 1776? And that is, quite simply, that there are and always have been two competing and disparate visions in this country regarding the role of the federal government.
The side I most often find myself on values something called “the commons” and believes that one of government’s most vital roles is to maintain and regulate that shared, necessary infrastructure that is vital to a strong, thriving democracy and, not to mention, a robust economy.
I think, for example, that a strong public school system benefits everyone, including those who do not have children. If my cabbie can read and count, if the waitress can count change, and if a select few of public-educated children develop a method for creating a heart muscle in a test tube, the benefit is for everyone and for sea to shining sea as well. I think as well that a nation’s banking system is part of the commons, and I think that the overzealous privateers in that industry have recently proven to us what happens when it is removed from that designation. I think a nation is only as strong as its shared infrastructure, and that one role of government is to tax its citizens and to use the proceeds to build and maintain that infrastructure.
This is a vastly different viewpoint from the “ideas” that drive today’s weird political rhetoric, the notion that everything and anything should be bought and done for a profit, that ownership is the only virtue, that the “free market” is the One True God, that a person who advocates for the commons is by default a communist.
This is not on-ramp traffic. It is a protracted war, a longstanding attempt by millionaires and billionaires to pave over and to wall into sections the commons, and the peoples’ attempt to prevent them from doing so.
One additional note regarding Stewart’s commentary regarding cable television news: Equivocating Keith Olbermann’s rhetorical style somehow with that of those who are employed by Fox “News” is ridiculous. Not to say that everyone should supplant news sources completely with any cable television news program, but I dare say that at least Olbermann is not cheering on the folks who are leading us into the next dark age.