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I have no commentary to add to this, other than that already made in posts such as Response to a Right-Wing Myth, More Dialogue With Libertarians, Dialogue With A Libertarian, and A Frustrated Rant On A Right-Wing Facebook Thread. It’s just too irresistable to ridicule the ridiculous, and no one does it better than Jon Stewart.

Though it’s no longer timely, this spoof of Glenn Beck (who spoofs himself better than anyone else ever could) is one of my all time favorites:

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I admit it: I lose my sense of humor in the heat of political discourse, all the time. Ironically, in most other spheres of life, I’m known for being a bit of a cut-up. If you ask my seven-year-old daughter to describe her dad with one word, she’d probably say “funny” (of course, seven-year-olds are “an easy room”). But political discourse makes me mad, and sad, and often sick-to-my-stomach.

On SquareState, a progressive blog dominated by blind ideologues I briefly (and wishfully) tried to promote as an alternative to the unfortunately currently alternativeless Colorado Pols (unfortunately, because Jason Bain, the driving force behind Pols, and probably his anonymous partners as well, are arrogant pricks), I was savaged for cross-posting  “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t: Why Our Tea Party Future Will Be The Left’s Fault” by people on the left who, faithful mirror images of their counterparts on the right, believe that compromise is evil, extremism is good, and demanding from their party what would ensure their party’s long-term demise is their civic duty; my candidacy, hair-cut, and preference in pizza toppings all brought in as arguments to prove why I am both wrong and evil (okay, only my candidacy, but the other two might as well have been for all the relevance of some of the responses). To my immense discredit, I don’t just disregard, or laugh off, these absurd Glenn-Becks-of-the-left, but instead engage them, respond to their nonsense, and, by doing so, let them drag me down into the gutter along with them.

But the truth is, despite all that is at stake, and the consequential significance of current political and ideological trends, there’s no denying that a nation in which one of the most reported on U.S. senatorial candidates starts a campaign ad with “I am not a witch,” and in which the Tea Party Nation in early October cited Campbell’s new halal soups as proof that Shari’a law is infiltrating the United States, is a knee-slappingly funny nation…, though tragically so.

The November 1 issue of Time Magazine includes an excellent article on Jon Stewart and Stephen Cobert, two Comedy Central political satirists who compete with, and highlight, the hilarious reality of modern American political discourse. Cobert, for instance, took Tea Party Nation’s absurdity to the next step, suggesting (in character) that it’s no coincidence that bananas are crescent shaped. Stewart’s “cruelly accurate” parodies of Glenn Beck are hysterical,  because they’re true (

The article discusses the difficult line Stewart and Cobert tread between comedy and commentary, remaining funny while remaining incisive and relevant. The article also discusses the competition these satirists face from current American political reality, the latter often being more absurd than anything they can invent. Stewart can often just play an authentic newsclip and make a face to receive raucus laughter in response, the joke having already been made for him.

The combination of humor and sincerity, of recognizing absurdity and shining a spotlight on it, so that we can, hopefully, laugh our way to sanity and moderation, may be the most significant contribution to raising the quality of American public discourse that exists today. Cobert’s reference to “truthiness,” the belief that what one feels in their gut is more important than objective reality, draws attention to a real, and tragic, absurdity dominating a broad swath of public discourse. It isn’t just humor; it’s an attempt to interject profound rationality into a profoundly irrational national dialogue.

Let’s all take a deep breath, laugh at ourselves, and scrub the humor of the tragedy, recommitting to being reasonable, and light-hearted, people of goodwill, doing the best we can. We don’t need to privilege the paranoid ravings of a Glenn Beck (or his blogosphere counterparts on the left), or the incredible ingnorance of a Christine O’Donnell. We just need to laugh at ourselves, and then build on the humility that that engenders.

Glenn Beck, still twirling his baton in the vanguard of the wing-nut parade, while busily calling all people who disagree with his, ah, “imaginative” interpretations of U.S. History and the U.S. Constitution (which includes, I would wager, somewhere north of 99.99% of all American Historians and Constitutional Law scholars) “idiots,” demonstrated for us what a non-idiot such as himself understands: That slavery was fine until the federal government stepped in to regulate it ( It’s difficult to select which aspects of this absurdity to comment on, but I’ll choose one that is not completely obvious, but is most relevant to the ideology that Beck represents: Defense of the institution of slavery (and, after abolition, of systematic institutionalized discrimination) was tightly intertwined with states rights advocacy throughout the history of this nation until at least the 1960s, when the federal government, in the culmination of a national-history-spanning evolution prioritizing the protection of individual civil liberties over states’ and private rights to violate them, passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beck got it exactly backwards: It was federal government intervention that had always both threatened to end, and eventually, against the most violent opposition yet against it, actually succeeded in ending, slavery, and ending government sponsored discrimination against African Americans. And it was this precise role of the federal government, regarding this precise topic, that always was at the heart of states’ rights advocacy, and anti-federal government fervor. Whether the Tea Party is a predominantly or implicitly racist movement today (a hotly debated topic), it is certainly heir to the anti-federal government ideology that racists depended on throughout our history to protect and perpetuate their right to institute and enforce their racism in law. Defining themselves by reference to slavery (which their ideological forebears defended and perpetuated) is just not a smart move.

Susan Greene of the Denver Post, with whom I generally agree, was, I think, slightly off mark today in her overzealous definition of how broad a range of speech is, or should be, protected by the First Amendment ( The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Kansas pastor Fred Phelps has the right to mar the funerals of fallen soldiers by holding demonstrations within sight of them holding placards with such endearing phrases as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Without trying to decide the case on the legal merits, I will definitively state that I think it would be good public policy to outlaw such speech in such a context, nor would doing so be a clear violation of the First Amendment (the Supreme Court will decide whether it is a violation at all, by exploring the nuances of the issue).

Free Speech protections have always been limited in certain ways to protect other rights or public interests that might be violated by speech (e.g., laws against libel and inciting violence, and diminished protection of student speech in public schools). Time, place, and manner restrictions have always applied (you can’t disrupt any event or meeting in any way you please); the kind of “forum” involved, even when a government forum, affects how much freedom of speech others have. Private forums are that much more protected. Obviously, if the funeral were in an enclosed private space, Phelps would have no right whatsoever to violate that space. The lack of walls blocking the view from a cemetery is hardly a major legal distinction. Given the ways in which we have delimited freedom of speech in the past, I think that protecting mourners from the harassment of such speech at the time and place of mourning is well within the range of a reasonable exception to free speech protections.

Research suggests that people who believe in God tend to conceptualize God in one of four ways: Authoritative, Benevolent, Critical, or Distant ( Unsurprisingly, which view of God we adhere to correlates to gender, race, socio-economic status, and educational-level, and to particular social and political orientations. The irony, of course, is that right-wingers, who claim to be the defenders of liberty, tend to believe in an authoritative God who, by divine right, sharply circumscribes what liberty we should allow ourselves and others to enjoy, whereas progressives tend to believe in a more remote God, who leaves us with the responsibility of creating our own destiny.

Freedom, once again, has less to do with how free we are from our own democratically elected government than with how free we are from our own lack of imagination (or surplus of self-shackling imagination). Freedom is not a function of crippling the primary vehicle we have developed for exercising our wills in cooperative and coordinated ways (i.e., government, at all levels, including federal), but rather a function of how able we are to imagine that we are indeed free, charged with the responsibility of wisely and compassionately confronting the challenges and opportunities that we face here on Earth.