Stewart vs. Cramer

Aquarian Weekly 3/18/09 REALITY CHECK

SEND IN THE CLOWNS Satire & Bluster Tap Into Nation’s Anger

Jon StewartFor two consecutive weeks, the shenanigans of a radio talk show commentator and a Comedy Central satirist infused their will on the vox populi. What is business as usual in the world of fringe insights primped up in mockery became at first fascinating oddities, then frantic topics of debate, and finally the exposing of some pretty serious ills.

During the first days of March, right wing radio master showman, Rush Limbaugh made an appearance at the CPAC convention in Washington D.C. A rabid gathering of disenfranchised hardliners, the Conservative Political Action Conference has welcomed heads of state, former and future presidents, old-world brainiacs, influence peddlers, religious loons, and corporate land rapers, all movers and shakers inside what until recently has been the rock solid base of the nation’s conservative movement. Ostensibly, Limbaugh was to rally the troops and continue to defend his assertion that any conservative and/or Republican worth his salt should root for the current president to fail. However, the black-clad jock spent most of his lengthy address bashing the current environment in the Republican Party as weak and its leadership misguided, making a final stand against what is at best a designer buffet of worn-out ideologies, the origin and authenticity of which he claims to hold dear.

Love him or hate him, deny his influence or bask in his megalomania, one thing is certain, Limbaugh’s hard-ass assault on the sinking vessel of conservatism is warranted and perhaps needed more than ever. And this became patently obvious in the days following the liberal fallout, media backlash, moderate recoiling of Limbaugh’s diatribe.

Many Republican members of congress, holdovers from the spend-thrift days of George W. Bush, who’d enjoyed years casting anti-war sentiments as un-American, began immediately denouncing the notion of “wanting the president to fail” as defeatist. Having spent the previous weeks appearing either fiscally responsible or politically petty, they were in the throes of stridently defending unanimous votes against any and all versions of the federal government’s massive stimulus bill. It was not the time to appear as merely spoilers or a blockade to the mad attempts of the Democrats to enact what has been for over a year now the will of the people to do SOMETHING/ANYTHING.

Then for reasons only known to he and his shrink, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who fancies himself something between Kanye West and Henny Youngman, while appearing on yet another in a seemingly endless array of variety shows, demeaned Limbaugh’s influence on his party and called his act “incendiary” and “ugly”. When Limbaugh excoriated him the next day as an empty shirt and a myopic vaudevillian, Steele curled into a fetal position, meekly apologized and disappeared into the ether. This pathetic performance by the “de facto” head of the GOP was on the heels of Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey making an appearance on Limbaugh’s show to kiss his sizable but formidable posterior.

This is how the system, screwed as it is, works best.

Limbaugh proved, albeit in an inimitably fractious and juvenile way, that there is a voice in the Republican Party that has been lost; the fiscal straightjacket wing; the wing that had been, and in many recent cases by Limbaugh himself, hijacked by misogynistic social marauder homophobes from the God Police. In a few well-placed tirades and verbal jousts Limbaugh vividly exposed the gaping maw in the Republicans’ damaged flanks, something the timidly inarticulate car salesman approach of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wildly failed to accomplish after Barack Obama’s wiz bang address to congress last month.

Filling the vacuum of Rush Week in the news cycle, Daily Show host, Jon Stewart all-but dominated the pop culture wing of the news this past week with a scathing rip-job of the dog and pony shtick known as CNBC. After Stewart brilliantly deconstructed the now infamous Howard Beale wig-out by Rick Santelli, in which the network’s exchange floor reporter derided “deadbeats” who bought homes above their means as the true culprits in the nation’s housing meltdown, CNBC’s most visible voice, Jim Cramer crisscrossed the media circuit belittling Stewart and his “funny little show”.

Stewart’s “funny little show” is Comedy Central’s golden nugget, a mostly progressive satirical look at the day’s news that has been trumped into must-see college stoner television, and a damned hilarious pounding of all-things hypocrisy. Stewart, a once journeyman comedian cum actor, cum host de jour, has helmed the Daily Show’s gaggle of fiendishly intelligent goofiness for over a decade, during which time he’s given birth to the equally witty Colbert Report and more than once playfully taken on other over-hyped cable pundits like Bill O’Rielly, but never to this much fanfare and spitefulness.

Before long the Daily Show began gleefully hammering Cramer in a game of old-fashioned dozens, playing clips of the maniacal prognosticator demonstratively unfurling one monumentally wrong prediction after the other for months. This brought the high and mighty NBC family into the war of words, which continued to make the once proud news organization look defensive and amateurish, engaging morning show hosts, nightly anchors and commentators into the fray. All the while providing delicious fodder for Stewart and his band of cut-up savants and the facility over each and every show to pull out what Stewart finally exclaimed were “inept at best and criminal at worst” flippantly proffered suggestions for investors to entrust their hard-earned money.

The story ended later in the week when Cramer, fresh from an ironic appearance on the Martha Stewart show, visited the Daily Show, where he stammered like a guilty school kid in the principle’s office as Stewart and crew played streamed online video of Cramer admitting to an embarrassing series of insider trading malfeasances.

Stewart’s smolderingly vicious and brutally honest surgery of the nonsense that passes for sober reviews and previews of the volatile nature of stock market play was both frightening and illuminating. Cramer, for his part, perfectly played the exposed Wizard of Oz as the stuttering, befuddled man behind the curtain. Cramer, Stewart most assuredly pointed out, is the unfortunate but indisputable face of an unfathomable monster known as speculative market trading which could no more bring vast riches to the lazy dreamers of our nation than it can be a thermometer of our economic solvency or strategic governance.

The Republican Party is still mired in ridiculous mud slinging over culture wars and fiscal mishaps, and the world of financial journalism is still blank stares sold as unblinking certitude, but for two straight weeks a pair of clowns – one from the Right and one from the Left – took the best our American free speech and blessed dissent could offer, wrapped it up in an entertaining brand of fisticuffs, and ultimately brought to light that which must be illuminated.

This is how the system, screwed as it is, works best.

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