For all their iconoclasm, Stewart and his sidekick-in-sanity, Stephen Colbert, calculate to honor mainstream liberal pieties. Daily, Stewart shores up caustically the conventional wisdom of a moderate-left orthodoxy, scolding what are perceived to be the extremes, almost invariably of the right, in a fiesta of self-congratulation.
That phrase, "a fiesta of self-congratulation," is spot-on. I'm not a regular Stewart watcher, but I've seen his act enough times to know how he operates. He's a professional smart-ass and he's generally pretty good at it. And America needs its jesters.
You can't build a political movement out of mockery, though. I remain convinced that much of what drives opposition to Obama and the Democrats is how they just ooze condescension. It doesn't much anger me, because I've spent much of my life dealing with people who look down their noses at the "great unwashed," as Katie Couric put it recently. Couric's defenders have insisted that she didn't mean the term as a put-down. And I believe these defenders, because they honestly don't see it that way. They don't understand why treating the Tea Party as a matter of cultural anthropology might rankle.
The Gospel of Luke features what Jesus said about the matter:
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
There are a lot of Pharisees in Stewart's audience, who thank God they are not like NASCAR fans or bitter clingers or Glenn Beck fans. And there's never been any doubt that Stewart encourages his audience to think in those terms. The whole purpose of today's events in Washington is to mock the backward ways of those who gathered in Washington a few months back.
It cuts both ways -- conservatives sneer at liberals, too. And both sides imagine that the Other Guys are the Pharisees. I'll cop to it, since I do that pretty much every day on this blog. It's been a lifelong challenge for me, because I like to sneer and it's very easy to be cynical about human nature. But you aren't likely to build much of anything that lasts while you swim in currents of bile.
It's the paradox of politics -- we need politicians who are humble enough to understand their own limitations, but it takes a little bit of hubris to even contemplate running for office. The test for those Tea Party-endorsed candidates that break through on Tuesday is this -- will you remember why you were sent to office?
A lot of Democratic Party officeholders are likely to lose their jobs on Tuesday. As they ponder why they are out of a job, I would hope that they pay more attention to the Gospel of Luke than the Daily Show.