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Moore and Stewart


One doesn’t usually look to Pop Matters for political essays, but this piece praising Michael Moore and lambasting Jon Stewart is interesting.

Michael Moore is one of the few heroes of contemporary American culture. He is a true patriot, a serious populist, and a clever provocateur, dedicated to striking politicians, jabbing corporate elites, and encouraging the American public into summoning the courage necessary to create a country of egalitarian love, benevolent community, and universal justice. The amazingly simple messages of his films – don’t outsource manufacturing plants because it will destroy American towns, don’t allow people to buy guns without precautionary measures, don’t deny people health care for seemingly arbitrary reasons to increase corporate profit, don’t go to war for specious reasons – have, in just a few years, gone from controversial to dully prescient and obviously correct


It’s impossible to understand the hatred of Moore from the cocktail party and faculty lounge scene of the liberal establishment without also understanding the same politically impotent group’s love for Jon Stewart. Understanding the juxtaposition of Moore andStewart reveals the true depths of the failure and soullessness of modern American liberalism.


Michael Moore is a populist and Jon Stewart is an elitist. The blind liberal embrace of the superficial smugness of Stewart and detachment from the heroism of Moore is the most powerful and convincing illustration of the suicidal tendencies, moral bankruptcy, and spiritual decay of the American left.

Well then. It’s obviously meant to be a provocative essay and while I wanted to toss it out the window, I actually have a hard time doing so. Stewart is brilliant and generally remains so. He allowed me to stay sane during the Bush years. But he’s obviously not a movement leader. He’s a satirist. When he leaves that role, things get shaky. The Rally to Restore Sanity never did make any sense; not surprisingly, it also made no difference.

That hardly means one is an elitist to enjoy his show. The piece John Oliver did on the Occupy Wall Street was fantastic. I think one has to be able to laugh at the movement one is involved in.

Or maybe not. If we are leaving an age where young people are super ironic and unable to commit to a cause, that’s probably a good thing. I’ve bemoaned that very irony many times. Sincere belief in a cause may open one up to a bit of teasing, but that’s a small price to pay for making change.

On the other hand, I still have trouble seeing Michael Moore as heroic and I don’t think that makes me “a member of the faculty lounge scene of the liberal establishment” to say so, even if that describes me pretty well (though I generally disdain anything reeking of a faculty lounge). Moore may be a “true populist,” but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Moore may be right on many issues, but he’s also a provocateur and not much more. He’s an extreme egoist, has committed his life and art to promoting himself as much as any cause, and gets attacked not for his causes or his weight but because too often his actions themselves, as well as the level of analysis in his films and books, are indeed kind of embarrassing for the hard-thinking liberal. If saying that makes me insufficiently worshipful of leading lefties, so be it.

Jon Stewart might not provide any kind of leadership for lefty activists, but Michael Moore isn’t too much. We need better leaders. Occupy Wall Street is hopefully creating those leaders. May they be more serious than Moore.

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  • Murc

    I think Stewart IS an elitist, and I for one think that’s a good thing.

    But the job you’re applying for, if you get it and it goes well, they might carve your head into a mountain. If you don’t actually think you’re better than us, then what the fuck are you doing? In fact, not only do I want an elite president, I want someone who’s embarrassingly superior to me, somebody who speaks 16 languages and sleeps two hours a night hanging upside down in a chamber they themselves designed…

  • mattc

    Stewart’s biggest problem isn’t that he’s an elitist, it’s that his political values seem to be largely aesthetic. He’s uncomfortable with any forceful advocacy of a political opinion, regardless of what that opinion may be, because such passion conflicts with his posture of detached irony. Clearly, Stewart cares a lot about politics, but he clearly doesn’t think it’s something to get WORKED UP about. And that’s a recipe for disaster in the current environment of populist rabble rousing. When a gaggle of hover-round riding racists can hijack the entire political dialog with some misspelled signs and a willingness to shit their pants at town hall meetings, cool reason and witty blog comments are not going to win the day.

    • wengler

      Yeah, I’d agree with this.

      Stewart’s contention is that American politics need less assholes in it. Yeah, that would be great. We only need a new electoral system and a new people.

      American democracy is practically engineered to ensure that assholes will win. Once you figure that out, you can start figuring out ways to filter them out of the system. Stopping the selling of politicians is step 1. A calm attitude isn’t going to help. In America, someone else will just yell louder. Ensuring everyone participates in our democracy IS NOT an American value.

    • Murc

      Stewart cares a lot about politics, but he clearly doesn’t think it’s something to get WORKED UP about.

      I disagree. I think Stewart respects, and is often humbled by, passion. What drives him nuts is idiocy and especially ignorance.

      To put it another way, he respects Paul Krugman, but has a certain amount of contempt for a kid in a Che shirt who rambles on about the proletariat and thinks reading Das Kapital makes him an expert on the class struggle.

      • mattc

        But he’s willing to disdain any political movement that might involve the participation of the dipshit in the Che shirt. He wants a movement made up entirely of rational, fully informed people, or he doesn’t want to a movement, and that’s just too high a hurdle to cross.

        • Murc

          Honestly? I kind of agree with him.

          I’m embarrassed by the dipshit in the Che shirt, and I don’t want to be associated with him. I’m also embarrassed by the woman who called Barack Obama ‘an inadequate black male’ and don’t want to be associated with HER. I think such people should either be educated, or, if that fails, mocked and ostracized.

          I also think the Republicans should be embarrassed by, and mocking and ostracizing, their yahoo supporters. Eisenhower once had the balls to call them stupid when he knew he was being transcribed.

          • DocAmazing

            I’m embarrassed by the Obama fanbois who keep telling me about all the great stuff the Democrats will do if we can just get enough of them in, but I’m forced to make common cause with them for strategic reasons. You might want to consider something similar when you’re feeling superior.

            • Murc

              Eh? Not sure I get your point. When did I come out against making common cause with someone for strategic reasons?

              Political movements make common cause with people they’re simultaneously trying to tie to the anchor and push out of the boat all the time. They’re not mutually exclusive.

              • DocAmazing

                And you wonder why the Dems keep losing.

                • Murc

                  Eh? I do? Losing what, precisely? Elections? The national debate?

                  Also that sentence seems to be a bit of a non-sequiter with regard to the current discussion and I find myself baffled as to its relevance.

                  (This isn’t snark, by the way.)

                • And obviously, there comes a point when being seen as fellow travelers with someone becomes a political anchor. Buckley and the Birchers is the archetypal example.

          • Tybalt

            “I’m embarrassed by the dipshit in the Che shirt, and I don’t want to be associated with him. I’m also embarrassed by the woman who called Barack Obama ‘an inadequate black male’ and don’t want to be associated with HER.”

            Then you will never win anything in politics. Not in a democracy. Democracies require you to build BIG coalitions to get shit done, and if you get the vapors every time the unwashed stand on your carpet, you’ll spend most of your time losing.

            • UserGoogol

              Why? Douchebags in Che shirts do not exactly have their fingers on the levers of power.

              • DocAmazing

                Assembling electoral majorities usually requires actually assembling majorities–not just groups of the well-connected or well-dressed.

                • UserGoogol

                  Of course he should vote for the Democratic Party. But constructing electoral majorities is a completely separate issue. Activism isn’t just about elections. And protesting is specifically about making rational arguments intended to persuade relevant factions: speaking truth to power, as it were. Someone can be useful on election day but not on protest day.

                • John

                  Are you really suggesting that morons in Che shirts are a significant numerical portion of the Democratic coalition?

              • They have exactly the same number of votes that you do, moron.


                • Charlie

                  I’m probably more on the Obama-fanboy side of the scale that Doc Amazing can just barely tolerate, but he is 100% correct.

                  What pisses me off about this article is the assumption that some folks on the left don’t like Michael Moore because he so strongly identifies himself with the working class. I think that’s largely horseshit.

        • marijane

          Heck, he disdained Code Pink. That’s when he lost me.

      • L2P

        It’s hard to reconcile a purported love of passion, but not “ignorance,” with stuff like the Rally to Restore Sanity. Stewart’s schtick seems to be largely that extremists need to be not so extreme. He’ll poke fun at silly people, but for the love of gawd he has a 30 minute humor show based on politics and news – if he didn’t make fun of silly people, what would he do? But his “anti-extremism” take pushes him to strange destinations from time to time that have nothing to do with “ignorance.”

        I also can’t tell if you think it’s a good or bad thing that Stewart has some h8 in him for the college kid in the Che shirt. Frankly, I’d think Stewart should have some respect for any college kid who struggled through Das Kapital and cares about anything resembling a proletariat instead of lower taxes and more oil drilling in Alaska.

        • Murc

          I will agree with this to an extent. Stewart is old enough that he tends to have latent Broderist tendencies that come out at the worst possible times. And its absolutely maddening when he does it. The views of a fringe activist who can’t get anyone to take his calls are not equivalent to the views of a United States Senator who gets thunderous applause from his colleagues, constituents, and media allies when he shouts them on national TV. They just are not. Furthermore, ‘extreme’ and ‘incorrect’ are not congruent sets.

          ‘Kid in the Che shirt’ was meant to be shorthand for ‘guy who maybe, MAYBE means well, but who is ill-informed at best, cares more about identity than analysis, and gets mad angry when you point either of those things out.’ The Che shirt is a convenient shorthand for that, because anyone wearing one un-ironically is pretty ignorant, although that’s not necessarily their fault.

          • Mike

            But the kid wearing a Che shirt who’s read Das Kapital and is talking about the proletariat and the class struggle, undereducated though he may be, is getting at the same basic foundations that any liberal or progressive worldview is built on: the world is an unfair place that screws over a lot of people for the benefit of a few; something should be done to change that. A movement that mocks and ostracizes that kid, or anyone else who doesn’t have highly-informed logical reasoning behind that basic emotional analysis, is a movement that’s voluntarily consigning itself to the minority. You said they should be educated above, and I think that’s a good idea, but there has to be emotion first or all the education in the world is wasted. In fact, I think that’s Stewert’s problem. He’s clearly a very smart guy but he seems to think that extremism of any sort is unseemly. I’ll take the kid with the Che shirt; nuanced political views can be learned, genuine passion for change can’t.

            • wiley

              The kid might be wearing the shirt to be wearing something symbolic of popular revolution, and he may or may not know what an exceptional, and extraordinary revolutionary leader he was. What would be ironic is the kid in the Che t-shirt wanting a leaderless revolution.

              • Murc

                he may or may not know what an exceptional, and extraordinary revolutionary leader he was.

                Oh, Che was “exceptional” and “extraordinary” for very, very technical definitions of those words. I definitely agree with you there.

                • exceptional and extraordinary revolutionary leader. the revolutionary part is important.

      • Pith Helmet

        Paul Krugman has been on TDS approximately 1 time.

    • Malaclypse

      He’s uncomfortable with any forceful advocacy of a political opinion, regardless of what that opinion may be, because such passion conflicts with his posture of detached irony.

      This, exactly.

      • Marek


      • DrDick


  • Captain Splendid

    If we are leaving an age where young people are super ironic and unable to commit to a cause, that’s probably a good thing.

    Irony is expensive.

  • Jim Lynch

    “..On the other hand, I still have trouble seeing Michael Moore as heroic..”.

    At your age, I should hope so.

    You acknowledge that he makes sense about a lot of things, but something about Moore rubs you the wrong way. That’s OK. Indeed, it’s eminently human.

    You also seem to possess a decent sense of humor (which essentially means you can laugh at yourself). Equally obviously, Masciotra does not. At least, if his very, very serious take on Moore vs. Stewart is to be believed.

    Could well be you guys are the flip side of the same coin.

    • However, if you read the opening piece in Moore’s book, about the death threats and attacks he endured after his Oscar speech and Fahrenheit 9/11, you might reconsider. He endured the harassment and attacks with poise and humor and integrity.

      Depends on your threshold of ‘heroic’ I guess. I also guess you’ve never had people walking up to your house to leave death threats.

      • Jim Lynch

        Anyone “walking up to [my] house to leave death threats” will be confronted. As to anonymous threats? I haven’t a clue as to how I’d react.

        That noted, I appreciate your point.

        But fuck your point, too. To paraphrase Churchill: “We haven’t crossed the plains, and the mountains, and the seas because we are made of sugar candy”.

  • strannix

    I think both Moore and Stewart are terrific and I wish the liberal movement had a few more of each.

    • kth

      Yes, if there’s anything hollow about the linked item, it’s the juxtaposition. We are marginally better off for having Jon Stewart on the telly, and there’s no reason not to admire both of them.

      Also the Mark Ames item linked in the PopMatters post, though old (2004), is pretty epic and makes the PopMatters points far more forcefully.

    • R. Porrofatto

      Thank you. Stewart is a comedian. Michael Moore is a filmmaker. Moore may be more of an outright advocate than Stewart, but they both spend much of their art deflating a tiny fraction of the neocon lies and talking points about everything. As we drown in a fucking deluge of right-wing mendacity, and propaganda (and occasionally behavior) which would have been correctly labeled “fascist” prior to our feckless post-Pantload world, the more high-profile liberal/left/elitist/populist voices being heard the better. The other side has its own entire cable network for chrissakes, and a zillion 24/7 right wing nutball radio stations.

      So yeah, let’s spend some more time picking apart the few remaining lefty voices capable of rising above this fucking din and congratulate ourselves for our aesthetic purity. That’ll change the world.

      Jeesus, is it any wonder the left in this country still has to fight battles won elsewhere 60 fucking years ago?

  • wengler

    I take Colbert for the win. There is no better satirist alive today, and what he did at the press dinner took balls the size of Jupiter. His character allows him to make fun of ridiculous rightwing absurdities, but it also allows him to educate about things he cares about. Just look at what he is doing with his Colbert SuperPAC. A full indictment on the pay-for-votes system that we currently have.

    I like Moore unequivocally. That doesn’t mean I always agree with him, but the reason that so many liberals have problems with him is that he doesn’t deal in nuance and ‘well, but’ statements. He is the only one on the left that seems to understand that nuance will kill you in American politics. It’s not ‘I don’t agree with the war, but I think Saddam is a bad guy’, it’s ‘Stop the fucking war, this is madness!’

    Stewart can be very cutting, but he will almost always retreat back to schtick when real disagreements come up with guests on his show. His lecturing can also be grading and unfunny, but the writers on his show are generally in the right place.

    • jeer9

      I also think Colbert is the sharpest and most courageous of the three, and I love his recent many-leveled bits interviewing that deep thinker, Frank Luntz. Moore is a pretty awful daily pundit, with the most thoughtless sort of reactive, visceral responses, though his films remain entertaining and provocative. Stewart is at heart a mushy centrist who believes in a mythological Friedmanish consensus of rationality – and his interviews with rightwing politicians/apologists are just embarrassing. Civility apparently means being willing to let others use you to promote their BS or ignore the consequences of their unprincipled leadership.

      • djw

        I think this is basically right on Moore. Good (occasionally great) muckraker, lousy and self-important pundit. I’ll probably go see his next movie, but I wouldn’t dream of reading one of his books.

    • I agree with basically everything jeer said. You can characterize it how you will, but I don’t care for Moore primarily because, at base, he’s a reactionary. Sometimes that’s okay, sometimes it’s not.

      • Barry

        “…but I don’t care for Moore primarily because, at base, he’s a reactionary.”


    • Marek


  • He’s an extreme egoist, has committed his life and art to promoting himself as much as any cause, and gets attacked not for his causes or his weight but because too often his actions themselves, as well as the level of analysis in his films and books, are indeed kind of embarrassing for the hard-thinking liberal.

    So why does he get death threats from the Breitbart-ian type set? And from RWNJ’s in general? How come the NYSE refused to let him into the CNBC studio located inside the NYSE building? You can disagree with, and make fun of, Moore all you want. If Moore helps get people off their couch and convinces them to partake in the various Occupy movements, all the better.

    • wengler

      Not to mention he’s had people trying to kill him since 2003. Not just angry phone call death threats, but one guy arrested gearing up to shoot him and another stopped from throwing boiling liquid on his face.

      Giving Moore shit for advocating what you believe in is stupid. He was literally the only guy out there with a voice pushing back and he’s paid for it in fear for personal safety and the safety of his family.

  • sleepyirv

    Professor Loomis, I don’t think you take the argument head-on here and might incidentally prove the writer’s point about the elitism and populism gap. Michael Moore is a self-promoter. So what? How’s is that damaging to liberals? I also agree Moore is willing to play fast and loose with the facts- the article suggests Moore is pushing a more emotionalist line than trying to get the facts to the public. I think it’s fair to criticize this line of argument, but you can’t leave it at “embarrassing for the hard-thinking liberal.” As Adlai Stevenson supposedly once said, “That’s not enough, we need a majority!”

    Between Stewart and Moore, it’s mostly a false dichotomy. The Daily Show skit is correct. A lot of the OWS people might be fruit loops, but they’re actually doing something. I’m sure a lot of them are big Daily Show fans but I would guess they are also Michael Moore.

    Jon Stewart seems to be uncomfortable with his position in culture. He’s a comedian with a great writing staff who isn’t sure to handle of being counted as an influential news source. I do not think highly of his choice of trying to ignore it but I can emphasize with the fact that he really couldn’t predict this happening. It does make me want to read a biography of Will Rogers. (I haven’t watch The Daily Show regularly in a couple years now, so I apologize if I’m now way off-base on Stewart and company.)

    • Actually, I think Stewart is so much better when hes not doing the comedy show. Think of his performances destroying Tucker Carlson or ripping up Bill O’Reilly. He lets his real opinions out, and doesn’t rely on going for the joke. Although he invariably does it with humor, and with respect, without getting loud or insulting, and you can tell that takes the shouting head types by surprise.

    • wengler

      I didn’t like that skit, because in effect it was doing the same thing that other corporate media has trademarked. Take something you find silly about a movement and put a giant magnifying glass on it.

      I remember the part where John Oliver was making fun of the guy for doing the jazz hands to signal support or oppose in their General Assembly meeting. ‘Why don’t you clap, fruit loop?’ was the joke. There are no mics allowed there. If people clapped, they wouldn’t be able to hear the speaker. Why doesn’t he just go down the street and make fun of traders for making all sort of stupid hand gestures?

      It’s stupid ‘too cool for school’ shit that pisses me off.

      • Hogan

        I thought the joke was that if you think about it for ten seconds, you know why they don’t clap. Oliver was impersonating the kind of reporter who can’t or won’t think about it for ten seconds.

        • xaaronx

          I agree that’s what Oliver was doing, but a lot of people will just see the surface joke and not notice that. It’s great for comedy, because it works either way. It’s bad for activism, because it’s open to either interpretation. Being open to this sort of mockery and pigeonholing is why I was so disappointed when the hippies with drums and tie-dyed shirts showed up at my local Occupy protest Saturday before last.

          • wiley

            After the Iraq War protest in D.C. in 2004, I was walking back to my hotel when I saw a group of three anarchist-looking types in pitch perfect anarchist-type costume facing off with a group of corn-fed family values types in pitch perfect “real American” garb holding signs and screaming in each others’ faces. I thought, ‘This is what’s going to be on the local news tonight’. Whaddya know. Either the camera man was right behind me, or they staged that scene for a very long time.

      • McWyrm

        I agree. It was fairly typical – if somewhat gentle – hippy punching.

        Didn’t somebody connected with this site jump on the Iraq warwagon because he didn’t want to be associated with kids in Che t-shirts? That sort of wrongheaded douchbaggery is captured quite nicely by Oliver’s skit.

        • Furious Jorge

          I always thought that was Ezra Klein and/or Matt Yglesias.

          • McWyrm

            I was thinking of Robert Farley, and I didn’t quite do him justice. He was merely anti-anti-war-movement.

            “I know that one of the hardest obstacles I had to overcome in adopting an anti-war position on Iraq was the recognition that I would be on the same side as all those dumbass hippies I knew at the University of Oregon, as well as those dumbass hippies I know in Seattle. At the time, I always strove to distance my arguments from theirs…”

    • david mizner

      Yes, comparing apples and oranges here, although Stewart invites the comparison by taking himself seriously as he did with his ridiculous rally, which in theme and tone resembles a David Broder column with jokes.

      That said, Loomis understate Moore’s contributions. How many leftwing populists – including pols — have had the impact he’s had? How many people can claim during these dark years to have used a national platform to highlight the issues that are now finally beginning to get attention thanks to OWS? Flaws aside and there are many, it seems to me he plays a singular role in our culture and it’s a more important one than Stewart’s.

      • david mizner

        The article linked to makes a similar point:

        I cannot think of a single American Leftist in my lifetime as effective as Michael Moore, and if Fahrenheit 9/11 is objectively anything at all, it is objectively effective. Bravery is fairly cheap on the Left exchange — you have to be brave to be Left in this Reptilian Age — but to actually get out of the Left’s ghetto, into the debate, and to strike and strike hard…only one managed that, without going soft or becoming “balanced” and “realistic.”

        I think the term leftist is fair. There other people to whom the label applies who’ve gained a national platform — Cornel West, Ralph Nader, Barbara Ehrenreich, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, Glenn Greenwald even — but more influential than Moore?

        • That would make a little bit more sense if I could think of anything Moore has been effective at. Beyond making himself a lot of money, of course.

          • Tybalt

            He’s put unabashedly left-wing ideas (unfiltered through fiction or weasel words) in front of more American eyeballs than any other single person working today. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you; maybe you consider popularizing and communicating left-wing thought to be beneath a serious person.

            But again, if winning things in a democracy matters to you, then the ability to communicate ideas to a very large number of people is paramount. Moore does that better than anyone else working. For me, that matters.

            • I don’t know about any of that. As far as prominence, I’m inclined to think Krugman is probably truly “in front of more eyeballs” than Moore is. And as for effectiveness, again, I don’t see any evidence that he’s at all effective in terms of actually promoting leftist ideas as opposed to using them to promote himself. He’s essentially like Limbaugh or Palin in that respect; good at turning a large fanbase in the sense of the market into a money making opportunity and getting exposure on top of it, but off-putting to most people. I don’t think that makes Moore the most effective leftist out there anymore than I think Palin is the most effective promoter of American conservatism.

              • Tybalt

                Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed $120 million in the US alone. Tens of millions have seen it. The Times has 900,000 subscribers, pretty much all of whom have long ago made their minds up about left-wing ideas. (And pretty much all of whom are hippie-punching establishment liberals anyway.)

                Then there’s the audience you’re reaching. I’ll be blunt – I don’t value Krugman’s audience at all. Not just because they are already getting a perfectly respectable dose of left-wing thougt (if a weak brew thereof). But when push comes to shove for doing things that matter for working people, the Krugmanites will cut and run.

                Moore is out there making converts and helping ordinary people see politics in a new light. Krugman is talking to the wonks.

                • Considering the amount of syndication Times columnists get and the orientation of your typical newspaper reader, I’m inclined to think that Moore’s movies do much more preaching to the choir than Krugman’s columns do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that by any means.

              • Anonymous

                Wow. How much of an elitist do you have to be to believe more people read a NYT columnist than watch TV or movies?

                • kth

                  In fairness, Krugman is syndicated and appears on oped pages all over the country.

                  But the discourse of an oped section is really, really narrow. I love Krugman, but there’s no way he’s had the impact that Moore has.

                • I’ve never really gotten why assuming people read the newspaper is elitist, but in any case, where is Moore relevant in everyday discourse? He’s released some popular movies to be sure, but he’s not Limbaugh or Hannity by any stretch.

                  Maybe it’s mostly a type difference. Moore is good for the occasional large set piece that makes a big splash, while Krugman is the more constant presence.

                • JL

                  Krugman’s column appeared in my local paper in Kentucky when I was a teenager. You don’t have to be a dedicated NYT reader to have exposure to his stuff.

              • Malaclypse

                As far as prominence, I’m inclined to think Krugman is probably truly “in front of more eyeballs” than Moore is.

                Krugman is not now, and never has been, a leftist. He, like DeLong, is a technocratic centrist.

                Krugman is only a leftist in the sense that nobody sane votes Republican.

                • I guess the insanity of the right kind of muddies things a little bit, but I’m not really sure what definition of leftist would obviously include Moore and exclude Krugman.

                • Malaclypse

                  NAFTA would be the most obvious difference. Advocating Eisenhower-level taxes would be another.

                  I’m not sure of any definition of leftist that includes Krugman, other than “sane.”

                • The Republican definition, silly.

                • Meh, if trade issues are going to be the divide, I think that’s a pretty pointless distinction to make. I’m willing to bet a lot of money Krugman isn’t blind to the fact that trade displaces workers and is fully supportive of policies to make sure they aren’t ruined as a result.

                  Or, more broadly, I simply reject the notion that you have to be a protectionist to be a liberal/leftist, and there’s something rather odd about wrapping leftism in an overtly nationalistic shell.

                • Malaclypse

                  I also mentioned taxes, a point you conveniently ignored.

                  I still remember Krugman’s column where he advocated workers seize the means of production, and liquidate the bankers as a class…

                  Seriously, if you think Krugman is a “leftist” you need to get out more. Hell, Crooked Timber has economists way to Krugman’s left.

                • I didn’t necessarily mean to ignore your point about taxes, I’m just not really sure how to fit it into the distinction, because it’s not really a moral issue on the left like it is on the right. On the left, it’s more a matter of what level of taxation is optimal the produce best outcomes in a given circumstance, not some sort of “higher taxes for the hell of it” yin to the “tax cuts for everything” yang.

                  And again, to the extent that progressive taxation has a moral bent, I’m fairly certain Krugman is a strong supporter of asking rich people to pay more taxes.

                  I’m not saying that Krugman is as radical as Moore by any means, but in the mass media sense I don’t really think that makes much of a difference.

                • krugman has certainly moved to the american political left over the years. he started out essentially as an economic neocon who had actually read a couple of books in his life and since then has been lurching to the left as the world and his worldview have collapsed around him.

                • Furious Jorge

                  he started out essentially as an economic neocon

                  This is true. A few years back I taught a section of The Geography of the Developing World, and I included a film from around 1998 or 1999 that featured Krugman. I was actually a bit surprised at the tone of his comments – they sounded very neocon-ish to me.

              • In any event, conceding that I may well be totally wrong about his relative prominence, there’s still the point that prominence does not inherently equal effectiveness.

                • mark f

                  Point in your favor: Krugman has had more cameos in Judd Apatow movies.

  • UserGoogol

    Irony has a bad rap. In order for people to come to reasonable conclusions, they need to be rational, and in particular they need to be skeptical of their own beliefs. Being detached and snarky about your beliefs allows you to not put your beliefs on a pedestal. And more importantly, irony is not the same thing as apathy.

    • Ben

      Praising irony for supposedly allowing a more detached appraisal of your own views is like praising the military industrial complex for the production of instant breakfast drink.

      Imma just link to this. It’s just a cut and paste someone did of Project Gutenberg text; nice clean PDFs are easily available through the googles.

      • wiley

        I have to go back to that and read the whole thing later, but this

        For television’s whole raison is reflecting what people want to see. It’s a mirror. Not the Stendhalian mirror reflecting the blue sky and mud puddle. More like the overlit bathroom mirror before which the teenager monitors his biceps and determines his better profile. This kind of window on nervous American self-perception is just invaluable…

        I bought a television once for this reason. I didn’t know America anymore or what anybody was talking about at work or why some of the mysterious things they were carrying on about were so worthy of their energies and opinions.

      • dave

        Irony is a detached appraisal of your own views. Snark is snark, Alanis Morrissette knew not of what she spoke, and your comparison makes no sense.

        • Ben

          There’s a giant socioeconomic mechanism that has destructive influence over our entire society, and you’re praising a tiny and insignificant ancillary benefit. That’s the analogy.

          Reading the link would help. It usually does.

          • UserGoogol

            I didn’t read the whole link because it’s kind of long but TV did not invent irony. Looking at irony within a particular subset of its cultural context and then attacking irony in general because of problems with its context is kind of dumb. America was founded by ironists like Benjamin Franklin.

            It’s not like loving the military industrial complex because of Tang, you’re acting like you should hate Tang because it was created by the military industrial complex.

  • Joshua

    Is Michael Moore correct on what he says? Yes. Does he speak the truth? Yes. And that, and that only, makes him at least a minor hero. I don’t care if he is an egoist and a self-promoter. Our political debates need more people who say things that are correct and true.

  • DocAmazing

    Michael Moore’s great sin is that he is effective. Effectiveness is declasse–better that he should be witty and ineffectual, n’est-ce pas?

    • yep. moore’s effective and got pretty big balls. some people hate that. watching him promote his book during the occupy wall street coverage on cable news and seeing much more promotion of the ows issues and not very much explicitly about his book was interesting to say the least.

    • John

      In what sense is he effective? He is effective in using his political beliefs to make money for himself, certainly. In what other ways is he effective?

  • Aaron Baker

    Well, Moore did shame an insurance company into paying for a sick man’s new pancreas–for reasons like that, in his case I tend to excuse a lot.

  • Donald Johnson

    Most people covered what is good and bad about Jon Stewart above, but I can supply an example of his David Broderism marring his judgment. In his interview with Rachel Maddow (I think it was then) he criticized the use of the term “war criminal” in reference to high-ranking Americans. He said it was a “conversation stopper” and he didn’t think that such people should be compared to real war criminals like the Nazis. I lost a lot of respect for him at that point. One doesn’t have to equate Bush with the very worst war criminals of the 20th century to see Bush as a war criminal. For Stewart, it was more important that as Americans that we all get along and be civil than it was to recognize that maybe, just maybe, American officials might be war criminals who should be brought to justice.

    • dr

      Or, maybe he thought it was more important to have a conversation about acceptable interrogation policies and believed that labeling one party a ‘war criminal’ would complicate that project. It’s like how you don’t compare someone to Hitler unless you’re done listening to them.

      • Mike

        This is really, really simple.

        1. People that commit war crimes, or that authorize war crimes, are war criminals. That’s the basic definition of the phrase.

        2. International treaties and agreements that the United States is party to have codified certain actions as war crimes.

        3. Over the last decade, members of the United States government authorized and carried out actions that were defined as war crimes in those treaties and agreements.

        4. The members of the United States government that authorized and carried out those actions are war criminals.

        The idea that we should refrain from telling the truth and using the correct words to accurately describe reality because it hurts somebody’s feelings is nonsensical and dangerous.

      • Tybalt

        It complicates the project? It’s an honest description based on a sensible interpretation of facts and law.

        I don’t think the war criminals and their supporters lay awake at night worrying about whether they’re hurting our feelings, and I think we’d be generally well-advised to avoid same.

        • Tybalt

          In other words, what Mike said :) Oops for simultaneous responses.

      • Tim

        Um. Yeah. Actually, Bush would be a war criminal whether he’d used “acceptable interrogation policies” or not. It’s not like the biggest problem with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or Saddam’s invasion of Iran was that they tortured people.

        Anyway, we can be sure of one thing: Stewart will never find anything a U.S. president ever does to be worthy of calling them a war criminal. That’s for other country’s leaders.

        • jeer9

          See Stewart’s recent interview with Condi Rice about her childhood memoir. While her adolescence may have been fascinating, that’s not why she’s of interest to our culture and letting her skip on the many problematic issues in which she played a key role so that she could better sell her book was deeply discouraging. It is difficult to know who’s to blame, the show’s booking agent or Stewart himself, but this pattern happens too frequently to be mere coincidence and seems to indicate a queasiness about impassioned principles that does not reflect well on the host. When he does let his indignation take concrete form, as in his protest of the delay of the 9/11 responders health care bill, he can do some real good. Unfortunately for the Left, he seems more comfortable playing the bemused observer of our political absurdities and hypocrisies, disturbed by the system’s dysfunction but unable (or unwilling) to imagine a larger role for someone with his gifts.

          • wiley

            Well, John Stewart is a product of “The Daily Show”. He is not John Stewart on the “Daily Show” any more than Bruce Willis is John MacClean, or that any of us represent ourselves when we’re selling products for the company we work for. He has owners and managers, audiences, and possibly stockholders (in Comedy Central or a larger creature that contains it) to satify.

    • mark f

      Stewart tried to pin “war criminal” on someone prepared for the charge (Yoo?) and wound up looking like he hadn’t thought it through and didn’t know what he was talking about. That’s probably why he dropped that line of attack.

  • norbizness

    What is this, the fucking Highlander? There can be only one?

  • Honestly I don’t care for either, but I fucking hate Jon Stewart. At heart, he’s just a funnier, hipper David Broder who thinks the biggest problem with the world is that people need to disagree, and we all need to forget that silly stuff so we can get down to the important things like making fun of people who give a shit.

    • Jim Lynch

      You’re crazy.

      Broder was a journalist, later given license to spout off with personal opinions by the Post. In other words, he ended his life as a columnist.

      Stewart (et. al.) was-and-is a comedian. “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down the pants”.

      • And…what?

        • And he’s fucking good at it.

          You know, sometimes if you don’t get the joke… It’s because you are the joke.

          You come off in this thread as a humourless zealot with zero empathy for your own side, and no insight that your enemies can be wrong and still believe they are right.

          And that, along with shameless amoral sellouts, is exactly who Stewart loves to skewer. Sorry I had to be the guy to break it to you, but at least I don’t think you’re the second one.

          • I didn’t say Stewart isn’t funny. It isn’t his jokes I have a problem with, it’s his earnest moments and dabbles in semi-serious interviews he’s not cut out for.

            Also, that description is a first for me. It gave me a laugh.

          • McWyrm

            There’s a difference between a comedian and a buffoon. When Stewart sucks up to power (see above discussion about ‘war criminals’) he is a buffoon.

  • This is the same Michael Moore who’s plumping Matt Damon as a presidential candidate, right?

    • Mike

      I think that [Matt Damon] has been very courageous in not caring about who he offends by saying the things that need to be said here, and if you want to win, the Republicans have certainly shown the way — that when you run someone who is popular, you win. Sometimes even when you run an actor, you win. And I guess I only throw his name out there because I’d like us to start thinking that way.

      That sounds like an endorsement of some of the progressive positions Damon’s been advocating, loudly and publicly (which have been spot on and pretty awesome), a not-so-subtle dig at Reagan and his undying cult, and a desire for liberal politicians who state their beliefs clearly, forcefully, and intelligently. Not quite how you’re characterizing it.

    • djw

      Makes at least as much sense as Herman Cain…

      • Ya know, I think that’s unfair. I don’t think it’s altogether impossible that Matt Damon could get elected President…but he’d have to get elected governor or Senator first. Other than perhaps missing that transitional stage, I don’t actually think Moore is that far out there on this.

    • why not? better than ben affleck!

  • libarbarian

    In the beginning of Bowling For Columbine there is a shot of the Iraqi army and a caption that reads like “1991. Iraq invades Kuwait with weapons supplied by America”.

    Every single piece of military hardware in the shot was Soviet Made.

    • Mike

      “If the “Bear Spares” were manufactured outside the United States, then the U.S. could arrange for the provision of these weapons to a third country without direct involvement. Israel, for example, had a very large stockpile of Soviet weaponry and ammunition captured during its various wars. At the suggestion of the United States, the Israelis would transfer the spare parts and weapons to third countries… Similarly, Egypt manufactured weapons and spare parts from Soviet designs and provided these weapons and ammunition to the Iraqis and other countries.”

      Five minutes of research.

      • John

        Is there any evidence that such means were used to supply weapons to Iraq? The Soviet Union actually was Iraq’s major supplier during its war with Iran.

    • Tim

      I always find it strange when people believe they’ve made some sort of devastating point that in reality actually has no significance.

      • Tybalt

        I take it as a complaint that Moore is not honest as a filmmaker; not that he has told a lie (in this case, he didn’t) but that he’s used an image that doesn’t illustrate the assertion in question.

        This, of course, isn’t anything new in polemical filmmaking. I too would rather watch something that stands up to this kind of scrutiny, but I don’t feel lied to.

        • Tim

          I’m sure that’s the point, but it’s just playing dumb on purpose. “Why did they use a picture of a tank, when they could have somehow found footage of, uh, cluster bombs, or loan guarantees for weapons purchases, or…” Etc. Dude, it’s a movie.

    • DocAmazing

      The Contras in Nicaragua preferred AK-47s provided by the CIA. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua had M-16s purchased from Vietnam (they’d been left behind by somone…).

      Arms dealers are international. Is that a surprise?

      • John

        Except that the Soviet Union was Iraq’s major military supplier. This isn’t some technical nitpick; it’s an error that points to a larger point that Moore is trying to conceal.

  • brent

    Moore v Stewart is really the wrong comparison because they are not really after the same things. Moore wants to fundamentally change what he sees as injustice within our social and financial structures. Stewart’s main problem is with our discourse around these matters. In other words, he believes that the media debases public understanding and knowledge about a whole host of important political matters and if we had a better media we would have a better democracy. He may agree with Moore on many things but his chosen issue is not really the same and I don’t think he would advocate the kind of fundamental structural changes that Moore clearly would. So why would they be anything alike. Their issues may dovetail at certain points but comparing them in this way is mostly just a sloppy way of saying all liberals should all agree on what needs to be done. That’s not really a helpful approach to understanding the impact of either man or their missions (and I think they are both very impactful in their own ways).

    • Moore wants to fundamentally change what he sees as injustice within our social and financial structures. Stewart’s main problem is with our discourse around these matters.

      This is not fair to Stewart. Moore has his own platform and can say what he wants. Stewart has to maintain some form of objectivity but if you listen closely to the points he makes when he makes them, he’s very definitely for fundamental change in America. Sadly, for his advertisers, he has to trot out his dog and pony show.

      We should be outraged but that outraged shouldn’t get us so lost that we lose a sense of who we are as a nation or as a movement. We are the left of America and it is America we are trying to change.

  • Tom M

    One of the big problems for liberals in this country is msnbc not the comedy channel. Mathews and Maddow do mfar more harm than good and while I like Michael Moore and what he does, Stewart has his place in posing skits that underline the stupidity and crass banality of Republicans on a(n almost) daily basis.

    Stewart has a better take on the news than any of the repurposed talking heads on the cable channel GE owns. Or is it Comcast now?

    • Ben F

      Mathews and Maddow do mfar more harm than good

      Matthews certainly. But Maddow? Can you actually point out any of her work on MSNBC, or on her radio show, that was, in your words, “harmful”?

      What she does is substantive journalism. As a result, it’s true that on her show she isn’t going to be either as strident and activist as Moore, nor as irreverent as Stewart(though she does share some of his snark)… but this does not mean that she is “harmful”.

  • Who is this kid in the Che shirt reading Das Kapital everyone keeps talking about? I know kids in Che shirts. But kids reading Kapital? Who are these mythical beasts? Actually reading and discussing Kapital or other Marxist philosophy would undermine the core issue of the Che shirt wearing stereotype–that they are unserious and wandering from cause to cause without knowing what they are talking about.

  • stewart’s a douche. sometimes his show is funny, but the centrist cowardice he often displays, picking on the targets with the least influence are a constant turn-off.

    moore’s an interesting character. often when i listen to him it sounds like he’s a little surprised he’s out there by himself and can’t figure out why many others aren’t speaking out along with him. i think that’s one reason why he was so tickled by the ows phenomenon.

  • cpinva

    last time i checked, mr. stewart was a working comedian, nothing more or less. he makes no claim to be anything more or less. he has a fake news show, which he refers to as a “fake news show”. odd thing about that.

    to attribute anything else to mr. stewart is projection on your part. perhaps you want him to be something else, but alas, he isn’t.

    • Funny, I’m usually reading that same thing as a defense of the latest offensive thing Rush said.

      • Murc

        Wait, people do that? People say “Well, Rush is a comedian. He admits that he’s a comedian, he’s pretty forthright about it. He’s never claimed to be anything more.”

        Because I’ve never heard anyone say that, ever, and they’d be wrong if they did.

        • Ben

          People don’t say he’s a comedian, necessarily, but they do say he is an entertainer and provocateur, and it’s his job to be bombastic and controversial. So conservatives can (and do) kind of shrug off controversial statements as “meh, whaddyagonnado, that’s his job.”

      • dave

        But you want him to be taken more seriously, in a bad way, while complaining about people trying to take Stewart less seriously, in a good way. Which isn’t actually consistent.

  • Jason K.

    Wow, Loomis, you really prove the author’s point with your irrational disdain of Moore. Sure he’s not perfect, but how does one determine whether or not one is a “an extreme egoist” or “has committed his life and art to promoting himself as much as any cause.” Moore gave a big chunk of the proceeds of “Roger and Me” to the people he was filming in Flint, and continues to be a supporter of lots of great causes there, and across Michigan where I live. As to whether he’s an egoist or not, I guess I forgot that someone whom I assume you respect, like Paul Krugman, signs his editorials “anonymous” and declined his Nobel prize, like I assume you will decline all awards you receive, because you’re so darn humble.

    The most interesting part of the article talks about how Moore makes many educated folks uncomfortable, which I think is true. I know he makes many of my colleagues at the University where I teach uncomfortable, but not so much the students, who think they hate him until they actually watch his movies. This is also true with community members. He often gives free premieres of his movies in Flint and more than once I have seen audience members say things like “Mike I’ve hated you ever since you teased my sister in middle school. I though you were a commie and scumbag but Sicko is great and I take back all of those awful things I said about you. ”

    Sure he doesn’t attempt to be objective, and he doesn’t write seminar papers, but even if all he does is provoke questions and discussion that’s a hell of a lot and I thank him for it. You don’t have to worship him to appreciate his contributions. And if you feel the need to gainsay his character and, even more curiously, simply assert that his style is embarrassing, that’s something you should back up with arguments. Your cheap shots reveal more about you than him.

    • wiley

      “Roger and Me” was fantastic and truly groundbreaking. I had a couple of friends who had a little family in Detroit. They were both school teachers who bought a house in a nice little neighborhood. But a few years later, that neighborhood had gone downhill to the point that “everything that wasn’t nailed down was stolen”, and they could not sell the house. They quit teaching because they got tired of having weapons pulled on them and then abandoned Detroit with what little they could take with them.

      “Roger and Me” was a very important movie for them. It spoke of their reality, presented it with dignity, and did not blame them. It was an important piece of political art, and no one ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole.

  • Ralph Hitchens

    What Wengler said. Jon Stewart is an honest progressive satirist, but he can’t hold a candle to Colbert when it comes to making the Right look like the hypocrits they are.

  • Matt T.

    Neither of them are “leaders” in any sense of the word, are they? Not really. Michael Moore makes big splashes and kicks up a lot of noise and makes people look at him and, more importantly, look at what he’s honkin’ his horn at. Jon Stewart’s making fun of the political medium, the weird concatenation of the politicians, the media covering them, and the punditry discussing both with regular forays into us citizen journalists, Constitution defenders, friends of Jesus, and kids in Che t-shirts.

    Every interview I’ve seen about Jon Stewart notes how uncomfortable he is with the whole “voice of the left” thing that’s glommed onto him. Granted, I’ve only seen three interviews with him, so the sample might not make the nut. As for Moore, I’ve seen him speak a couple of times and the idea of him as a leader was brought up. I can’t remember his exact words, but it was a pithy little thing like, “I’m not a leader, you guys are”, something the people who came to hear him would really dig.

    Colbert is actively and directly making fun of Modern American Mainstream Conservationism in all its undiluted glory. He does it in such a way, though, that he manages to not really offend conservatives all that much, so far as I’ve seen. They actively hate Jon Stewart and Michael Moore’s gotten death threats, as noted above, but has any Breitbartian clone got his/her knickers in a twist over anything Colbert’s done or said besides his Press Dinner masterpiece? Even then, the response was limited to “How rude. And not at all funny.” sort of thing.

    • wiley

      A lot of conservatives believe that Colbert is also conservative and that his whole shtick is making fun of liberals. I wish I could say I was kidding, but I can’t.

  • The Rally to Restore Sanity never did make any sense; not surprisingly, it also made no difference.


    So you can make absolutely no linkage between a rally that made it clear that there was a left in this nation, that the left had a voice and Occupy Wall Street, which exercises that voice, almost exactly one year later?


    I’m…a little disappointed in that.

    • So…any actual EVIDENCE that Stewart’s “we’re too cool to care about stuff” rally had anything to do with OWS? ‘Cause that seems like a VERY dubious assertion to make as though it were self-evidently true.

  • Danny

    Aside from his piece about Moore, Ames also wrote about the Stewart-organized Rally and ‘Daily Show Democrats’

  • Dwayne Stephenson

    Think the reason ‘very serious’ liberals throw Moore overboard is that it costs them nothing, and makes them seem like reasonable people who can then justify their criticisms of the right wing blowhardosphere by saying, “Look at how evenhanded I’m being! it’s not just Rush, I criticize my own side too!” That sort of thing. With that said, Moore has probably done more to keep this country from spiraling into a right wing dystopia than Stewart ever will. I think he’s made some mistakes (all that conspiracy shit regarding the Bin Laden family should never have made it into the 9/11 movie), but deserves a lot of credit for his work. I can care less about the size of his ego.

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