On the one hand, I agree with a lot of the people pointing out the problems with Jon Stewart’s long reign as the public conscience of American liberalism. For a long while, I’ve been among many arguing that the broad left-of-center has to move on from telling jokes about the absurdity of our opponents and towards building a more constructive, positively-expressed political platform. Like others, I got frustrated with his common plaint that he is merely an entertainer; clearly, many of his biggest fans saw him as more than that, and he should have recognized that fact. I needed the gallows humor of the darkest Bush administration days as much as anyone, but I also recognized that he should have evolved with changing times, and he really didn’t. So I have no objections with this Jamelle Bouie piece on the subject and I think “jester liberalism” is pretty much a perfect name.
At the same time, I think the broader point should be that Jon Stewart shouldn’t have to be more than an entertainer, and if American politics featured a healthy balance between a genuinely right-wing party and a genuinely left-wing party, these criticisms would be a lot less important. 6 years into the Obama administration, you’d like to think that we’d have a more confident American liberalism, one with a healthy interplay between more radical voices and moderate ones, one with a left-wing bloc that could drag policy in that direction the way reactionary conservatives drag policy to the right. We’d have a Democratic party where the idea of a left-wing challenger to Hilary would be taken seriously, instead of preemptively dismissed by bigwigs. Instead, we’ve still got one radically conservative party tugging to the right with all its might and one moderate party still desperately looking for the center so it can stand there, and the results are what they are.
So yeah, I won’t much lament the end of the Jon Stewart era. But his prominence in the liberal imagination is a symptom, not the disease, which is the way in which Democrats, both moderate and liberal, have worked so hard to smother nascent left-wing reform movements within the party, which hurts not only lefties but themselves, as it leaves them with a party that stands for nothing. That impulse is the great mystery — or not, if you presume it’s a natural matter of corporate power consolidating its stranglehold on policy making, through the massive influence of lobbying and campaign contributions.