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Jon Stewart interviews Rachel Maddow — featuring bright moments, some shilling, and sins of omission

Lately I’ve been catching up on a few missed episodes of The Daily Show, finding some worthwhile segments and interviews along the way.  I found particularly interesting last Thursday’s (2/28/13) interview with MSNBC superstar Rachel Maddow.  Having recently lumped both Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Ms. Maddow into a class I (somewhat disdainfully) dubbed “Establishment Liberals (or ELs),” I listened to the conversation very closely…  Had I been fair?  Would they meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations?  How would they talk about ____________?

First of all, as Daily Show interviews go, this isn’t a bad one.  It features two highly-informed, super-smart individuals making pithy insights and impassioned mini-speeches about the sad state of politics in America — and the dire, looming consequences for our economy (the real high points of the interview tracked these gloomy themes).

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But before we get bogged down in the economic and political gloom, let’s take a moment to delve into the guilty pleasure portion of the interview: Rachel Maddow’s fairly priceless description of “weird” Justice Antonin Scalia: an unapologetic, arrogant, shock-jock Justice, playing for laughs (Limbaugh-style), utterly unconcerned with the manners, mores, and laws of civilized society.  Reacting to Scalia’s ludicrous suggestion that protecting the voting rights of minorities is equivalent to “the perpetuation of racial entitlement,” Ms. Maddow goes off:

“But I think he does know how that sounds, and that’s the neat thing about being there [at the Supreme Court] in person, is you can see, Oh, actually, he’s a troll!  He’s saying this for effect.  He knows it’s offensive, and he knows he’s gonna’ get a ‘GASP’ from the courtroom (which he got) — and he LOVES it!  He’s like the guy in your blog comment-thread who’s using the N-word: Blah!  Oh, made you mad?  How about if I say this?  Did it make you mad?  Did I make you mad?

And here Maddow brings her Scalia critique home (while also making the relevant point about how a major pillar of the Civil Rights Movement is about to be torn down by a quintet of robed, retrograde ideologues):

“He’s that kind of guy: When we’re all shocked that he said something so blatantly racially offensive (while talking about the cornerstone of a federal civil rights act), he’s thinking, Oh yeah, I did!

Ladies and gentlemen, his eminence, Supreme Court Justice Antonin (Archie Bunker/Eric Cartman) Scalia…

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Okay, GLOOM time! 

Having had their righteous, partisan fun at Scalia’s expense, Mr. Stewart and Ms. Maddow move on to discuss the dreaded “SEQUESTER.”  It is during this segment that these two fine Establishment Liberals (or ELs), while making some very astute points along the way, run a teensy bit of cover for the president and quietly support the establishment mantra du jour: that manufactured crises “force us” to do “things that we wouldn’t otherwise do” (implicitly, “things” like slashing/restructuring entitlements). 

The interview is also remarkable for the phrase that somehow does NOT come up, constituting a fairly glaring omission (especially considering the way they danced all around it): THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

First, Jon Stewart broaches the topic of The Sequester with a statement that largely (though not entirely) spares the austerity president who fought so determinedly for the damned sequester in the first place:

“Speaking of frustrating legislative experiences, they — 18 months ago, or two years ago — set up a penalty so harsh, this Congress and the president… that they couldn’t (dare) face it, because of the danger and the damage it would do to this country…

“They set up a sword of Damocles — and now they’re just gonna’ let it swing down and cut us all to ribbons.”

“Yes!”  Maddow resoundingly agrees, and insightfully elucidates the prevailing model of governing in Washington, DC, these days:

“We have to INVENT NEW CRISES and it’s only the threat and the fear that we have — about that thing, that crisis that we’ve created — that’s going to force us to do something that we just need to do as part of regular governing.

“…And that strategy totally breaks down when we stop (feeling) afraid — and when that crisis no longer drives us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do…  And when you have a self-imposed crisis every few months, because that’s the only way you know to govern…”

* While I think Ms. Maddow is really onto something, vis-à-vis the INVENTED nature of our current crises (our economy is being pillaged, plain and simple), the phrase “something that we just need to do as a part of regular governing” is unfortunate — and telling.  For I do NOT think it alludes merely to tasks like raising the debt ceiling (I’ll again refer you to the phrase “things we wouldn’t otherwise do”).  This is standard EL-speak, conveying resignation to a fictitious “necessity” and at least partial acceptance of the right’s basic (bogus) narratives, including: much of their thoroughly debunked case for austerity; their deficit hysteria; and their recycled ideas for so-called entitlement “reform” (which would DEFORM entitlements in ways that would’ve had Nixon-era or Reagan Republicans deliriously jizzing themselves for DECADES, singing “Ding dong, the New Deal is dead!”).  But Chained CPI and means-tested Medicare — movement conservatism’s desiccated old “zombie” policy prescriptions favoring the 1% — are New Deal-eroding “solutions” that today’s Liberal Establishment has largely embraced (or at least, often declined to challenge).

Later, Ms. Maddow talks quite sensibly about the foreseeable, economically disastrous, effects of the sequester:

“It’s gonna’ slow down economic growth.  The slow, bad recovery that we’ve got is going to get worse.  Hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose jobs.  All sorts of services are going to get cut… Nobody actually thinks that the effect of this on the country is going to be a good thing.  Nobody says, Yes, this is good policy… 

“IT’S WANTON INFLICTION OF HARM ON THE COUNTRY FOR NO REASON.  It doesn’t even really cut the deficit…”

THANK YOU, Ms. Maddow, I could not agree more! 

But neither host nor guest take advantage of this moment to make the greater point: that such an assessment applies to ALL AUSTERITY, whether it’s sequestration’s $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, Barack Obama’s $1.5 trillion, or the GOP’s $2.2 trillion it’s ALL economic suicide for the U.S. (to be explained/debunked and derided, 100% defeated, and otherwise avoided at all costs!).

Ms. Maddow then turns the subject to public sector jobs, hundreds of thousands of which have already been lost under this president:

“…having public sector jobs shrink has been bad for the economy already, and we’re about to just shrink it wantonly, with NO PUBLIC POLICY PURPOSE AT ALL… OTHER THAN TO SLOW DOWN THE ECONOMY FOR NOTHING.

Not “FOR NOTHING,” Ms. Maddow, but to break us — there is MUCH method (recognizable, practically patented) to this madness.  This method (neoliberal economics) and its path of destruction have been well documented…  So as I’m listening to this part of the interview, I increasingly yearn for one of these ELs to simply drop character and call the devil by its name: “THE SHOCK DOCTRINE!  THE SHOCK DOCTRINE!  THE SHOCK DOCTRINE!”  

The phrase is in the air (it is the PACHYCEPHALOSAUR in the room), but neither host nor guest dares speak its name: The Shock Doctrine.  Although they are undoubtedly familiar with Naomi Klein’s critically acclaimed, earth-shattering sensation of a book, neither Jon Stewart nor Rachel Maddow state the obvious: “Disaster Capitalism” has come home. 

They are two very smart, educated people, and I can’t help feeling that they must know that the U.S. economy is under siege (I like them both, but I can also picture them in a Hunger Games audience chamber, wearing great, sparkly wigs and cheering with the other 1%’ers — I’ll warrant I’ve always had an active imagination).  Do Stewart and Maddow not recognize what’s happening?  I genuinely wonder how they could not see that the precise methods American institutions have used for decades (to BREAK other nations’ economies) are today being employed against the United States.  These institutions (which we once, rather foolishly, thought worked for America) — Congress, multinational corporations, the WTO, G-8, and international banks/the IMF — have turned their humanity-enslaving, democracy-breaking sights on us (ask an Iraqi or a Chilean — most any South American — they know about “The Shock Doctrine,” having been on the receiving end).  The weapons of NEOLIBERALISM (usury/debt traps; government corruption; authoritarianism and torture; downward pressure on wages; privatization; deregulation; defunding/dismantling of social programs) are being employed to finish off America’s middle class and our brightest future.

But Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow are silent when it comes to the big picture (the plundering of America’s economy; the near-total corruption of our government; and the unraveling of decades-to-centuries of laws).  They mostly just shake their heads at the sequester… and those goofy, intransigent Republicans.

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In writing/researching this blog, I’ve revisited a lot of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show interviews — and some Rachel Maddow clips, too — and I’m happy to say that, overall, I am VERY GRATEFUL for the work of these two individuals.  They are both reasonably good journalists, and I believe they have each made important contributions to the national conversation and to American culture, performing some vital (satirical and journalistic) functions during an extended (unending?) period of national crisis. 

Nonetheless, I reserve the right to criticize even those public figures whom I admire, when I feel that what I have to say is constructive and valid.  And now, since I don’t especially wish to keep picking at my heroes’ foibles, I’ll wrap this up…

Mr. Stewart rounds out the interview with some GOP-bashing (a little straw-man, a little insight) and Ms. Maddow chimes in:

“…you can either be good at running the government, or you can deride the government and be bad at running it… and that’s sort of the choice that we’ve gotta’ make between the two different approaches, right now, and it feels clearer than ever.

Obviously, I think that the distinctions that Ms. Maddow and Jon Stewart routinely draw between the two parties are VASTLY overstated.  The “choice” between Austerity/Wall Street/Neocon Party #1 and Austerity/Wall Street/Neocon Party #2 is — “clearer than ever”?  I don’t think so. 

In any case, habeas corpus is gone, my friends — and the bad guys are coming for America’s spine.

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