Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart Talk Civility and Politics

The Goodness Project has always been one part personal quest and one part political journey. The issue of politics reared its ugly snout because of my experiences as a political reporter, a staff member on a couple of campaigns and a citizen. These days I feel like I’m being buffeted by wave after wave of political fury, and I worry about my personal future and about what’s next for our country. (After the screaming, violence?) My good friend Nancy Jane Moore and I constantly argue on this blog about the problem of finding common cause with people who seem bent on demonizing and lying about us. All of this is why I found Rachel Maddow’s conversation last night with Jon Stewart to be so fascinating.

In the interview, a subdued Stewart is fighting off the flu and talking about how there has to be something beyond the left-right dichotomy. Among other interesting takes, Stewart says he doesn’t think George W. Bush is evil, and that it’s a mistake to call him a war criminal.

By the way, I found Mediaite’s report of the interview to be simplistic, ignoring what I thought were the most interesting parts of the conversation. I say skip the story and watch the full video on Rachel Maddow’s site. Stewart makes some good points.

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6 Responses to Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart Talk Civility and Politics

  1. Pingback: More Talk, Less Consensus | In Search of Goodness

  2. I think Jon Stewart makes a good point when he says we shouldn’t call Bush a war criminal because that’s such an incendiary statement that it shuts down all debate. Likewise, when people call President Obama a socialist, it does the same thing. It’s also impossible to argue with accusations like that, because they’re being made emotionally, not based on any facts.

    I also don’t think Bush was evil, because I don’t believe in evil. I do, however, think he is an arrogant and deeply stupid man with an inflated sense of entitlement who did so much damage to our country over his eight years that we may never recover. I’m speaking of his policies here — from starting a completely unnecessary war in Iraq to using his presidency to greatly increase the gap between the rich and everyone else. (I can’t believe we’re even considering allowing his tax cut for the rich to go forward: It did nothing for the economy, and set up the very rich in such a way that we have a new Gilded Age that makes the last one look minor.)

    Stewart makes an excellent point about the true issues not being between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. But all the political coverage is about that fight, and covers it like a football game, with “analysis” about strategy and talking heads screaming debate points at each other instead of an in-depth discussion of the best way to address our challenges.

    I, like many people in this country, would like a serious discussion of ways to solve problems. But it’s hard to take a stand for open discussion, because anything you say will be grabbed by someone to score points, and in some cases, it will be used to defeat the people who I think have the best chance at coming up with something rational.

    Let me give a good example: Education. Now, I went to public schools and a public university, and got a good education. I believe strongly in public schools. I know any number of excellent teachers, and I do strongly support their right to organize, because I know that otherwise they’d be badly exploited.

    But I also know a lot of public schools are failing to educate kids, and that the various school districts have built up incredible bureaucracies that get in the way of education. Some of the charter schools out there are actually doing something new and valuable. I question the for-profit ones — I don’t see how there’s a profit to be made from schools unless either the teachers or the students get shortchanged — and I know many are not doing well. But small laboratories for change are a good thing.

    But we can’t have a rational debate on this, because any admission on the left that there might be other ways will be used by the right to attack teachers and teachers’ unions. And while I disagree with the unions on this issue, most of the time I agree with them, and I don’t want to be party to anything that might destabilize them. So we keep screaming.

    The other thing that worries me is that we have so many false debates. Climate change, for example. We’re still arguing about whether or not it exists, despite the scientific evidence. And what we need to be discussing is what are the dangers, are they as bad as some think, are there technological fixes, are there policy fixes, things like that. But apparently because it’s in the short-term interest of powerful energy corporations, we’re allowing a few nutcases to make the debate be on whether or not it’s happening and whether or not humans caused it. The top story on the NY Times today is about the potential ocean rise from melting glaciers, and yet I can see us in 30 years, with large parts of Miami and Houston and NYC under water, still discussing whether climate change exists and doing nothing about it.

    I don’t know if I’ve added to the discussion or not. My Aikido training makes me agree that using incendiary phrases like “war criminal” doesn’t help us find common ground and address our problems, but I still come up against the fact that there are many people whose continued wealth and well-being requires that we don’t have an honest debate on the subject.

    PS: I didn’t listen to the whole interview, but on the whole Jon Stewart struck me as someone who has thought deeply about what he’s saying. (There’s a reason why The Daily Show is sometimes a better source of news than the news shows.) And some of his message was distorted by those who refuse to cover complex issues complexly. All part of the same problem.

  3. dianesilver says:

    Nancy, Thank you for your extremely thoughtful comment. I certainly agree with everything you said on Bush and Stewart. I agree with your concerns about education, teachers and climate change. Like Stewart, I think it’s not just the horse-race coverage that’s building walls between us and solving our national problems, but also the way we frame issues.

    For me this is the most significant aspect of Stewart’s comments. The issue isn’t the horse race. The issue isn’t whether a solution is a Democrat’s idea or a Republican’s. The issue REALLY isn’t big government vs. little government, or more taxes vs. fewer taxes. For me, the issue is: How do we fairly solve our problems so that all Americans can prosper and flourish?

    I respectfully disagree with you on this:

    I, like many people in this country, would like a serious discussion of ways to solve problems. But it’s hard to take a stand for open discussion, because anything you say will be grabbed by someone to score points, and in some cases, it will be used to defeat the people who I think have the best chance at coming up with something rational.

    There’s no way to have a serious discussion without doing it. If you or me respond to the people who screech by screeching, we play their game and we lose. If we respond to people who lie by lying, we play their game and we lose again. If we respond to people who rely on nastiness, manipulation and falsehoods to make their arguments by falling silent, then they REALLY win.

    You can’t model a different way of acting without acting different. You can’t begin to plant seeds in people’s minds about different ways to view issues without speaking about different frames. Doing so doesn’t leave you or me or the teacher’s unions helpless. Doing this also doesn’t involve engaging in what Obama seems to be doing now, which is bending so far over to accommodate the other side that your spine breaks and your principles spill out on the floor like loose marbles. All of this simply means, speaking your truth as strongly, forcefully and politely as possible.

    I’ve been doing this for decades now in the fight over LGBT rights. The reality of my life as a lesbian has certainly been the topic of more lies than I can count. Every slip of the lip, every word or phrase spoken by an LGBT person that could be misconstrued is taken up by the opposition and twisted into one more bit of nastiness to prove yet again that queers really are abominations. It happens today as much as it did yesterday.

    But with all this going on for so long, the only thing that has worked is people telling the truth over and over and over and over again. Attitudes are slowly beginning to change as people stand up and do nothing more radical than speak about their daily lives. Although us LGBT folks are still second-class citizens in almost every area of legal rights, we are making enormous progress.

    Perhaps that’s what we need on other political issues. Maybe the truth just needs to be told over and over again ad nauseam.

    I always love your comments, Nancy. Thanks so much!

  4. Diane, we don’t disagree that much. In principle, I would always like to have a frank discussion of the issues focused on how to solve the problem. But in the official political world of Republicans vs. Democrats and with the various right-wing demagogues spouting lies on radio and TV (and there is no left-wing equivalent of this), I find it impossible to have this kind of discussion. I think President Obama made a valiant effort to approach things from that point of view, with little success. Even sane Republicans have abandoned positions they’ve held for years to score political points rather than solve problems.

    It boils down to a trust issue; I don’t see how you can have an honest discussion and put a number of issues on the table without trust, and I lack it.

    I suspect the only place one can have a sane discussion is outside of the political arena, because that has become defined only by strategy and not by purpose or principle.

  5. dianesilver says:

    We like to think our politicians are leaders, but as often as not I suspect they’re followers. They certainly don’t seem to want to go in any direction that doesn’t already have enormous support. This is why I think that it can be as important or more important to hold those sane discussions away from DC and statehouses. At some point, the discussion has to move to the halls of power, but first the attitudes of the rest of us have to change.

  6. Pingback: Tea Partiers Aren’t Crazy | In Search of Goodness

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