I'm not sure where I'd be if I woke up one morning and discovered that Alternet and Salon were suddenly bastions of rational, practical thinking, free from ridiculously pie-in-the-sky moralizing and a lot of liberals shooting themselves in the collective foot. I think it would be like Matt Taibbi finding out that Tom Friedman had finally learned how to use metaphors properly and wasn't incessantly fixated on drawing grand global theories based on a two-minute conversation he had with his driver. What would I have to give me a laugh with my morning coffee if there weren't David Sirota and columns like the one on Jon Stewart currently getting the Alternet-Salon double-barreling?
In the piece, titled "7 Examples of Cowardice on 'The Daily Show'," blogger Scott Hill calls out what he sees as a pattern of spinelessness on the part of Jon Stewart, even going so far as to ask why the host "wimps out" so often. Sure, he mentions right off the bat that The Daily Show has made TV a smarter entity and has, on the whole, taken aim at some very big targets in government and pop culture. But that apparently doesn't make up for the fact that, when faced with having to interview a powerful person, Stewart supposedly backs down quite a bit more than he should.
The piece counts down what Hill has determined are just a few instances of this, including Stewart's not ripping the heads off of Condoleezza Rice and Lynne Cheney when he had the chance and his supposed servile exaltation of David Petraeus when face-to-face with the biographer who fucked him both figuratively and literally. Hill also cites as a glaring missed opportunity to stick it to those who truly deserved it Stewart and Colbert's 2010 Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear, which he says was little more than "a variety show marked by vacant rhetoric." This was a pretty standard complaint from a predictable segment of the left in the wake of the rally, with those who no doubt wanted to see a 60s-style street protest full of fire-and-brimstone and piss-and-vinegar sticking out their lower lip, shoving their hands in their pockets and kicking the dirt in front of them because what they got was, well, sanity.
It's unfortunate that this still has to be said, two-and-a-half years later, but here's the deal with Stewart and Colbert's attitudes about what they hoped to accomplish with their gathering: The right was always going to completely diminish and discount the Rally To Restore Sanity; it had to. So with that in mind, the people the rally was meant to appeal to were those center-left -- the independents and realistic progressives -- and I have to believe that those people are smart enough to know that Stewart's point would find more accepting ears if he went out of his way to make that point expressly non-partisan. And the only way to do that was to, at least on the surface, imply that each side has amplified the rhetoric to deafening levels. The ones who understood that the right was and is doing it in far more ridiculous and pronounced ways were always going to know that one side was worse, and they were probably also well aware that Stewart knew that too. By that standard, the Rally To Restore Sanity, while not the seismic game-changer the perpetually aggrieved faction of the left demanded, was a pretty big success.
I certainly don't mean to pick on Scott Hill specifically; I have no doubt his intentions are pure. But his piece and those like it -- and there are oh so many like it -- stand as the most aggravating examples of the institutional left's complete lack of smart pragmatism when it comes to accomplishing its goals and its breathtaking lack of gratitude toward those who are helping them in immeasurable ways. Beating up on Jon Stewart -- calling him a coward for not using bombast and throat-grabbing to get the progressive point across at every single turn -- isn't simply a case of perfect being the enemy of good. It's perfect being the enemy of excellent. No one, and I mean no one, has done more to advance the liberal mindset and make it part of the popular culture these days than Stewart and The Daily Show. And Stewart's done it by doing exactly the opposite of what those who bitch and moan about him spend so much time and effort doing: He uses sly humor, peppered with only occasional outbursts of very righteous anger, to make his beliefs and the beliefs of most progressives truly hit home. He uses sugar to help the medicine go down.
Also worth mentioning is this: If you're trying to call Stewart out in the hope that he'll make the changes you want and get tougher in the ways you think he should, I've got some really bad news for you. Jon Stewart isn't changing shit. What he does works. He knows it and so does anyone not blinded by intransigent political ideology. Stewart doesn't give a crap what the never-satisfied-anyway segment of the left thinks of him, nor should he.
Last week, the raving 60s throwbacks of Code Pink released a memo that they claimed was from Jon Stewart, praising them -- particularly their founder Medea Benjamin, whom the "Jon Stewart" in the release described as "his friend" -- and demanding more transparency from Barack Obama on the U.S.'s drone program, a favorite boogeyman of Code Pink. Anybody who knows Stewart knows that his take on Code Pink in the past has been that their antics -- screeching at government meetings, producing weird puppets at confirmation hearings, and marching around in colorful papier-mâché effigies -- in his own words, are "not helping." Code Pink almost certainly issued the fake statement to get a response out of Stewart on the air, the kind of comically counterproductive activism and publicity-seeking you'd expect from them.
But what Code Pink doesn't realize, what those who demand that Jon Stewart be more ferocious in his attacks from the left don't seem to get, is that unlike them, Stewart's brand of activism is effective. It actually works.