Found it on Facebook: Jon Stewart and the problem with modern political discourse *UPDATED*

Matthew Continetti garnered some much deserved praise for his article about the way that sarcasm and insult took over the Democrat party, replacing anything of substance.  It all started with the attacks against Bush:

The criticism of Bush, of Bush Republicans, and of the war took on a specific character. The spokesmen of movement progressivism—Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert—spoke in tones of irony, sarcasm, knowing disbelief, glibness, and snark. Liberal bloggers and op-ed writers used the same voice. A television clip of a conservative would be played, a quotation cited, and the liberal would mug for his audience, whether on screen or on the page. Their basic attitude was: Can you believe this? These people don’t even believe in science! The fools! Derisive and smug laughter would ensue. The war was not going well, America seemed in decline, and it was obvious to liberals that conservatives and Republicans were to blame. The punch lines were a signal. If you laughed, you differentiated yourself from the fundamentalist prigs running the country. You established your superiority.

Obama brought precisely that attitude to the third debate, with his sarcastic, condescending, and remarkably ignorant statements about the American Navy:

You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. It’s not a game of battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s ‘What are our capabilities?’

Others have debunked the President’s ignorance about the armed forces he commands, so I won’t do it here. Suffice to say that, while Americans appreciate gentle zingers (“There you go again”), the level of disrespect that Obama showed only makes the Jon Stewart acolytes happy. Others (including thoughtful liberals) wonder what happened to the dignity of the presidency.

The problem with snark is that, although it can be amusing, it displaces serious political discussion.  Nowhere is this more obvious than with the way in which abortion has come roaring to the fore at the same time the President is struggling to keep the Benghazi cover-up under wraps.  Even as thoughtful people who pay attention to national security and facts are grappling with the immensity of al Qaeda’s resurgence and the President’s lies, the snark shows are keeping liberals in a state of perpetual outrage about abortion.

I wrote last week that abortion is a defining issue for many people on the Left.  Some of you (very intelligently and politely, of course) disagreed with me.  Politely (and, I hope, intelligently) I have to disagree right back.  The proof of abortion’s centrality is the way in which the snark Left is using the abortion dog whistle to terrify wavering liberals into voting for Obama, regardless of the fact that Obama has put our national security and our economy at serious risk.  The dog whistle is so powerful to liberal ears that they’d rather focus on a woman’s right to abortion than on the fact that al Qaeda would like to commit post-birth abortions against all Americans.

Part of the reason the dog whistle works is because the Left so assiduously avoids any serious discussion about life’s beginnings.  A case in point is a Jon Stewart shtick that made the rounds amongst my liberal friends, all of whom posted it on Facebook along with myriad warnings that Romney will turn back the female clock to 1950 (see the cartoon, above).  Here’s the Jon Stewart shtick, one that is high on hysteria and word play, but low on analysis:

Ooooh! Mourdock is evil because he thinks rape is a gift from God, and Romney is more evil because he supports Mourdock. Never mind that what Mourdock said is thoughtful and logically consistent, even if one doesn’t agree with the premise. The premise is that life begins at conception. The logical corollary is that, once a life begins, and most certainly when that life is helpless, civilized people owe it protection.  It is not the fetus’s fault that it was conceived out of violence, pain, and shame. Mourdock quite obviously doesn’t lack compassion for the rape victim.  It’s just that he recognizes that the life that the act of violence created is an innocent one.  Now, one may not agree with Mourdock, but it is, if you will, an honorable position that starts with a humanistic premise.

While Jon Stewart fears to delve deeply into what Mourdock is saying, and who simply rolls with superficial conclusions, sarcasm and insult, Andrew Klavan, has a very thoughtful take on Mourdock’s words, and one that allows for disagreement:

Let’s do a mind experiment. Pretend you are yourself. Now pretend your mother comes to you and tells you that, even though she and your father raised you as if you were the product of their union, in fact she was horribly, brutally raped and it was in that rape that you were conceived. Painful as it was for her — and only she and God know how painful it was — she decided to go through with the pregnancy and give you life.

Have you now lost your right to live? Can you be legally exterminated because of the way you were conceived?

My point here is not — not — that there should be laws against abortion in cases of rape. My point is only that the question of abortion is essentially the question of whether a fetus is human. If an unborn child is a human being, the fact that it resides within its mother is no more relevant than the fact of where you reside. If (and a person of good will can honorably make this argument) there is some point at which a fetus is not yet a human being, then it seems to me you can morally abort it because it’s sick or annoying or female or has failed to have blond hair and blue eyes.

Now anyone with a mind and heart can see that there are vexed moral questions here, filled with grey areas. No feminist blather and no ruling from the pope in Rome can turn those areas to black and white. For a rape victim to bring a baby to term would be, to my mind, an act of moral heroism equivalent to running into a burning building to save a child. I’m not convinced that laws should be passed requiring that sort of elevated action from people. And yet I do believe the child conceived in that horror story is a child indeed and that a minister, say, could, in good conscience, counsel the mother to strive toward the heroic, if the minister felt she might be able.

As everyone knows (since the media has covered it more often than Fast and Furious and Benghazi-gate put together), Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock recently answered a debate question about abortion and rape: “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock later clarified the comment and apologized for his poor phrasing — as was proper — but come on, we all know what he was trying to say. He doesn’t think rape is intended by God. He thinks a baby conceived by rape remains a baby with a right to life.

Please read the rest here.

Klavan’s approach, of course, is the way we should be discussing a fraught issue such as abortion.  It is the embodiment of Dennis Prager’s wise statement that we should prefer clarity to agreement.  Clarity enables us to have meaningful discussions about vexing issues and, quite possibly, to work towards solutions.  Stewart’s piecemeal, shallow, insulting analysis makes intelligent discussion impossible.  If you disagree with Stewart, you support rapists.  End of story.  (Incidentally, the Jon Stewart segment embodies the state of mind Jonah Goldberg describes in The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.)

I feel very strongly that, in my little corner of the world, there are thousands of people who are yearning for Romney’s strength on national security and the economy, but who are being scared away from voting for him because they buy completely into the imaginary War on Women that the Stewarts, Maddows, Colberts, and Obama’s of this world sell as intelligent political discourse.  This is too bad, not just because it bodes poorly for the elections, but also because it bespeaks an America whose educated class can no longer grapple with serious ideas.

UPDATE:  And right on time, Tom Friedman blows hard on the abortion dog whistle.  Here’s the key paragraph:

But judging from the unscientific — borderline crazy — statements opposing abortion that we’re hearing lately, there is reason to believe that this delicate balance could be threatened if Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan, and their even more extreme allies, get elected. So to those who want to protect a woman’s right to control what happens with her own body, let me offer just one piece of advice: to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. And we must stop letting Republicans name themselves “pro-life” and Democrats as “pro-choice.” It is a huge distortion.

Get it?  If Romney and Ryan win, women will be dying in back alleys with coat hangers between their legs.

It’s time to acknowledge that we’re not in the 50s anymore:  Single motherhood, though economically foolish, is culturally cool; birth control is freely, and cheaply, available; and pregnancy is relatively risk free.  There are still credible arguments for abortions, but pretending it’s still the 1950s isn’t one of those arguments.

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Comments

  1. says

    As I may have commented earlier, when a person is extremely terrified of something, then (s)he is usually not very good at assessing its probability or lack of same. For example, a person who is very scared of flying is unlikely to be convinced by statistcs, discussions of redundant safety systems and pilot training, etc….the image in his mind of that last few seconds before the crash is just too powerful.

    Something similar seems to be the case with quite a few women. They are so terrified that someone is going to force them into a metaphorical (or maybe not so metaphorical!) chastity belt, deny them contraceptives, limit their sexual choices (on the rare occasions that they are allowed to take off that chastity belt) to missionary position only, and forbid them to work outside the home except as secretaries…..that they fail to see the absolutely miniscule likelihood of any of these things happening.

     

  2. Mike Devx says

    That Jon Stewart segment was political argument masquerading as snarky humor.   Most of the time his snarky satire segments go on for just a short time.  He makes his snarky points and putdowns, and moves on.  But this one was different.  It went on for quite some time, with serious point after serious point raised, and not a whole lot of satirical asides inserted.  This is as serious as Jon Stewart gets.

    So this is humor as guise – what is really going on here is that Jon Stewart is presenting a deadly serious political argument that he believes in 100%, but he is hiding it beneath a few laughs because, well, that’s what Jon Stewart does.

    But in the end, who cares what someone thinks about when a human life, with a soul, begins?  So what if a particular person believes that the single-cell zygote, at the moment of fertilization, is given a soul and is therefore human?  To be considered a human?  That is merely a religious belief, and just one of many.

    Ah, but the rub is, such beliefs get translated into law.  Because you believe the single cell zygote has a soul, and is to be considered a human, do you vote to give that single cell the full legal rights of personhood?  Some would say that yes, if you are to be philosophically consistent, YES YOU DO vote that way.  Others might say that you recognize that this is your own personal religious belief, and that you should not force it upon the rest of the American people, so you are willing NOT TO VOTE for that.  Because it is a religious belief, not in any way a provable fact.

    I think you would find, if we had a serious debate here, that there would be quite a bit of disagreement even here in conservative circles concerning the moment of fertilization, the human soul, and whether or not granting full legal rights to such a fertilized cell is in fact a good idea.  Is preventing the fertilized cell from attaching to the uterus wall to be considered murder?  This is not the classic argument concerning abortion two or three or more months into the pregnancy.

    The concern is not with the religious belief.  The concern is with how that religious belief will get translated into law.

  3. says

    Well, not unlike the American left  and the leftist American media, the European media are also very much grabbing on to this theme. The last few weeks the European media have been having sections on the US elections. Several times now I’ve seen the abortion thing mentioned. In one particular newspaper (a free newspaper distributed on college campuses and in train stations – which also says something about its quality) I have read that Romney/Republicans want to come back on/revisit women’s rights – several times. The whole ‘war on women’ thing is mentioned, although that term is not normally used, and Republicans are painted as being anti-woman or something along those lines, much like the cartoon in your post, Bookworm.
     
    I really don’t believe it. First of all, I find the idea of putting abortion (and perhaps contraception) forth as the very epitome and marker of women’s rights (what should we really understand under women’s rights anyway?) erroneous at best, and downright wrong, stupid and perhaps even evil at worst. I personally find that abortion has very little, if anything, really to do with women’s rights, and possibly isn’t even consistent with women’s rights. Second, while I may not be sufficiently familiar with current GOP ideology, and the thinking of those within the GOP, I cannot remember hearing much, if anything, about limiting women’s rights or ‘setting women back’. Third, I don’t know for sure, but I very much doubt a significant number of Republicans would want to do so.
     
    Also, I have little doubt that Republicans/conservatives, even those who would like to see women take on a more traditional position in society (i.e. wives and mothers first, other things second, if at all) DO respect women and wish well upon women. I’m also pretty sure that, except for some fringe figures, most Republicans would not wish to forcefully put women into a certain place or role, or force them to do or not do certain things. There’s a few things Republicans might want to do, but I don’t see the Republicans in general as totalitarians or big-government afficionado’s. I certainly do not believe Republicans are usually misogynists and male chauvinists (although the left loves to paint them as such).
     
    Also, could it not be so that the current economic state could be of a concern to women, because it affects their families? Could it not be that women care about the economy is going and how the country is doing, because it affects families and the choices women can and do make? And aren’t Obameconomics bad news? Well, they don’t seem to be doing a lot of good. 
     
    One should take a serious look at what women want and what matters to them. And for the average Jane Doe, my guess is it could be a very different thing to what the screaming radical feminists at major universities or in Washington DC want. I also do not believe the GOP is anti-woman or engaging in a “war on women”. I don’t think there is an agenda to put women back in place. Would not the GOP support women making their own choices in certain areas (unlike the Marxist leftists, it seems)? Besides, the choices of many women could be very different from those of the radical feminist butches and crybabies.
     
    Another aspect, and I’ll finish with this one, is the aspect of foreign policy. The Democrats have for quite a while (at least since Carter, and perhaps further back) been known as pansy-assed weaklings as far as foreign policy is concerned, whereas many Republicans take a much harder and more forceful stand on foreign policy (albeit admittedly not all). The Republicans seem far more willing to protect the USA, and are willing to go to greater lengths to do so (including, if necessary, going to war, killing enemies or using certain methods of interrogation). They are certainly not perfect, but the Republicans seem to be at least somewhat willing to ward off the islamic/jihadist threath, while Obama is a downright islamist and terrorist appeaser and enabler (and perhaps so are other Dems). The recent Benghazi kerfuffle is a good example of that. Under Obama, the Dems are rather obviously enabling or even in cahoots with the mad mullahs and the jihadists.
     
    Islam, as we here know, is waging a war on the west, and islam and its doctrine of jihad are the real war on women. They would like to kill or subjugate all of us, including our women, and put them in burqas as second-class citizens when they conquer our lands, impose barbaric Sharia law, and add them to their “dar-al-islam”, house of submission in their quest to create a global caliphate. And that I would say is a real danger to all of us. I don’t Republicans are perfect for adressing this danger, but they are certainly a hell of a lot better than Dems and leftists.
     
    Of course, I could be wrong about one or more things I’ve said.

  4. Charles Martel says

    Barnard Nathanson, the abortionist who estimated that he personally carried out or managed the deaths of 60,000 unborn children, said after his conversion to Catholicism that he had created the statistics about pre-Roe v. Wade back-alley abortions out of whole cloth.
     
    His lying assertion that they numbered in the tens of thousands per year has become one of the hardest-core memes the left has ever deluded itself with. People who have bothered to look into federal statistics on pregnancy or uterus-related deaths in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s simply have not been able to find any number that remotely approaches hundreds per year, let along tens of thousands.
     
    What’s really ironic is that as abortion has assumed sacramental status among the elites, it is so politically incorrect to question or tamper with the institution that even letting government health agencies carry out routine medical inspections of abortuaries is verboten. The result is many killing centers that are filthy, unhygienic, borderline charnel houses. How many women die or are irreparably damaged by botched abortions carried out by uncaring profiteers?
     
    Perhaps even more ironic is that as pro-abortionists squawk about raped women being forced to carry their unborn children to term, Planned Parenthood abets rapists by routinely aborting the children conceived by 12, 13, and 14-year-old “women” who are being done by older men.

  5. says

     
    Well, I’m guessing that I’d be identified as a crazy-dogmatic pro-lifer by many.  Scientifically, there’s no question about when a new human life begins, and that’s conception.  Once you accept that – and what’s the rational argument against it? – then you move to the next step:  Killing an innocent human being is murder.  So, most abortions constitute the murder of an innocent human being at an early developmental stage.
     
    Interfering with implantation is not different.  Consider this analogy: you know that someone is going to cross the Sierra Nevada in winter on skis.  Crucial to the success of the enterprise is a stopover at a cabin where food, fuel, etc. will be waiting.  However, you manage to get there and remove the food and fuel.  When the traveler dies, it will be because of your affirmative action to see to it that the means for him to continue living were not available.  Any court in this land that heard the facts in the case would convict you of murder, because your intent was the death of the traveler, precisely as the intent of those interfering with implantation is the death of the innocent human approaching the womb.
     
    So, as far as I can see, any woman pregnant because of a consensual act of intercourse ought to be prohibited from having an abortion because she volunteered for the risk of conceiving a child.  Given the realities, even those who take precautions to avoid conception are “throwing the dice” on whatever chance that a child will nevertheless be conceived.  It is profoundly unjust to visit the negative consequences of taking that risk on the innocent child that results from the consensual acts of the adults in the situation.  In short (to repeat myself), most abortion is murder and should be prohibited by law.  If the State does not act to protect the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable, then what on earth is it FOR?
     
    Here is where I think I may surprise (at least some of) you.  When it comes to rape, things are different.  Most importantly, a woman who is raped does not consent to the risk of conception.  A baby that results is therefore someone whose life has been made dependent on her support against her will.  There’s a famous analogy (that never worked for the purpose I heard it used for) about a famous violinist that would die if not hooked up to the blood supply of some other person for a few days (or weeks, whatever).  You wake up with the violinist hooked to you – what do you do?  Well, the child resulting from the rape is “the famous violinist”.  I am unwilling to grant the State the power to force anyone to lend their body in support of a violinist or a child that was made dependent on them either against their will or without their consent.  If we allow THIS, what is the principled argument against the State requiring you to give up one of your two kidneys to someone who needs it in order to live?
     
    Understand that the child conceived in a rape is just as innocent as one conceived in the marital bed.  Were my wife (a few years ago) or my daughter raped and a child resulted, I would attempt (in the most gentle way possible) to convince them to give the child life – and give it up after the birth if that was the only way to manage.  But in these cases, it is the woman’s decision – not mine, and most certainly not the State’s.
     
    I suppose I could be argued out of this, but it’s been tried before – I’ve not heard any convincing counter-arguments, so far.
     

  6. Spartacus says

    Count me in the “abortion is the sacrament of the Left” column.
     
    We can define our actions by our values, or our values by our actions.  Ideally, of course, we would all become flawless moral philosophers at about the same time we learned to crawl, and would apply our philosophy neatly and unfailingly to the circumstances of our lives as they arose, as would all those around us.  But, as they say, “theology [or morality, if you prefer] may be neat, but life is messy.”  Things happen along the way.  Authority figures around us give bad advice.  And being human, we are prone to failure and compromise.
     
    I believe that deep down, practically everyone understands the horror of abortion.  (Yes, even those who claim that it is analogous to having a wart removed.)  How this explains the passion of the pro-life movement is obvious.  But I believe it also explains the hysteria of the pro-choice and pro-abortion movements: they have defined their values so as not to condemn either themselves, or someone close to them, by actions taken in the past or possibly the hypothetical future.
     
    It also explains the hysterical necessity of turning abortion into a sacrament, on several levels:
    – Access.  Were Roe v. Wade overturned, Utah would ban it immediately, but nothing whatsoever would change in Massachusetts.  For a woman who was unexpectedly pregnant, the nearest abortion-friendly state would never be too far away.  So why the hysteria for a national solution?  Because legal codification is a cheap substitute when true morality is unavailable: if it’s legal, it must be OK.
    – Funding.  A few years back, Warren Buffett gave $3 billion (yes, with a ‘b’) to the abortion industry to help out his idea of the most noble cause there is.  Were oppportunities to fund abortions limited to a lucky few philanthropists, limousine liberals would practically get into fistfights clawing their way to the front of the line.  So why do they need tax money?  Again, funding is inferred to mean sanction.  (Think Big Bird would starve to death without that last 10% of funding from the taxpayers?  Not a chance.  But that last little bit makes it The Government Channel, which makes it official, definitive, correct, and pure.)
    – Group Culpability.  Why add profound insult to injury by taking tax money from deeply pro-life taxpayers and using it to violate their strongest beliefs?  And isn’t there a proposal for the implementation of Obamacare that all health insurance policies would include a minimum $1 fee for abortion coverage?  Doesn’t that sound silly, since the accounting and administrative overhead would more than eat up that $1?  But it’s not about revenue: it’s about ensuring that the blood is on everyone’s hands.  “Let no one among those holy-rollies think they are any better than we are!”  Et tu, Brute?
     
    So yes, while there are issues of more practical and immediate importance which threaten to destroy us, this is the gorilla in the middle of the room, and many other smaller issues are merely proxy wars on the periphery of this one.
     

  7. expat says

    Kevin B,
    Few Americans know that Germany’s abortion laws are far stricter than current US laws. Few Germans know that Obama voted to permit the killing of a full-term baby that survived an abortion. I actually suspect that most Germans would puke at that. Of course the international MSM doesn’t bother giving people facts. Also, Germany’s initial laws (they may have been somewhat relaxed now) on embryonic stem cell research were not confined to public funding. The parliamentary debate on the topic was serious, and there was no requirement to stick to a party line.
     
    What drives me crazy about the feminist view of abortion is that it is good. This ultimately affects young people’s ideas about the responsibility we have toward children. Somehow, the government should take care of children–not in extreme situations, but all the time.

  8. Michael Adams says

    It’s a funny thing, although I suspect that God is not laughing. It is possible to imagine that a two-week old embryo is “just tissue”, if one must do so, in pursuit of some higher principle. (That women must be free to serve men, sexually, at any time, with no baby as “punishment.” )However, the philosophical principle is just that, a matter of opinion.The science, on the other hand, is that at conception, a genetically different individual is formed. All the rest, the time of “ensoulment”, the conferring of humanity, is a matter of faith. Bad faith.

  9. says

    The Left is a religion, not a political movement. It has dogma, human sacrifices, and worships death at the altar.

    People continue to believe the Left and Democrats in general are just “another political party”, just as corrupt and liarcraft based as the Republicans. Republicans are a political party, not a religious church however. Same can’t be said for the Left.

     

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