I’m a massive fan of the Daily Show. In the dark days of Dubya, it was a welcome – and all-too-rare – voice of sanity from the other side of the Atlantic, and since Obama took power it’s never been anything but on-target in its skewering of the hysterical reporting of Fox News and the rest of the batshit-crazy American right.
One of the best things about the programme is that it’s non-partisan, but rarely strives for ‘balance’ for its own sake; Jon Stewart is perfectly willing to attack Democrats and liberal commentators on MSNBC, and his arguments with senior Republicans who appear on his show as guests probably constitute some of the most constructive political dialogue currently on TV in the US, but this hasn’t compromised either Stewart’s or the programme’s liberal-left slant.
But when it comes to Stewart’s upcoming Rally to Restore Sanity (now merged with Stephen Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive to form the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear), I can’t bring myself to feel the same enthusiasm, and not just because it’s happening several thousand miles away. ‘We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat’, the rally’s website states. So the march is aimed at opposing both the Tea Partiers and their cheerleaders on the right, who are convinced Obama is a Kenyan-born communist Muslim Nazi and are all but calling for armed revolt on one side, and those on the left who…think the Iraq War was illegal, that the 2000 election was at best dodgy, and that the Tea Party movement is at least partly motivated by racism?
The simple fact is that there is no leftwing or liberal counterpart to the Tea Party in the US of anything like the same size, and it’s disingenuous to suggest there is. There are certainly cranks and conspiracy theorists, as there are among people of practically any political persuasion, but they’re a fairly insignificant minority. Suggesting otherwise is to fall into the false equivalence trap. It’s the same mistake the BBC makes when it feels the need to invite a climate change denier on the air whenever there’s a story about global warming. Combined with the fact that the event is billed as a rally ‘against extremism’, this implies that the most vocal political voices are also the most extreme (when American political discourse is skewed so far to the right that ‘liberal’ and ‘socialist’ have become synonymous), and that the most sensible place to be politically is somewhere between the two.
Jon Stewart isn’t a ‘moderate’; by American standards he’s definitely a man of the left (he’s even on record as describing himself as a socialist), but by painting the Rally as the quiet, sensible compromise between two insane extremes, he’s taking a position only slightly less facile than the crap the Tea Partiers come out with. Restoring civility to American politics isn’t a bad aim by any means, but suggesting that the problem is simply one of ‘extremism’ is deeply problematic.