Why has there never been a liberal Rush Limbaugh? It’s a question worth asking again as Jon Stewart basks in applause following his announced departure from “The Daily Show.”
Air America, which sought to reclaim talk radio for progressives, was dissolved in six years.
The ill-fated network did launch Rachel Maddow and helped Al Franken make the transition into politics, culminating in a Senate seat. But it didn’t compete with Limbaugh, Mark Levin or Sean Hannity. And MSNBC’s ratings are atrocious.
A guy driving a delivery truck doesn’t want to be hectored all day about checking his privilege. As he struggles to pay the bills, he doesn’t notice that he has any privileges. That woman cruising to her ninth sales meeting of the day doesn’t have time for the war on women.
Liberals flatter themselves by saying they are too intelligent and sophisticated for talk radio. Liberals don’t need a big man behind a microphone to lead them around by the nose. They like nuance, civility and intelligent discussion. Liberal talk radio, they say, is National Public Radio.
NPR is pretty smart, and not usually a bad platform for a conservative guest. (I’ve been interviewed by conservative radio hosts who agreed with me more but let me speak a lot less than NPR.)
But NPR isn’t liberal talk radio. Jon Stewart is. Because liberalism suffuses the popular culture in ways that conservatism doesn’t, liberals like their partisans to feign non-partisanship.
Liberals like to pretend they are fighting for science, reason and a country free of division, but they practice divisiveness as adeptly as any conservative talkmeister.
Stewart’s show made fun of Republicans and conservative ideas just like Limbaugh lampoons Democratic politicians and liberalism. If you’re not part of the in crowd, you don’t find it terribly high-brow.
Stephen Colbert’s show was more accessible, because it was a bit like Archie Bunker. You were supposed to laugh at Bunker the bigot, but just as often you mocked Meathead the liberal.
If Stewart were more openly partisan, liberals might have realized they were listening to something more like talk radio. Because the Democratic talking points came wrapped in a veneer of cool common sense, they were more palatable. It was “because science,” not “because DNC.”
Stewart could sometimes be independent. He was increasingly critical President Obama’s civil liberties and foreign policy track record during his second term, though the same could be said of conservative talk radio piling on George W. Bush’s amnesty and overspending a bit more once he had been safely re-elected.
The most irritating part of Stewart’s shtick? When the crowd was on his side, laughing with him, and he felt he was winning the argument. He was a Serious Commentator. A Deep Thinker. He OWNED Republicans.
If you don’t believe me, search YouTube. Stewart’s fans will tell you themselves.
But as soon as Stewart sensed he was losing an argument, and maybe he was starting to lose the crowd, he would quickly switch roles. He would say something to the effect of, “I am just a comedian! I cannot do the media’s job for it!”
It was sort of like watching a school bully who suddenly realized the kid with the pocket protector was about to kick his ass.
Don’t get me wrong. Stewart is a good interviewer (though so is Howard Stern). Limbaugh rarely has guests. And obviously Stewart was the better television presence.
On the other hand, I can remember more Limbaugh sketches from the 1990s than I can remember anything I watched on “The Daily Show.”
Jon Stewart is good at what he does. Let’s just not pretend he’s doing good.
Liberals like their partisanship with a dose of irony.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.