Fantasy vs. reality

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Nov 14, 2010 at 11:00

Jon Stewart on The Rachel Maddow Show [via Raw Story]:

"CNN sort of started it. They had this idea that, you know, the fight in Washington is Republicans and Democrats. So why don't we isolate that and we'll stand back here and Democrats and Republicans will go at it. Red and blue staters will go at it. What it does is amplifies a division that I actually don't think is the right fight," Stewart said.

"What I do believe is both sides have their way of shutting down debate and the news networks have allowed these two sides to become the fight in the country. And I think the fight in the country is corruption vs. not corruption. Extremists vs. regular [people]."

I don't know, Jon.  How about fantasy vs. reality?  How about "liberals are fascists" vs. "fascists are fascists"?  How about, "You belong to the reality-based community" vs. "WE belong to the reality-based community."  How about "Obama is Kenyan" vs. "Obama's father was Kenyan."  How about "The federal debt 30 years from now is an immediate crisis!" vs. "Real unemployment close to 20% is an immediate crisis"?  How about "global warming is a hoax" vs. "global warming is just one of several ways in which human activity is pushing the Earth beyond the limits of sustainability in its current state"?  How about "Iraq had WMDs" vs. "Bush was developing war plans for Iraq before 9/11."

Now, MSNBC doesn't perfectly embody the "reality" side of the above.  Nobody does.  And there are folks--like Amy Goodman, for example--who consistently do it better.  But as far as major corporate media entities are concerned, the FOX/MSNBC divide can be said to match "fantasy vs. reality" nearly as well as it matches "Red vs. Blue".

So it seems to me, Jon, that you might want to go back to the drawing board and ponder that a bit, before coming up with your next grand plan for how the media might should organize itself.  Plenty of "regular people" wouldn't know reality if it came up and bit them in the ass:

And plenty of folks you might call "extremists" are "extremists" precisely because they are in touch with reality.  Heck, they might even know that George Bush is war criminal.

Technically, of course.

Paul Rosenberg :: Fantasy vs. reality

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Fantasy vs. reality | 26 comments
Your post and points are on target, informative and timely. (0.00 / 0)
I will say however, that when talking about dems who have no spine, and the outright purchase of the RepubliCorp Party, the one supportable bifurcation that Stewart identifies "corrupt vs. not-corrupt" is a workable, outcome directed, progressive policy supporting and maybe most importantly potentially effective.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

True, But (4.00 / 3)
In a sense, our democracy has always been corrupt.  Capitalism itself is inherently corrupt. So the longer you look at it, the less clear-cut a distinction it becomes.

Which is not to say there aren't some clear bright lines to be found....

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Thetr is wide line between the corrupting nature of commodification (4.00 / 1)
which is easily when applied to intimate behaviour, once you commodify intimacy you have sex work and prostitution, its easy to understand. The commodifcation of the millenia old dem,and that we ensure that the least of us is fed becomes starvation, because 'demand' is not need. OK with ya.

But the drive to remove the complete necessity of skulking the big money pits in order top get elected can be addressed, can be fought can be exposed.

I was not as I said disagreeing, it is tangential, but if Stewart could fight corruption, thats a powerful ally in ridding us of the spineless, exposing the self serving.

Hey John, in all seriousness, fight the corruption/self-serving vs not corrupt duality, it could save America, or create the conditions for the saving of America.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
corrupt vs. not-corrupt (0.00 / 0)
I must say, I very much like the corrupt vs. not-corrupt tact.  I actually thought that was one of the smartest arguments he made in the whole conversation.  That was the only time he almost had me on his side of the debate.

Thinking back, this is exactly the complaint he laid on Obama.  I was thinking Stewart came the closest to giving Obama the liberal critique, but it was the liberal critique exactly.  This explains the difference.  Stewart was complaining about Obama's corruption, not his lack of liberalness.  It turns out that a very large percentage of our complaints can be phrased in that manor.

[ Parent ]
I Think What You're Talking About (4.00 / 1)
is related to a point made by Chris as culminating point of his post-2004 elction analysis "Eureka! Or How To Break the Republican Majority Coalition".  In that post, Chris identified a non-ideological reform-oriented segment of the population, which has shown up in third-party presidential campaigns since the Populist era.  He said:

This segment of the electorate can be swung toward the liberal camp, thus breaking the Republican majority coalition, if the pragmatic, non-dogmatic, reformer, anti-status quo, entrepreneurial aspects of liberalism are foregrounded and turned into a national narrative and platform. Pulling this off will also require dismantling the Great Backlash narrative of oppressive liberal elites, and replacing it with a narrative about conservatism being a force that relies on pure theory, faith-based worldviews, and that supports status-quo institutions such as corporations and the media.

I've written about this a number of times here at OpenLeft, for exemple in "Regaining focus: Growing a progressive majority-Part 1" and Part 2.

The thing is, this is an ideologically diverse tendency Chris is pointing to, and without giving a stronger ideological coherence it really can't acheive what it wants to acheive.  That's also the reason for some of the varied criticism that "corruption" as an organizing idea has come in for here.  It has broad appeal in part because it's so vague that people can fill it in with whatever they want.

What's needed is a more disciplined, systemic definition of what it means (and it need not be just one thing, but it can't be just any old thing).  With this, one could actually produce some sort of significant change.  But at this point in our history--particularly afer the wealth concentration of the past 30 years--it's damn hard to honestly define corruption vs. anti-(or even just non-)corruption that doesn't put you directly at odds with the full-on power of the oligarchy, united to an extent that it never has been before--or at the very least, that it never has been since October, 1929.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
our task is never easy (0.00 / 0)
Is there any action to reclaims the U.S. from these exploiters that doesn't "put you directly at odds with the full on power of the oligarchy"?

What we lament is lack of courage in party officials, and the populas to confront the declining power of people and the increasing power of money in our democracy, to the detriment of the vast majority.

At this point, if this (confrontation/fight) can even be made, it will require sacrifice on the same scale as the first time...with the attendent casualties, and grief. But with the propaganda avenues now so tightly controlled by capital, organization is much more difficult than ever before.

Maby the class war is over.

Government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob..... FDR

[ Parent ]
Stewart's naivete (4.00 / 3)
If Stewart ever gets to the point where he realizes that the political parties comprise a two-headed monster designed to maintain the power of the elites and obstruct progressive reform whenever it threatens their autonomy, he'll drastically revise his views. Until then, he's just another media critic (he compares himself to Ebert), occasionally hilarious but often shallow and misguided. His interviews with "war criminals" are truly painful to watch. You might even call them torture.    

Ebert is actually far less naive about the difference between the two sides of the argument (4.00 / 1)
although now that I think about it, Stewart might not be as naive as he is totally fine with a stratified society (one in which he's in the top layer)

[ Parent ]
Well (4.00 / 1)
American political parties have always represented competing blocks of elite rule. There's nothing terribly new in that.

What has changed over the last 30 years is that the oligarchy has gotten a lot greedier than it once was, and that can be attributed in larger measure--though hardly exclusively--to the pushing of a conservative economic agenda. This, in turn, has all sorts of other negative consequences, with which we are all too familiar.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Look at FDR (4.00 / 1)
Roosevelt was about as much of a class-bound elite as a person could be, and yet he offered a real alternative to Hoover's magical thinking (The fundamental business of the country is on a sound and prosperous basis.- Oct. 1929; The gigantic forces of depression are today in retreat. 1932) and seriously addressed the reality of the rest of the country.

This gets back around to the conversation that Chris Hedges has been trying to start with his new book Death of the Liberal Class, which identifies the disappearance of a class of politicians like FDR who rescued the elites by recovering some of the obscene wealth they accumulated through anti-democratic, anti-free market practices, and by protecting the rest of society from their excesses.

Hedges says these people are a proper and legitimate target of rage and anger. As Jon Stewart's commitment to reality disappears into the fog, he earns his share of it.

The MSM has tagged Independents the party of swing-voting 'centrism.' If Democrats no longer represent your liberal values, show America there is still a Left by registering for another left-aligned party.

[ Parent ]
American finance capital (4.00 / 1)
had a huge stake in labor intensive industry, which forced elite financiers to take the interests of organized workers seriously.  No one should underestimate the impact of this variable in evaluating what it is that makes elites like FDR and representatives of his "class of politicians" willing to fight for a demand-sided agenda.  

[ Parent ]
And perhaps (4.00 / 1)
...that's why jobs were the first piece of the wealth picture to be removed from the other classes. Then they extracted the wealth of people's pensions and retirement investments, then the wealth that was contained in their houses, and now we're trying to hold the line at the wealth that is still protected in the social security program.

The slight advance that the health care reform represented should be acknowledged, but now we and the remaining conscientious elites are pivoting into a defensive posture, now reacting. I'm frustrated that there's not better strategy to retake control of the discussion. Why shouldn't the farthest-to-the-left end of this conversation be a proposal to increase the cost-of-living adjustments to social security payouts?

To return to Jon Stewart, he deserves to take some lumps but I'm not giving up on him. I hope he hears the criticism and then returns to truth-telling by dropping the false equivalences and other dishonesty.  

The MSM has tagged Independents the party of swing-voting 'centrism.' If Democrats no longer represent your liberal values, show America there is still a Left by registering for another left-aligned party.

[ Parent ]
FDR Was OLD Money (4.00 / 1)
Really old money.  Like before the British got to New Amsterdam.

That does make a bit of a difference.

Same TR.  What's more, the entire Progressive Movement derived its core leadership and direction largely from folks like that, particularly in New England, overshadowed as it then was by the industrial behemoths of the Midwest.

So, ironically in one sense, the "liberal class" of yore was in good measure composed of the closest thing we had to an aristocracy--at least the Northern part of it--while what they were largely struggling against was predations of new money that was itself in the process of gradually turning itself into old money.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
That's interesting, so was JFK old money (and a political family too) (0.00 / 0)
Still, these elite liberals have helped the masses, a group in which I include myself.

I'm reminded of a scene/line in Oliver Stone's Platoon movie where Charlie Sheen's character is shoveling out the latrine talking to a couple of his black buddies. He tells them he "signed up for this shit," meaning he enlisted voluntarily to ..I forget.. defeat communism (?).

Anyway, his buddies' response - "Shit, you gotta be rich to think like that."

Yeah, food for thought. We need some of those elitists. I guess the moral is just because someone comes from money or has money, it doesn't necessarily mean they're willing to be co-opted, at least not totally, by the corporatist greedy bastards side.

I'm thinking of Jacob Hacker - I mean the guy is a professor at elitist Yale, but writes a book about how Washington power circles and politics as usual soak the middle class and then suggests ways to fight it.


[ Parent ]
2nd Generation? (4.00 / 1)
That's not old money!

Joe was a man in a hurry, though.  So he taught his kids to act like old money.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
FDR - Old money - no kidding! (0.00 / 0)
FDR was seventh-generation American ("American" here meaning born in what would be or now is the US). His ancestor Claes van Rosenvelt arrived in New Amsterdam in the 1640s. (Incidentally, FDR and TR, despite being 24 years apart in age, were at the same level of lineal consanguinity as fifth cousins.)

William E. Leuchtenberg's take on FDR, which I previously posted, sort of fits here, so here it is again [emphasis added]:

In expanding the orbit of the State, Roosevelt demanded that business recognize the superior authority of the government in Washington. At the time, that was shocking doctrine. In the pre-New Deal period, government had often been the handmaiden of business, and many presidents had shared the values of businessmen. When FDR made clear that he did not hold the same values, he was denounced as a traitor to his class. But in one way Roosevelt was not of their class. He was a member of the landed gentry and the old mercantile stratum who could claim ancient lineage. Claes Martenzen van Rosenvelt, the first of the clan in the New World, had come to New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. Both the Roosevelts and the Delanos were prosperous merchant families who had derived much of their fortunes from seafaring. As a landowner with a Hudson River estate, a man from a family that moved easily in the Edith Wharton universe of Knickerbocker society, Roosevelt approached economic problems with different preconceptions from those of the industrialist or the financier on the make.

[ Parent ]
"Corruption" is analytically weak and dangerous (4.00 / 2)
Like the existence of the Tea Party, it tends to denote social discontent without getting at its causes in a meaningful way.  Any contentious decision between two or more competing interests can be and often is described in terms of "corruption," a trope that comes out of an anti-democratic civic humanist tradition that informs Anglo-American political thought.

Both Tammany Hall and the second Bush administration can be described as corrupt in any number of ways.  But understanding the effects of these very corrupt but very different political organizations requires moving beyond a rhetorical trope that obscures far more than it reveals.  

Because it can be used to describe anything, the discourse of "corruption" produces widespread cynicism and disaffection with the political process and activist government, as the right wing administrations who have so successfully deployed it to eviscerate the social safety clearly understand.

Moreover, and this is something that should interest Stewart, invoking corruption as an explanatory variable provides a useful way to shut down productive debate.  It is a term of approbation that is based on the conduct of individuals who lack "virtue," its rhetorical opposite, and therefore, to identify corruption is to identify the source of the problem.  Ironically, calling George W. Bush a war criminal calls out for a discussion of Bush's relationship to his administration, its policy choices and how these choices relate to questions of American and international law.  

While the rhetoric of corruption can be a useful way to draw attention to a topic, it's important that people on the left who deploy it move quickly from it to meaningful, easy-to-understand criticisms that place political decisions in their broader social context, a tendency that the radical individualist discourse of corruption tends to prevent.  

Convenient euphemisms (4.00 / 3)
There is a left. There is a right. There is such a thing as history, and it didn't begin with the American middle class. Extremism or corruption isn't an explanation for anything. Stewart uses these terms either because he doesn't understand the real explanations, or doesn't want to confront them. Either way, he's wrong.

Why can't we all get along? As it turns out, that isn't a question Jon Stewart can answer.

[ Parent ]
Newness (4.00 / 2)
What would be new from our punditocracy would be a recognition that the elites are not competing for power in the party system but sharing power like a really bad WWF tag team in order to block progressive reform from both sides of the aisle. As long as people believe the Dems represent their best interests, there is little hope of moving forward. And I fail to see how Obama's actions with the majorities he achieved in 2008 can be interpreted as anything other than intentional obstructionism, the dream of bipartisanship as just another resurrection of Karp's indestructible enemies theory. And it works every time because Dem voters don't want to believe their party is not acting in good faith - though the last turnout indicates they're catching on. Of course, recognizing such a relationship means one has to change the nature of the discourse, and it's much more comfortable to keep pointing out how bad the Tea Party is or wishing that more and better Dems would get elected. When most of the Blue Dogs, supposedly in their own self-interest, oppose a larger stimulus and the public option, yet still go down to defeat the curious mind should wonder why that is so. Who profits? And the answer is the duopoly - because reform is withstood for another election cycle, apathy and indifference increase among voters, and lack of interest only stokes the status quo. Rinse. Repeat.  

An early and important... (4.00 / 2)
piece of my own psychological survival against defeatism was to self-identify as a member of the progressive movement rather than as a 'Democrat.'

That's a pretty pedestrian observation for folks around here, but it bears repeating when you say, "As long as people believe the Dems..."

I believe the Dems are a means to an end if we can gain sufficient control. We step into - and out of - the party when it makes sense to. That's it.

The MSM has tagged Independents the party of swing-voting 'centrism.' If Democrats no longer represent your liberal values, show America there is still a Left by registering for another left-aligned party.

[ Parent ]
... (0.00 / 0)
Speaking of movements, I noticed Tea Party leader Jim Demint seemed determined to keep Social Security off the table of possible cuts to balance the budget in his TV appearance this morning. He reiterated the message that Social Security is "already paid for" and that people are only getting out of it what they put into into it.

If the Tea Party is going to prove it's more than just a party-line Republican mouthpiece, that's a great place to start.

Progressives should take their allies where they find them, and I'd be happy to have Jim Demint and the Tea Partiers as an ally on this.

The MSM has tagged Independents the party of swing-voting 'centrism.' If Democrats no longer represent your liberal values, show America there is still a Left by registering for another left-aligned party.

[ Parent ]
While I'm definitely supportive (4.00 / 3)
of criticizing Partisan War Syndrome, this opposition to partisanship is a misfire. How are citizens supposed to hold their government accountable if the parties don't offer a clear contrast?  

Obviously, more troubling is the idea that we really all agree about the important stuff.  Intended or not, demand that we not disagree too much (or about things considered too fundamental) means reinforcing the status quo (i.e. continued control by the powerful).

William is completely right that this is also about an attempt to drain consideration of values from politics, which is counterproductive and misleading.  Oddly enough, here Jon is only different in degree, not kind, from Rachel, who really needs to dig into Lakoff (Jon should do, but he seems to pride himself on doing the things Lakoff criticizes, where Rachel seems to be doing it more by default.)

One more thing - the study about the Submerged State is better understood as demonstrating that what politicians have sought to hide has remained hidden. It shows that policies designed to be seen by citizens are and have a strong impact on their beliefs about government, taxes and fairness.  As usual, an apparent failing of the masses is actually a failing of elites.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

good lord - (0.00 / 0)
it's on and on - All what the Jon-dude is actually doing is fighting -(with his 'tools') - for 'progressives-liberals-left" -
He is NOT the pope - so he never will understand nor stick to our 'dogmas'!
(if you know what I mean?) - He will say a lot of stupid things -(like all of us) - and he will regret it and he will try to explain it better -(and you still might not like it) - But in f... comparison he - and Rachel and even the Olberdude - are HEROES of truth and wisdom in a pretty 'insane' enviroment - and that's all what counts! - Right?

and about this war criminal stuff - (0.00 / 0)
when shock and awe hit the world I was in Italy and marched together with a lot of Italians against 'the American Imperialists' -(Me or Myself?) - and there were all these News in the Italian press that an overwhelming majority of Americans
(again!) - supported war and not peace - and a half year later I had a lot of very unpleasent discussions with some family members in Orange County who wholeheartedly supported that war - and that's why I am also very careful with the term 'war criminal' because - I just don't want them end up in prison -
(and please try to transform this very simplistic explanation into something very deep and meaningful!)


and if you weren't able to 'transform' - (0.00 / 0)
In my other 'homeland' (Germany) - there is still this discussion going on:
"How much did the people know and how responsible was the average person for the crimes of the Nazis'? (or Hitler!) And there is a 'school' of thinker you might be aware - who don't accept the 'cop out': "Oh it was all Hitlers fault -(and some other mad mens) - And it get's even more interesting -  when the question arise: "Why didn't the people stop these crimes"? -  Why didn't the masses speak out? - Now in a real Fascistic state - where your head is handed to you if you critisize the 'dear leader' there seems to be some kind of a 'excuse'? - But in a so called democracy??!
From a certain standpoint you might have to make the 'crimes' of your leaders your own - and perhaps that explains some things - you might not want to have explained?  

[ Parent ]
Are you really trying to imply that every single person in the US is as (0.00 / 0)
culpable for the crimes of the US government as those that some of them voted for?

Do you really believe that the folks running the Pentagon give one flying fuck whether "we" supported their war of choice or not?

By trying to equate my culpability with that of the Bush League - and now Mr. Obama - you are diffusing the responsibility. Maybe you forgot, but this is not a direct democracy.

How would you suggest people like me have stopped the invasion?  Be specific (if not comprehensible).

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Fantasy vs. reality | 26 comments

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