Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bernie, Donnie and Jon Drive Them Wild

Bernie, Donnie, and Jon Drive Them Wild
Bernie, Donnie, and Jon.  Three fine fellows who drew three pretty awesome crowds.   

24 Million to watch Donald Trump whisper sweet nothings to everyone in earshot.  3.6 Million for Stewart’s sayonara, his second highest of all time—trailing only an episode in late 2008 where a skinny guy with big ears showed up on his way to Washington.  28,000 for Bernie Sanders in Portland, Oregon—19,000 packed the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trailblazers, and another 9,000 Bernie groupies joined outside the arena. 

Personally, I am a little exhausted.  That’s a lot of viewing and reading I felt compelled to do. 

Let’s start with Bernie.  He’s burning it up—his crowds are bigger than any other candidate, of either party—he came to Portland from Seattle, where he drew an estimated 15,000.  People want to see this guy who looks like some distant elderly relative.  Listen to Bernie and you take away two impressions.  The first is that he’s a slightly crazy socialist who stepped right out of a 50’s Noir film.  The second is that some of the things he says seem to make sense—not all of it, but some of it, and shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.  

Here’s a statement from Bernie’s website, and see how it sits with you.  Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?”

What do you disagree with?  Factually, most metrics show the middle class has been losing ground.  As to a gap—it looks pretty gappy to me.  And as to power—Bernie is right on.  The economic elites have always played a major role in shaping policy, and the Supreme Court has now blessed unlimited spending, and whether they want to acknowledge it or not, unlimited influence-peddling and purchasing. 

Bernie has identified the problems with real clarity.  His “progressive” solutions, to my liberal but capitalist mind, sometimes seem a little farfetched and could do more harm than good, but at least he’s thinking about the issues that confront ordinary people—jobs, economic security, education, healthcare.

This has to be making Hillary Clinton nuts.  Bernie isn’t a threat to her amassing the most votes in the primaries.  But he is a threat to her, intellectually and emotionally.  The enthusiasm you see for him is a function of the fact that he is saying things resonate with his audience—and she isn’t connecting the same way.  I would have very serious doubts about his capacity to do the job—much more so than Hillary.  But if by some bizarre set of circumstances, we were to elect Bernie Sanders, “on day one” he will walk into to the Oval Office wondering what he can do for the maximum number of people.  Bernie is the genuine article, and Bernie wants to help. About how many politicians can you say that?

Now let's move over (a bit) on the ideological spectrum to Jon Stewart.  Until the last week or so, I thought Jon Stewart was a left of center political satirist who skewered (mostly Republican) politicians, could do a very good interview when he wanted to, cursed a little more than I thought absolutely necessary, and was a perfectly pleasant way to spend a few minutes a couple of times a week.  I didn't think he was Allan Nevins, or Walter Cronkite, or Milton Freidman, or William F. Buckley.

I guess I wasn't paying attention.  Literally thousands and thousands of comments appeared on the websites of major newspapers, a remarkable number of them from outraged conservatives. The consensus on the Right was that Jon Stewart failed, and failed horribly, in his duty to be fair and balanced.  Stewart may have had only about 1.4 Million average viewers, but apparently he reached into every conservative household.  Bernie Sanders is just a typical commie-Democrat, and Hillary is, well, Hillary.  Jon Stewart—he was a secret agent cloaked in fake impartiality with the singular mission of driving them bonkers.  Reading some of the comments—and the columns, I would say he succeeded.

My personal favorite of this genre was Gerald Alexander’s “Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness” which appeared in this last Sunday’s New York Times.  Mr. Alexander eloquently enunciated his personal agony with said smugness and Stewart’s abject failure “And Mr. Stewart…. was more qualified than anybody to puncture this particular pretension. He trained his liberal-leaning audience to mock hypocrisy, incoherence and stupidity, and could have nudged them to see the planks in their own eyes, too. Instead, he cultivated their intellectual smugness by personifying it.

As my children would say, LOL—and maybe even a full ROFL.  Jon Stewart was a comedian.  He was funny and fast and if you didn’t like him, you could always turn the channel.  He didn’t demand you agree with him—and in fact, many prominent conservatives were more than happy to come on to join in the fun—including several who have or are currently running for President.  But Stewart wasn’t a teacher.  He didn’t have a higher obligation to find an often-false equivalence between the two parties.  And surely, he didn’t need to start each show with an hourglass on his desk, and flip it half way through his opening monologue with “now, the Stewart Mocking Response to the Stewart Mocking Critique.”  Chill, Mr. Alexander.  Stewart has left the show, and you will no longer have to have to suffer so.  You may now soothe yourself with the pleasant non-partisan poetry of Rush and Sean. 

Now, on to the Donald.  My goodness, the shrieking—his and everyone else’s.  The geese are honking everywhere.  Donald Trump is a big, loud, crass, hyper-caffeinated and hyper-opinionated billionaire. People are drawn to his wealth, his outspokenness, and his alleged capacity to fix things.   

Trump draws, and draws big—does anyone seriously think 24 Million people would have tuned in to bask in Jeb Bush’s charisma? But he’s the physical embodiment of “inconvenient truth” for the GOP.  Trump was set upon last Thursday by a network and a party who want to see him gone (no-one sucks up all the air in the room better than the Donald, except maybe Bill Clinton).  He, predictably, reacted strongly to it, shot his mouth off, particularly about Megyn Kelly, but the Trump Blimp (why not?) still seems afloat.

That makes the GOP a little nuts, just as Bernie makes Hillary a little nuts.  He’s connecting, and the GOP is fainting right now—fainting at the idea that they might be thought of as a little misogynist, a little loose cannon, and a little “unwelcoming” to people who speak with accents.  The mad (but coordinated) scramble to dissociate from him (while love-love-loving his supporters) is a function of that.  

There is a common thread between Trump, Sanders, and Stewart.  For the right audience, they are saying precisely the things those people think need to be said.  And all three, in their distinct ways, are authentic.  What you see is what you get.

The Daily Show carefully planned to replace Stewart with Trevor Noah, and perhaps he will be a hit.  But no one can possibly know right now.  As for Trump and Sanders, their respective parties assume  (read, “hope desperately”) those energized fans will happily, and uniformly, tune in to new hosts. 

Maybe.  When I see fannies in seats, I’ll believe it. 

August 11, 2015

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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