Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sanity Restored?

Since I moved entirely across the country, from our nations #2 worst traffic to its #1, I have primarily missed my friends.  My attitude towards friendship is one I hope to explore in a future blog someday; for now let it suffice to say that personal relationships are the thing I most value in life.  So, yes, I’ve missed seeing those people every day to whom I’d grown close.  And that’s it.  Really, nothing else about living on the East Coast was worth crying over.  Oh, perhaps I spent a few moments here and there bemoaning the radical difference in Chinese food (you order chow mein here and they bring you lo mein, for Christ’s sake!).  But that’s hardly a serious worry.  Basically, if everyone I had left behind just had the good sense to move out to California like I did, there would not be a single reason for me to ever regret no longer living in Washington DC.

Well, until yesterday.

For the first time in three and a half years, I actually thought about not living in DC any more and went “bummer.”  The reason?  Why, Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, of course.

I was listening to NPR on my way home just Friday night, and I heard this curious comment, from Timothy Noah, who is apparently a “senior writer” at Slate:

I have had the growing suspicion that the participants in this rally don’t entirely think of it as a comedy show, anyway. I think that they are mistaking this participation in this rally, they are mistaking for some sort of political statement. That confusion troubles me.

Now, normally I like Slate, but I have to say that Mr. Noah’s confusion troubles me.  The idea that someone might make a political statement that is neither Democratic nor Republican, neither Conservative nor Liberal, neither right nor left, is obviously so inconceivable to Mr. Noah that he can’t even consider it.  No, any attempt to “restore sanity” to our political process is obviously a “comedy show,” of course.  And he sure hopes everyone who goes there knows that they’re just supposed to laugh at the silly men on stage and then go home and get serious about voting.  ‘Cause if those people thought they were making some sort of “political statement” ... well, that would just be sad.  Imagine that! a political statement about reasonableness and compromise!  What a joke!

Now, at this point I have self-identified as a Liberal, because I have not only admitted to watching “The Daily Show” but also to listening to NPR.  Geez, how much more liberal could I get?  Well, obviously I could be watching MSNBC or listening to Air America, but somehow that distinction is lost on most people who lean even slightly to the right.  So I fear I will have to let you know that, if you already think I’m a Liberal at this point, there’s not much point in reading further (not that you should be reading at all, of course: see title of blog).  If you know that people who listen to NPR and Jon Stewart are Liberals, then you already know everything about reasonableness and compromise that you’re going to learn in this lifetime.  So save yourself a giant waste of time and move along.

So the question for those of us who remain is, am I a Liberal?  A famous Winston Churchill misquote (though based on actual quotes from some French dudes) is: “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”  There is something to be said for that line of thought, I suppose.  In American society at least (and I suspect in most Western countries), the older you get, the more you have to deal with monetary reality, and the less you have to deal with sociological pronouncements from academics.  With that sort of climate shift, is it any wonder that you might start caring more about the amount of money that the government removes from your pocket than the disadvantaged members of our society who eventually receive it?  You perhaps have a family now, and you require money to keep them safe and happy, and more money to send your children to school (maybe a private school, and certainly college), and then what about retirement?  You want to take my money and give it to “poor” people?  By God, if you keep on dipping into my wallet like this, I’ll be poor!

So I’m not saying I don’t understand it.  I’m just saying I don’t buy into it.  I know that there are people in our very own “richest country in the world” who are starving to death, and it isn’t because they’re lazy, because they’ve been coddled for too long on our cushy welfare system, or because of some defect of character.  Those who believe this—even very quietly, to themselves—remind me of Ebeneezer Scrooge ... not the fellow from the countless theatrical adaptations, but the fellow from Dickens’ own pen:  Are there no prisons?  And the Union workhouses?  Are they still in operation?  The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?  Ah, but Scrooge, many can’t go there, and many would rather die.  Well, if they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

This seems to follow, not only very logically, but inevitably, from the proposition that I’m taxed too much.  I’m sorry, but as long as there are people in the streets of my city starving to death, I’m not being taxed too much.  And we can argue that the government’s vast inefficiency is swallowing the money instead of it getting to the people who need it, and we can argue about whether the homeless poeple you see on the streets are actually starving or whether, no, they’re quite well off: they can make more beggging than many people do in an honest day’s work, and blah de blah de blah.  That’s just fiddly bits.  The basic question is whether you believe that you, as someone who is most likely middle-class, as someone who most likely has never had to wonder where your next meal might come from, bear any financial responsibility whatsoever for those less fortunate than you, or whether you believe in saying “fuck ’em.”  You can dress it up and call it capitalism and wax eloquent about it being the foundation of our system, but, in the end, it really is that simple.  At least to me.

So, yeah, I reckon I’m a Liberal, and an old Liberal at that.  I suppose that makes me brainless.  Of course, if you followed that link about Churchill’s misquote above, you perhaps read this: “Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!”  So at least I’m in good company.  (Not that I was a Conservative at 15, or any other age.  But you know what I mean.)

Now, I’m not entirely a Liberal, of course.  Hardly anyone ever is entirely this or that.  For instance, I’m in favor of the death penalty, and I’m opposed to gun control (for the most part).  But, sure, I’m mostly a Liberal, and I don’t really have any problem with admitting that.  So, as a Liberal, the Conservative is my arch-nemesis, right?

But that’s just silly.  Let’s take my friend Alain.  Now, Alain might say that he’s more of a Libertarian, but, then, I might say that too, and that hardly demonstrates the great political divide between us.  So let’s just stick with the classic right/left thing.  Do I think that Alain is a moron?  No, of course not.  Do I even think that he is a heartless bastard?  I emphatically know that he is not: honestly, he wouldn’t be a friend of mine if he was.  He’s just someone who has a different perspective than I do.  And you may recall that I even pointed out that I understood his perspective.

On the other hand, Alain is one of those people who knows that I’m a Liberal based on my Tv and radio choices.  And that I really don’t understand.  Alain tried to explain to me once why he thought Jon Stewart was a Liberal, even though he makes fun of everyone.  “When he makes fun of Liberals, he makes fun of what they say.  When he makes fun of Conservatives, he makes fun of what they believe.”  Now, for the life of me, I can’t see this on the show.  Obama is someone I supported very strongly for president, but he hasn’t always lived up to my expectations, and Stewart has always been there to point those things out as well, often quite unflatteringly.  He has roasted Nancy Pelosi just as mercilessly as Karl Rove, and lampooned MSNBC every bit as much as Fox.  This past week, he interviewed Obama directly.  When Obama tried to weasel his way out of a question Stewart had to put to him, Stewart came right back and asked the question again.  Did he fail to push as hard as perhaps some Conservatives would have liked?  No doubt.  But he’s played that same softball with many Conservatives as well: the man’s just a polite interviewer.

So I watch Jon Stewart because he’s an equal opportunity critic.  Because he’s sane and reasonable in his interviews, even when talking to people who are decidedly not (check out his Rod Blagojevich interview for a prime example).  Because he calls people out for saying the opposite of what they said yesterday and denying they ever said it, and then runs the tape to prove their hypocrisy.  And he does that to everybody.

So when the man says “let’s hold a rally to restore sanity to political discourse,” I do think that’s a political statement, not a comedy show.  (Colbert is a whole ‘nother can of worms.)  And I think it’s a statement worth making.  And that’s why I ever so briefly wished I still lived in DC yesterday.  So that I could join the throngs of people making the bold statement: I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.

Maybe I’ll get a T-shirt.

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