Like BlueGal, I was pretty dubious about Jon Stewart's message at the "Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear" from the get-go. It's all about the national discourse, after all, which has seemed to run something like this:
The Right: Socialism! Marxism! Birth certificates! Death panels! Gun control! Tax increases! The left is going to destroy America!
The Left: Jaysus. These people are insane.
Stewart et. al.: Why can't you guys talk to each other?
This reached its apotheosis in Stewart's speech Saturday -- the vast majority of which (especially the media-critique component) I wholeheartedly agreed with. But then there was this:
There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and tea partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rich Sanchez is an insult -- not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put forth the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more.
Now, most of this I agree with. But Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez weren't accused of being bigots, but rather of abetting bigotry with thoughtless and unprofessional remarks.
Even more to the point, some of the people -- myself included -- who are having trouble distinguishing between Tea Partiers and real racists are people who have had extensive dealings over many years with genuine, card-carrying Klansmen, Aryan Nations, skinheads and Patriot/militia radicals.
Or, more precisely -- as the NAACP pointed out in its report of a couple weeks ago -- we are profoundly disturbed by the growing lack of distance between mainstream conservatives and real extremists as a result of the conduit between them that is the Tea Parties.
All of which makes me wonder: Has Jon Stewart ever actually met one of these "real racists" of whom he speaks? Has he ever had a conversation with a neo-Nazi or Klansman? Or for that matter, even a militiaman?
Because if he had -- and especially if, as those of us who are concerned about this have, he'd taken the time to interview or understand these people -- he would know that they don't come with horns and satanic expressions. They don't all have shaven heads and wear leathers and tats. Indeed, the majority of them often seem surprisingly normal. This is one of the cornerstones of their relentless campaign to mainstream themselves.
What the Tea Parties have provided is a powerful means for extremists to do exactly that. And Jon Stewart -- by pretending that the people who are pointing out that this is taking place are somehow poisoning the national discourse -- is unintentionally helping them.