Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Here’s my problem with Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity

My problem with Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity is this: The Daily Show host has confused moderation and rationality. Although ostensibly ‘political satire’, The Daily Show more frequently satirises the way politics is covered in the media. The host’s most consistent quibble is the way the media treats politics as a blood sport.

Debate on the American news networks, as he sees it, usually means putting two hysterical partisan hacks, with irreconcilable points of view, into one studio together and inviting them hurl abuse at each other. In Stewart’s breakthrough moment during the 2004 election cycle, he berated the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire to their faces for presenting a show that was closer to theatre than political discourse. He was right about that. Where he has been consistently wrong, however, is in implicitly accepting the premise of shows like Crossfire. He believes that there are two sides to every debate, that the hysterical partisan hacks bookend the parameters of that debate, and that the most constructive way to proceed is to for moderates on each sides to come together and forge a workable compromise.

All of that is simply wrong. Moderates do not have a monopoly on discernment – far from it. Look at history and ask yourself, what have moderates ever done for us? They probably averted nuclear holocaust during the Cold War, sure. But if the history of humanity is the history of ideas, then moderates have contributed virtually nothing.

On some issues, either the left (civil rights) or the right (privatisation) has been completely vindicated by history. On many other issues, both sides failed equally abysmally to grapple with the reality of things as they were. When Nazism posed an existential threat to freedom and democracy worldwide in the 1930s, few democrats of either stripe appreciated that war against totalitarianism was not just unavoidable, but also winnable.

In Catholic Ireland, meanwhile, anyone arguing that the church was a criminal enterprise devoted only to the consolidation of it’s own malign power would also have belonged firmly to what Jon Stewart today derides as the lunatic fringe.

So yes Jon, Glenn Beck is insane. And so too are some of the infinitely less prominent fringe left-wing groups like Code Pink you occasionally target in order to burnish your credentials as an even-handed centrist (and not, shock horror, a liberal!) But tarring all non-moderates with the same brush? That would be insane.

October 30th, 2010.

29 Responses to “Here’s my problem with Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity”

  1. Paddy Says:

    Thought you’d be a fan of John Stewart Eoin didn’t you post up a couple of videos here that wouldn’t work on my laptop for some reason?

  2. Sam Says:

    Yes Paddy, he likes a bit of jon stewart as much as the next man, he’s just trying to be contrarian, to whip up some publicity for his desperately foundering campaign for reelection. It says Mayoman of the year at the top of this page.. that was a 2008 title, Eoin. You’re fooling no-one.

    ps – this argument about moderates never getting anything done… you’ll agree I’m sure that if it wasn’t for malignant little dickheads, problems like segregation wouldn’t exist in the first place.

  3. Eoin Says:

    @ Paddy – Absolutely, I’m a fan – here’s probably my favourite Stewart/Colbert moment.

    @ Sam – Fuck you, I’m not being deliberately contrary. I’m serious. As well as making the case for less hysteria in public discourse (which anyone with a brain would agree with), he was also explicitly making the case for moderate politics and workable compromise.

    Which would have meant liberals and conservatives “agreeing to disagree” on Vietnam in the Sixties, or on gay marriage today.

    P.S. You’re essentially making hippy argument there. Hippies: World would be a nicer place if everyone was kind and loved each other. Everyone else: Our enemies have guns. Hippies: Yes, but they wouldn’t have guns if everyone was kind and loved each other.

  4. gueuleton Says:

    Didn’t moderates also avert EVERY war that was never fought?

  5. Eoin Says:

    You’ve just blown my mind.

  6. Seán Says:

    You’re way off Butler. Big deviations lead to big bad ideas which take a long time to rectify. Respect emergent order. Ed Burke ftw

  7. Eoin Says:

    @ Sean – Is that a haiku?

  8. Eoin Says:

    P.S. I have no clue what you’re talking about, but I did read all 700 pages of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s Burke biography The Great Melody, so if you wanna mano-a-mano on him, by all means fire ahead… Did you know that he was secretly Catholic?

  9. Seán Says:

    Does this mean you’re a Burke scholar who doesn’t buy the idea of conservatism?

    (I’ve read all 1200 words of his wikipedia page which should be more than sufficient)

  10. Denise Says:

    gueuleton, does this mean we can thank moderates for averting aggressive Irish territorial expansion in Czechoslovakia? If so, good job dudes.

  11. Eoin Says:

    @ Sean – Two points. Firstly, one can be familiar with Burke’s work without endorsing his philosophy. No?

    Secondly, you seem to profoundly misunderstand either Edmund Burke or Jon Stewart. Burke regarded status quo as representing accumulated wisdom of the ages, not to be tampered with lightly. Hence widely regarded as founder of conservatism.

    What Stewart is espousing is continual compromise between conservatives and liberals as means of resolving differences. Burke espoused principle. Stewart espouses the opposite of principle.

  12. Eoin Says:

    P.S. Wrote that comment on phone in pub while watching Liverpool v Bolton. I think that says a lot about the quality of the contest.

    P.P.S. @ Denise – They also averted the bloody Mongolian-Faroe Islands quagmire of 1982.

  13. Seán Says:

    Moderation is a useful hedge against really bad ideas, something Burke and Stewart both appreciate. I respect John Stewart for his conservatism(oddly), for trying to steer his country away from the big ideas to be found at each end of the spectrum. But you ask “What have moderates ever done for us?”

    Bolton Liverpool isnt grabbing me either. Be thankful youre not watching it on a veetle stream at least.

  14. Eoin Says:

    No I’m watching it in the pub. Nice little Maxi Rodriguez bicycle kick there. I think you’re wrong Sean. Stewart isn’t endorsing conservatism, he’s endorsing centrism. Ideologically, he’s obviously a liberal himself.

  15. Seán Says:

    Ah yeah I’m a pretty out there libertarian myself, but you have to respect the cautious approach to change that Burke espoused. Thinking about it I suppose it’s because a big bad idea will likely cause more damage than a big good idea will improve things… I think. Anyways thank you for leading me to what looks to be an interesting book on Burke and his Irish heritage.

  16. sam Says:

    @eoin It’s simply isn’t true to say that anyone with a brain agrees there should be less hysteria in us cultural and political debate. Glenn beck has the highest rating news show in America the Drudgereport.com is the highest traffic newsite in the US and Ann coulter is one of the coutnry’s most popular columnists. America is chockers with hysteria peddlers and the effect is debilitating – living there, I was shocked at how all-surrounding it is, even where I was a posh part of the East coast, limousine liberal country.

    What anyone with a brain does know is that reasonable people should not agree to disagree with facists and racists. I’m certain that Jon Stewart wasn’t saying that.

    As for jon stewart he’s not calling for less hysteria, he’s insisting on an end to it. He’s no moderate on hysteria.

    And as for your idea that only non-moderates change things,I think particularly in democracies it’s moderate people with a conscience who are brave and resourceful that do it. Being moderate doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand for your beliefs. I daresay William wilberforce was a very level headed chap who happened to disagree with slave owners. As for the idea that he was fringe radical in the vein of say John Brown, I don’t buy that. He was radical to certain people maybe, but every idea is radical to someone I suppose – wiping your arse with your right hand instead of loo paper is radical to many (perhaps not to someone who stores their farts in jars).

    You’re confusing moderates with appeasers and pussies.

    ps – fuck you too pal!

  17. Eoin Says:

    @ Sam – Beck/Coulter are courting notoriety for profit. Doesn’t mean they don’t know better.

    William Wilberforce’s stance against slavery only a moderate by the standards of today. In the eighteenth century that made him a radical extremist, waging war against one of Britain’s most profitable lines of trade. Also by today’s standards, he’d be considered a religious nutter.

    Also I didn’t mean fuck you, even if that’s what I said. Sorry mate.

  18. sam Says:

    No it didn’t… That’s what the early 18th Century Glenn Beck may have called him. His viewpoint won the day in a democracy – this just doesn’t happen if the politician is viewed by the majority of the population as a radical exteremist.

    I don’t get your point about coutler/beck/really anyone on Fox, or Keith Olberman (who compared town hall health care protestors to Hezbollah). I’m saying Jon Stewart’s point that hysteria pervades the media is one that desperately needs to be convincly made in America, no matter how obvious it seems to some people.

  19. sam Says:

    ps – no probs on the fuck you front..

  20. jax Says:

    Agree with Eoin about middle ground fallacy that compromise is alway right. As someone said on forums recently if nutters say all kittens must be tortured and killed and you think no kittens should be tortured and killed then the Jon Stewart solution would be to torture and kill half the kittens out there. Great how compromise gets things done.

  21. Dar Says:

    All this debate is well & good, but diverts from the real issue. When, Eoin, are you going to hold your “Rally to restore shturdy fellas and/or a few tashties”? What better model could there be for utilitarian compromise than the fightin/ drinkin/ schmokin assertion?

  22. TheComicalHat Says:

    Debate fodder on this topic, kinda: “If you’re saying, ‘I’m not going to put up with the Iranians’ or ‘Let’s sit down and talk with them,’ you’re expressing either dominance or submissiveness,” he says.


  23. Maureen Says:

    Thanks to moderates i wasnt killed in the Greco -Indonesian wars.

  24. Eoin Says:

    William Wilberforce’s repealing of slavery wasn’t democratic for two reasons. Firstly, suffrage was extremely limited in the early 19th century. Secondly, he only got the slave trade banned by using some sort of underhanded ruse in parliament to trick people into voting for it. (Or at least he did according to some very bad biopic I saw about him on a flight one time. That’s one historical source you can take to the bank, my friend.)

    Re: Stewart. That’s one part of his point. The other is explicitly advocating compromise between liberals, conservative. Admittedly, he’s no doubt influenced by labyrinthine Senate procedures that prevent legislation passing without bipartisan support.

    @ Dar – It’s in the works, I promise.

    @ CH – It’s 2am. I’ll read that in the morning, promise!

    @ Maureen – Do you live in Greece or Indonesian?

  25. Maureen Says:

    No but the way these conflicts tend to spread I could definitely see Ireland getting sucked in

  26. massey Says:

    Am I the only person who has never seen a single episode of The Daily Show ?

  27. albinicus Says:

    Some funny Steart moments here. I can remember some but can’t watch others as I can’t find your hack (Eoin) for watching American telly on t’internet


  28. albinicus Says:

    Stewart obviously!

  29. Eoin Says:

    Here it is, man. Have a Stewart/Colbert/SNL-fest for yourself there. (I particularly recommend last weekend’s Back to the Future auditions on SNL!)


Leave a Comment