Heroic supremo of satire Jon Stewart is holding a “Rally To Restore Sanity” in Washington, D.C. at the end of the month.
The intent is to provide a counterpoint to the frenetic, zealous, ideological, deranged tone that seems to have taken hold of Stateside politics in recent months. “Take it down a notch for America,” is the cry going out to everyone who wants the best for their country but can’t seem to stop screaming incoherently about it.
Predictably, there have been some objections to this idea, mostly from the right-wing, anti-sanity lobby. But there are some more reasonable-sounding people taking issue with the rally.
Mark Engler has some interesting points, but in the end I’m not sure he’s being entirely fair.
The idea of “both sides equally going overboard” in current US politics might be something of a straw man, but it’s not one I’ve ever seen Jon Stewart attempting to erect. The impression I’ve tended to gather from his show is that the right wing are the ones most disconnected from reality by far, and that while the left are certainly capable of the same kind of delusional retreat into their own parallel world, it doesn’t seem to happen to them on the same scale. Most of the ridicule they’ve received has been centred on their dismal failure to take advantage of the right’s dissolving grip on its logical faculties, or to take charge and push forward with any sort of coherent plan.
So I don’t see his point as being that anyone who’s not politically central needs to rein it in, whatever their views, for exactly the same reasons as everyone else on either side. That really would be crazy. The skeptical movement knows full well the ridiculousness of always insisting on a middle road between any extreme views (cf. “Teach the controversy” in science classrooms, and also this from SMBC Theater). And it’s not like The Daily Show’s never taken a strong stance and made it very clear that one side is simply correct on some matter.
(It’s implied in a quote from another article that right-wingers who claim Obama is a Kenyan socialist and lefties who want George W Bush tried as a war criminal are equivalently nutty ends of the spectrum, according to Jon Stewart’s apparent political perception. If this is a fair representation, then I’m not entirely with Jon on this, and I can see how this seems as if he’s over-keen to be taking the politically safe middle road.)
Jon’s point doesn’t seem to me to be that all political views should be centrist – moderated from any politically right or left opinion so as to be always inoffensively middle-of-the-road. He seems to be focusing more on the tone of the debate. One of the example placards he held up when announcing the rally read something like: “I disagree with what you say, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler”. Which is the sort of thing it would be nice to hear sometimes, as a counterpoint to… well, you can find some recent examples of Godwin’s Law in action yourself.
And I’m still on board with this sense of “moderation”. I’ve met people who I disagreed with strongly but who I could have a pleasant chat about it with; I’ve met people I’ve shared almost every important opinion with but who somehow manage to seem like dicks. And as much as I’m hesitant to encourage people who disagree with me in their ongoing wrongness, I think the former kind of relationship deserves to be nurtured more than the latter.
The article cites Bill Kristol, who’s been on The Daily Show a few times, and confirms my half-remembered assessment of him: charming, polite, reasonable in tone, and dangerously wrong about how the country should be run on almost every level.
Obviously this isn’t ideal, but I don’t agree that the tone is irrelevant to the quality of the discussion, when considered against the effect of the ideas being expressed.
Actually, that’s not quite right. What I think this article misses is that the tone, volume, and demeanour themselves express ideas, which can be conducive to dialogue or dangerously oppressive.
When Bill Kristol politely and composedly says what he thinks, it might promote some pretty dreadful ideas. But it doesn’t tacitly promote the idea that anyone who disagrees with him must be some kind of communist nazi antipatriot.
The Tea Party’s tone, however, seems to carry exactly that sort of implication for anyone who dares to question whatever future proclamations issue from this self-selected band of “Real Americans”. And that is a dangerous idea.
It makes it difficult, once people have been drawn into the movement by the pervasive sense of tribalism, for them to hear any criticism, consider their own position rationally, or escape from the manic path on which they find themselves, regardless of where it ends up taking them. That’s something I feel I can support taking a moderate stand against.