Jon Stewart presumably came to DC to rally the sane against Glenn Beck’s minions and 9/11 Truthers. But instead of amplifying that message in The Daily Show interview with President Obama yesterday, Stewart opted to focus on the most weak and superficial criticisms of the President, and refused to budge when those criticisms were ably addressed.
In our democracy, Stewart has every right to ask the President critical questions. He has every right to give disrespectful snarky retorts to the President’s answers. He also has the right to be wrong.
Stewart’s most significantly wrong comment was to say that the health care reform law was “timid.”
There are certainly policy criticisms one could make about the bill. But timid?
Legislation that will provide near universal coverage by making it a legal obligation for most Americans to take personal responsibility to purchase coverage? Billions in subsidies to help low-income Americans by insurance? Major cost control reforms to save $500 billion in Medicare spending?
All politically risky provisions that have opened Democrats up to searing attack ads and right-wing legal challenges. All provisions that led to insane reactions from the Tea Party, which prompted Stewart to hold his rally in the first place.
That is the opposite of timid.
When pressed, Stewart revised his comment to say what was timid was “how” the bill got passed, that President Obama chose to negotiate compromises with the insurance industry instead of opposing it totally.
Now, there are two ways to view the White House’s negotiations with insurers: as a mistake that weakened the final bill, or as necessary to limit opposition and get a final bill that still included major reforms.
(The insurance industry did not formally back the final bill, but neither did it run a scorched earth campaign to kill the bill as it did in 1994.)
But how is it timid to have reached across the breach, found common ground between progressive reformers and industry? It involved much political risk, damaged his relationship with members of his own coalition, and didn’t yield much gratitude from Corporate America either.
That is not to say it would have been more timid to outright opposite the industry and make the lack of public insurance option worthy of a presidential veto. Obviously there would be great political risk in that stance too, because it may have meant not having any comprehensive bill after telling the public to judge his presidency whether or not he got it done.
The point is: to pursue comprehensive health care reform at all was courageous.
Most of President Obama’s own advisers urged him not to do comprehensive health care, set the bar lower, maybe push a plank or two and call it a day.
To duck the issue would have been timidity. That would have been letting problems fester because tackling them requires political risks. That would have been business as usual.
Tuesday’s election presents us with a choice. Do we want Congress to keep solving problems, or do we want a Congress to give up trying?
Actually trying to solve big problems is essential for America to be vibrant once again, but it invariably leaves some dissatisfied.
It even can make the normally sane, like Jon Stewart, lose all perspective and cling to overly simplistic knee-jerk arguments.
The very kind of arguments Saturday’s rally was suppose to challenge, even if Stewart’s volume is, in his words, taken down a notch.