Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Third Party in American Politics

It’s not the Libertarians or Independents, the Blue Dogs or so-called “centrists.” It’s not the Tea Party or its lesser-known counterpart, the Coffee Party. The third “party” vying for the public’s time and attention is the media, and Jon Stewart is the party leader.

And if Jon Stewart could or would be elected to lead the nation, Steven Colbert would be vice president.

And they are the leaders precisely because they're funny.

Ironies abound.

After the October 30 “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”—the very title of which is a slap at the other two parties—Stewart spent the next few days doing interviews in which he denied any political intentions. Nonetheless, he was criticized by conservatives for being “liberal” and by liberals for being too neutral. Both sides missed the point—as, in fact, Stewart himself may have done: his commentary on American politics cannot be critical (which it is) and neutral at the same time. But that doesn’t mean he has to take sides.

Stewart is not a-political. He and his counterparts (including Colbert, Tina Fey, and the whole cast of Saturday Night Live) are political in that they routinely comment on issues in government and call out idiocy (of which there is plenty in politics) wherever they find it.

Lest we deny the close association between spoofing politicians and being one, let’s not forget that Al Franken went from satirist to Senator in the space of a few short months.

It should come as no surprise that smart, funny people should have great powers of persuasion. A person can laugh and think at the same time. However, as Robert Ingersoll famously said, “Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind."

This is a lesson some of today's politicians and pundits should keep in mind. Stirring up anger can get people on the march, but once they get started, it's hard to control their direction.

In embracing the Tea Party movement, some Republicans have learned this to their detriment, as the campaigns of some extremist candidates during the last election turned to farce.

On the other hand, as Winston Churchill once said, “A joke is a very serious thing.”

1 comment:

The Tarquin said...

Very good points. Laughter is powerful stuff, and both Stewart and Colbert use it well.

Reminds me of something I've often said about the media, which is that it doesn't have a "Liberal" or "Conservative" bias. It has a "Money" bias. In that way it also acts as a third part, just one that's a bit more meretricious than the others.