The leading voice of the half-bright left

"The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart Presents President Barack ObamaKevin D. Williamson addresses The Daily Show’s role in our political discourse in The Destroyer Cometh.  I love the show, when I catch it.  Usually very funny.  But a source of news?!  Wow.  Not so far fetched, I suppose, given yesterday’s claim that the president’s appearance on “Between Two Ferns” drove immense traffic to the Obamacare site.  I thought he did well, was funny.  But news?!  Wow.

Great point about the “just a comedian” ruse.

[Mr. Stewart’s] shtick is a fundamentally cowardly one, playing the sanctimonious vox populi when it suits him, and then beating retreat into “Hey, I’m just a comedian!” when he faces a serious challenge. It is the sort of thing that you can see appealing to bright, politically engaged 17-year-olds.

His audience is not made up of bright, politically engaged 17-year-olds. But Mr. Stewart has pulled off a pretty neat trick: He has, as the half-million or so headlines mentioned above indicate, made fake news into real news, and it is not an accident that the verb “destroys” so often follows his name. Mr. Stewart is the leading voice of the half-bright Left because he is a master practitioner of the art of half-bright vitriolic denunciation. His intellectual biography is that of a consummate lightweight — a William and Mary frat boy who majored in psychology, which must have been a disappointment to his father, a professor of physics — and his comedy career has been strictly by-the-numbers, from the early days on the New York City comedy-club scene to changing his name (Mr. Stewart began life as Mr. Leibowitz) and a career-boosting stint on MTV, where he was second only to Beavis and Butt-Head in the ratings. He subsequently may have matched Beavis and Butt-Head’s popularity, but he has never risen to comparable heights of social insight.

The thing is, people actually get their news from his show. Fans, many of whom cannot quite spell his name, swear that the program is “more accurate than any other news show.” Ignore, for the moment, the judgment exhibited in that quotation and focus on the word “other.” In the minds of many of his admirers — and in the minds of those news-site editors who report on Mr. Stewart’s fake news as part of the real news — there is no substantive difference between what Mr. Stewart does and what, e.g., Ezra Klein does (“Ezra Klein Destroys Romney,” “Ezra Klein Destroys David Brooks,” “Ezra Klein Destroys Republican Opposition to Temporary Payroll Tax Cut,” etc.) because for the Left the point of journalism is not to criticize politics or to analyze politics but to be a servant of politics, to “destroy” such political targets as may be found in one’s crosshairs. For the Left, the maker of comedy and the maker of graphs perform the same function. It does not matter who does the “destroying,” so long as it gets done.

“Destroying” is more of an aspiration than a reality, of course. If Megyn Kelly has been destroyed by anybody, she is not showing any sign of it. What it communicates is the Left’s politics of vilification, a longstanding preference that has recently become extremely pronounced, substituting a good-guys-and-bad-guys narrative for the discussion of complex ideas

I do not much blame the Left for hesitating to talk about Big Ideas. The Left has been losing the Big Idea debate for a generation or more, in no small part because its last Big Idea killed 100 million people, give or take, and not in Mr. Klein’s projecting-abstractly-from-a-CBO-study way but in the concentration-camps-and-hunger-terror way. Marxism was the Left’s Big Idea for the better part of a century, and its collapse — which was moral, economic, political, and complete — left a howling void in the Left’s intellectual universe. Nothing has quite managed to fill it: In the immediate wake of the collapse of Communism, the anticapitalists sought shelter in a variety of movements, few of which grew to be of any real consequence, with the exception of the environmentalist movement. But the lenten self-mortification implied by a consistent environmentalist ethic has limited that movement’s appeal as a governing philosophy and an individual ethic both, hence its fragmentation into a motley sprawl of mini-crusades. It is easy to be anti-fracking when that does not require you to give up anything, easy to oppose the expansion of the Keystone pipeline network when you can be confident that the gas pumps in your hometown will always be full, easy for well-off Whole Foods shoppers to abominate varieties of grain that are possessed by evil spirits or cooties or whatever it is this week…

Alan Simpson’s partisan taxonomy — the Stupid (Republican) party vs. the Evil (Democratic) party — no longer holds, if it ever did. At CPAC this week, you will find students of Robert George debating students of Robert Nozick about the subject of gay marriage, and Governor Rick Perry of Texas, among others, arguing that mandatory-minimum-sentence laws are a failure, while Chuck Grassley and others support them. (How many members of Mr. Stewart’s audience know that Senator Michael Lee of Utah and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in January introduced a bill to reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders and to make retroactive the 2010 reforms relating to crack-cocaine sentences?) There is no CPAC of the Left, because the Left is not interested even in its own ideas, much less those of Professor George or the late Professor Nozick.

Jon Stewart’s act is a pretty good one, and it takes a real talent to anchor a long-running television show. It takes something else to anchor a long-running constitutional republic, and that something else includes intelligence and ideas. Mr. Stewart’s half-bright following is now the dominant tendency on the Left. We’d have been better off with Beavis and Butt-Head.

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