Tag Archives: Daily Show

Death of a newsman

Like everyone else, I too mourn the impending demise of America’s favorite faux-anchor, Stephen Colbert. (Here I refer to the character; the man will, presumably, live on.) Unlike so many others on late-night TV, Colbert is left oddly without a protégé. Even The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart — the closest thing Colbert has to a peer these days — returned from a hiatus last summer only to find his replacement, John Oliver, being popularly crowned as his successor. (Oliver now has a new show on HBO, but he’s still my odds-on favorite to return when Stewart eventually bows out.)

Colbert, meanwhile, occupies a rarified air all his own, a Bill O’Reilly facsimile for all of us who despise the real one. Which leads me to wonder, half-seriously, if that’s what all of the handwringing over his departure is about in the first place.

As I’ve written before, the idea of Stewart and Colbert as Heroic Liberals has always been more myth than reality. There is little evidence to suggest that either of them truly desires a progressive transformation of Stateside democracy: a little tax reform here, a little less voter discrimination there, sure. But one rarely gets the sense that the duo’s comedy informs their activism, rather than the other way around.

Indeed, Stewart’s passion has not aged well. He won early accolades for his righteously indignant takedown of CNN’s Crossfire, a program with a premise so stupid that the hapless network couldn’t resist reviving it late last summer. Then in 2010, The New York Times made the dramatic comparison to Edward Murrow after Stewart successfully advocated (with evident feeling) for healthcare funding on behalf of 9/11 first responders.

But where Stewart’s satire cut viciously in the Bush years, his Obama-era humor has begun to feel almost formulaic. In January 2010, Stewart’s timid interview with torture memo author John Yoo was so universally panned that he apologized for his performance the next night. His later conversation with Donald Rumsfeld wasn’t terribly better (“I feel like we’re on the porch drinking lemonade,” Stewart remarked).

Colbert, on the other hand, didn’t initially enjoy the same reputation for edgy confrontation (although his 2006 speech at the absurd spectacle that is the White House Correspondents Dinner remains a masterpiece of the genre). But where Stewart has occasionally been known to throw a knockout punch or two in person (Jim Cramer springs to mind), Colbert’s victims are largely crucified in absentia. In between, he had his head shaved by a U.S. Army general on a base in Iraq.

Two years ago, Steve Almond took a long look at these two comedians and threw up his hands:

Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously.

Our lazy embrace of Stewart and Colbert is a testament to our own impoverished comic standards. We have come to accept coy mockery as genuine subversion and snarky mimesis as originality. It would be more accurate to describe our golden age of political comedy as the peak output of a lucrative corporate plantation whose chief export is a cheap and powerful opiate for progressive angst and rage.

His frustrations are certainly valid. But more to the point, it seems to me that Almond’s expectations scooted far away from reality. It’s one thing to excoriate the audiences of Stewart and Colbert for their complacency, and quite another to assume that they share Almond’s progressive ideals. For that matter, it seems even less justifiable to assume the two guys peering into our living rooms from behind their news desks four nights a week are all that different from most of the people staring right back at them — that is to say, mainstream urban America.

If Colbert’s upcoming exodus to late-night network TV feels like a betrayal, it’s a curiously one-sided one. It brings to mind my gradual realization, during my mid-teens, that the inveterate hatred I felt for the New York Yankees was not shared by my idols wearing Red Sox uniforms, who routinely exchanged jokes with Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter as they made their away around the infield diamond and, all too often, later donned the pinstripes themselves. Turns out the Sox and Yankees were not nearly the polar opposites I’d always supposed, and that they had more in common with each other as pro ballplayers than either of them had with me. It seems to be taking all of us a little longer to reach the same realization about our comedians.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The real Chris Christie

He’s just as funny as you might expect. But aside from the comedy, the New Jersey governor’s conversation Thursday with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show is possibly one of the best about the role of government that’s aired on American television in quite some time:

The interview kicked off with some fellow New Jerseyan and Bruce Springsteen bonding, but quickly moved into the governor’s need for federal assistance in the wake of the hurricane and whether or not that contradicts with the overall philosophical view of conservatives. To make the point, Stewart brought up Christie’s recent rejection of the bill to set up healthcare exchanges in his state, likening an individual’s healthcare crisis to a statewide catastrophe. “If you have cancer and you don’t have insurance, that’s Hurricane Sandy,” Stewart explained.

Stewart went on to assert that Republicans seem to have empathy over only those issues that affect them directly, deferring to the “free market” on everything else, but Christie disagreed. “Republicans like to have the free market, or capitalism, run things except when they believe that government is the only way to solve the problem.”

I’m unable to embed these particular videos here, so just follow the link and watch the whole thing.

Bill Clinton’s worrisome economics

Note from Jay Pinho: Below is the second guest post (as well as the second guest contributor) on The First Casualty.

Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention nearly three weeks ago was hailed as one of the great speeches of our time. Chris Matthews was in rare form describing Mr Clinton’s speech as “one of the greatest in convention history.” Indeed, Mr. Matthews was so impressed by the former President’s rhetoric that he not only felt confident asserting 42’s ability to reproduce on Mars, but reproducing with actual Martians. (Unfortunately, it is not yet clear whether a speech evoking the possibility of Clintonian-Martian reproduction tops a speech resulting in thrills up one’s leg.)

Jon Stewart, arguably the most powerful man in American news, lauded the President for his “amazing display of actually saying stuff.”

And it was to Stewart’s Daily Show that Mr. Clinton–a frequent guest–returned on Thursday night, doubling down on the economic principles he had espoused in Charlotte. Paramount among his economic principles is the belief that government and business should partner and work together in determining economic policy.

Mr. Clinton’s argument, of course, is nothing new. In fact, it was on the same show just last year that he provided a concrete example of a good partnership between government and business, namely Germany’s government support for the solar energy industry. Mr. Clinton proudly asserted that a country where the sun hardly ever shines–on that he’s right!–was a global leader in the production of solar energy.

Yet it should come as no surprise that Mr. Clinton no longer uses that example when advocating for partnerships between the public and private sectors. Why? Since Mr. Clinton was on the Daily Show in November 2011, four German solar companies have filed for bankruptcy–in spite of government subsidies in the industry in excess of €100 billion.

In pursuing industrial policy, governments support particular goals they deem worthwhile. But therein lies the problem. For when domestic producers cannot compete with foreign competition–as is the case with Germany’s solar industry–or when there is too little demand for products from subsidized industries, the socialization of monetary losses is finalized.

Even when support for particular industries does not fail in the ordinary sense, however, government support for particular industries distorts the market. (The nature of the market, unfortunately, is too often poorly understood, as evidenced by Mr. Stewart’s mocking of the non-existent “market fairy.” The market does not have an independent mind or will in the way a fairy might; rather, the market is merely an aggregation of individuals’ valuations about goods in society. To attack the market is to attack individuals’ valuations.)

Following, government subsidies are meant to change consumer behavior by pretending to lower the cost of goods which are not valued highly enough by individuals to be self-sustaining. (They do not lower actual costs, however, as subsidies must be paid for through tax revenues.) Or subsidies are put in place to protect national industry from competition from abroad. It goes without saying that this alleged protection also “protects” consumers from cheaper imports.

Now, steadfast opposition to market interventions–i.e. to influencing prices–does not imply that government does not have a role in creating the market framework. In fact, a capitalist economy can only function with a proper economic constitution. On the one hand, this may imply government provision of public goods, i.e. goods wherein one’s consumption neither reduces another’s consumption, nor where it is possible to exclude individuals from consuming goods. On the other hand, this also includes a functioning legal system, antitrust laws, and even state regulation. As ordoliberals like to point out: government should set up the rules for the game, it should not actively play the game.

If this were what Mr. Clinton was talking about when he advocated on behalf of a partnership between the public and private sectors, all would be well. Unfortunately, his view of public-private partnership implies government actively playing the game of the market. Indeed, America would do well to reject 42’s economic philosophy.

Mark McAdam is a football guru. When he’s not writing about the Bundesliga, he advocates on behalf of free societies. He has a Master’s degree in “Politics, Economics & Philosophy” and studied at the University of Hamburg’s Institute for Economic Systems, the History of Economic Thought and the History of Ideas.

stewart

A response to Steve Almond on our late-night political comedians

Jon Stewart

Michael Potemra of the National Review Online takes issue with Steve Almond’s critique of the late-night comedy duo Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (previously covered here):

The Baffler writer…calls the work of Colbert and Stewart an “almost entirely therapeutic” attempt to “congratulate” the viewers, and criticizes the viewers for “accept[ing] coy mockery as genuine subversion.”

But what if we, the viewers, don’t want genuine subversion of the exact same things you happen to want to subvert? Furthermore, what if we don’t mind laughing even about some things we agree with? Both Colbert and Stewart make fun of some of my own political views. I was thinking of saying that I like them in spite of this; it might be more accurate to say that I like them, at least in part, not in spite of this but because of it — because I don’t want to live in a country where people can’t laugh at themselves, and where everybody takes himself and his own opinions as seriously as the Baffler guy seems to.

I don’t think this debate comes down to who takes himself more seriously. It’s about who you think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are. If you think they’re simply comedians, you react as does Potemra. But if you suspect that behind their mock rage lies something a little more like…real rage, then perhaps you wonder, as Steve Almond does, why they don’t take that last, significant leap into hard-edged social commentary. Instead, we’re treated to the now all-too-familiar sight of Jon Stewart retreating behind the tired trope of “I’m just a comedian.”

Which he isn’t. Comedians generally don’t get CNN shows canceled. And they don’t play major roles in passing healthcare legislation for 9/11 first responders. Stewart, like so many of The Daily Show‘s hapless victims, wants it both ways. It’s just that, since he himself is the subject of this conversation, we don’t have someone funny around to point out his blatant inconsistencies.

Instead, we have Steve Almond. Where Potemra is right, I think, is in judging just how mainstream Stewart really is. Over the past few years, I, too, have wondered if Stewart were going soft. But more and more I’m guessing he was never that leftist to begin with. The Bush years presented fruit ripe for the picking, so it was easy to paint Stewart as a liberal. But now that a Democrat (albeit a fairly conservative one) is in the White House, it’s quickly become apparent that Stewart has little interest in pressing against the dominant strand of right-wing thought that’s gripped American politics over the last few years.

Like Steve Almond, I want Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to take up the liberal baton with more vigor. I’m just not sure if that’s who they are, or if it’s simply who I wish they were.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan at the always-excellent Dish for linking to Potemra’s piece.)