By the way, Jamelle Bouie, who I usually think of as a clown, has a reasonably thoughtful piece about Stewart in Slate. It addresses Stewart’s departure entirely from the leftist perspective, and gives far too much credit to Stewart for his attack on Crossfire and Tucker Carlson. But I like the way that Bouie discounts Stewart’s cynicism and “I’m just a comedian” shtick:
Jon Stewart, with his brand of left-leaning cynicism (sprinkled with occasional earnestness), is a bad example for the liberals who watch and love him.
The emblematic Stewart posture isn’t a joke or a witticism, it’s a sneer—or if we’re feeling kind, a gentle barb—coupled with a protest: I’m just a comedian.
. . . .
He’s influential. And for a generation of young liberals, his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left. As a comedian and talk show host, Jon Stewart has been pretty funny. But as a pundit and player in our politics, he’s been a problem. And while I wish him luck in his next move, I’m glad he’s stepping from the stage.
I have zero respect for Stewart as a political thinker (but some respect for his comic ability). As you know, the second he is actually put on the spot, he dodges with the “I’m just a comedian” bit (clown nose on) — while most of the time acting as if his political opinions are well-thought out and important (clown nose off). If you point out that, for example, when he had John Kerry on, he puckered up and kissed Kerry’s ass with the clinging tenacity of a remora — well, he dodges the criticism with the whole “we’re on Comedy Central” thing. So I always see the clown nose on Jon Stewart, because I know that if anyone ever calls him on the carpet, he’ll pop that sucker on instantly — and that means we should take him at his word when he claims that he is “just a comedian.”
To his young audience, he appeared to be far smarter than he actually is, because quick wit and comedic ability are often seen in our culture as indicative of intelligence — more so than boring stuff like reading books, learning about our history and political system, and thinking deeply about issues of power, corruption, and tyranny.
Stewart’s goal clearly was to be taken seriously — and he was, by people too ignorant to know better. And to the extent he was taken seriously, he made sneers based on unexamined conventional wisdom the hip norm in youthful political culture.
I’m pleased and a bit surprised to see Bouie making a similar point, and good on him for it.