DC Trawler

Jon Stewart’s clown nose won’t stay on anymore

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Jon Stewart is throwing a big party this weekend to prove he’s better than Glenn Beck, and WaPo’s Anne Applebaum is worried and skeptical:

I don’t know about you, but my heart sank when I read about Jon Stewart’s Million Moderate March, planned for the Mall next weekend. My heart sank further when I learned that liberal groups, lacking any better ideas, have decided to take this endeavor seriously. It’s bad enough that the only way to drum up enthusiasm for a “Rally to Restore Sanity” is to make it into a television comedian’s joke. But it’s far worse that the “moderates” in attendance will have been bused in by Arianna Huffington and organized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Big Hollywood’s John Nolte is skeptical but not worried about it:

What’s been described as a Million Moderates March will be nothing of the kind. HuffPo, the unions, fringe groups such as PETA and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Tea Party-haters… are likely to represent a majority of the crowd. If Stewart’s going to break any kind of a record Saturday it will be for gathering together the largest group of people incapable of laughing at themselves. They’re going to want red meat, not apolitical, down-the-middle pablum.

So what’s he gonna do? Play Mr. Non-Partisan and risk Oscar-night flashbacks complete with flop-sweat, or play to his rabidly left-wing audience? Stewart’s a smart guy. He might just be able to thread that needle. But the damage to his credibility’s already been done.

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway is skeptical of their skepticism:

First off, Stewart’s rally isn’t about organizing political centrists into some coherent movement; it’s a gimmick for a niche audience comedy show. And, to the extent that there’s a political message, it isn’t “Elect liberal Democrats” but rather “Can we turn down the thermostat on our political rhetoric just a skosh?”

That must be why it’s the Rally to Restore Sanity and the March to Keep Fear Alive. What better way to turn down the heat on political rhetoric than to mock the people who disagree with you as insane fearmongers?

As for being nothing more than a comedy gimmick, it’s a bit late to make that claim now that the President of the United States is endorsing it and appearing on the Daily Show this week. If Beck’s rally was a political event, so is this.

The standard line among Jon Stewart fans is: “He goes after both sides equally!” No he doesn’t. And it’s okay that he doesn’t. You do yourself no favors by pretending he does.

Stewart has been playing this game for years, most notably back in 2004 when he comment-trolled my future boss, called him a dick*, and said he’s ruining America. Then, he responded to the ensuing discussion with, “You guys do know I’m on Comedy Central, right?” Stewart wants you to take his political opinions seriously, but then when you try to engage his argument, he draws back and says, “Whoa, I’m just a comedian!” Yes, you can be a comedian and yes, you can be a pundit. You can even be both over the course of the same conversation. But Stewart plays the two roles against each other to deflect criticism, and it’s dishonest.

Call it Clown Nose On, Clown Nose Off. After this Saturday, Jon Stewart is gonna need a whole roll of duct tape to keep that clown nose in place.

*Which I got a kick out of at the time, and which was one of the first things I mentioned to Tucker when he said he wanted to hire me. He did anyway!

Jim Treacher