Jon Stewart announced his impending retirement from The Daily Show this week, and I was quite surprised to see a lot of gloating from the professional/academic Left on Twitter. In general his critics seemed to be blaming Stewart for the failures of the Left, whether it be because Stewart's cynical viewpoint encouraged 'anti-politics," or because he wasn't radical enough.
I find this all quite amusing, since Stewart is a comedian who hosts a show on basic cable. Trying to blame him for the fact that the radical Left is mostly incapable of making a political argument without resorting to either academic jargon or to insufferable moral self-righteousness is pretty silly. (I'm a pragmatic social democrat, just for the record.) In terms of mainstream politics, the fact that the Democratic party is unable to get their base motivated in off-year elections has little or nothing to do with Stewart's show. Yes, Stewart often used his "I'm just a comedian" defense as a way to deflect political criticism in ways that could be questionable, but that hardly merits the take-downs I've seen over the last week.
I see something deeper at work, something I've noticed more now that I am engaging more fully with Twitter. There is a a growing Leftist punditocracy on that site, one that is desperately hoping to overtake the old one. For that reason they usually save their biggest attacks not for conservatives, but for established liberals. Just witness the firestorm of Schadenfreude over the changes at The New Republic. Don't get me wrong, those liberals need to be held to account. At the same time, however, the intensity and nature of the attacks often seems to come from a place of competition. Stewart is the liberal voice with the greatest level of respect and biggest following in America today, so of course he's a target for the Left's new pundit class. Take for instance Jamelle Bouie's piece in Slate. I normally really like what he has to say, but this article takes Stewart to task for being a pundit. What exactly is Bouie then?
The new pundits want the place of the old pundits, pure and simple. That desire is transparent. From a careerist standpoint I guess that makes sense, but the whole thing has made me less and less interested in what the rising pundit class thinks. It's been especially difficult to go on Twitter and in the Leftist blogosphere and see people trying to tear others down for their own benefit, and pass it off as truth telling. Blogger Freddie DeBoer is a case in point. (I only mention him by name because he trolled this blog once upon a time.) He seems to have it in for the other prominent Left folks on Twitter (which he mostly steers clear of), based on his long blog posts attacking Adam Kotsko and Jeet Heer by name in rather insulting and misleading terms.
I'll stop there to avoid committing the same sin of character assassination.
While people on the Left are expending all their energy dumping on the liberal figure who's had the most effective cultural influence in my lifetime, the Right is busy raising close to a billion dollars for the Koch brothers. Maybe, just maybe, a late night talk show host's lack of ideological purity isn't the biggest issue that the Left is facing these days.