December 7, 2012

The Chris Christie/Jon Stewart interview on “The Daily Show” Thursday night revolved around two major questions. 

-Is there a case to be made (Stewart thinks there is) that the situation of uninsured families faced with catastrophic health problems is akin to that of families struck by Hurricane Sandy, and requires the same sort of bracing federal support? 

-Why are Republicans so mean and self-centered?

The first question is interesting. 

The second question is completely impossible. What are you supposed to say? 

“Well, Jon,” Christie could have tried, “I agree. Republicans are uniquely awful. Unlike anyone on the left, they only want things that benefit them personally, and they lack human compassion.” 

And the sad thing is, I typed that sentence as a joke, but I bet someone just read it and nodded to himself and thought, “Pretty much, yeah.”

 The comparison between natural disasters and health care is an interesting one, and I wish there had been more time to discuss it. The analogy was striking. “If you have cancer, and you don’t have health insurance, that’s Hurricane Sandy,” Stewart said at one point.

And I am paraphrasing that second question a little, of course. But it was central. 

Stewart described the Republican attitude as follows: “Things that other people need are entitlements. Things that they need are things that should be done… immediately.” He even cited the case of Vice President Dick Cheney’s support for gay marriage because of his daughter. “They have empathy for things that affect them. They have a hard time seeing the picture that other people are suffering.”

Are you sure, Jon, that this is an exclusively Republican trait? This sounds more like a description of how human beings often work on both sides of the aisle. 

“The philosophical difference… this is where I think that they’re lacking, is that they don’t recognize other people’s needs and wants and so they view them as superfluous to some extent,” Stewart actually said at one point. 

Jon Stewart is usually more responsible than this, calling out people for tone in both parties. But he slipped this time. 

What kind of a question is that? “Wouldn’t you say it’s true that your party doesn’t recognize the needs and wants of people?”

“Oh yeah, totally, totally. That’s what drew me to it. I didn’t quite meet the empathy threshold to go Democrat.”

Chris Christie was sitting right there, and finally he tried to make a case.

“What I would say is the Republicans like to have the free market work or capitalism run things except when they believe that government is the only way to solve the problem,” Christie tried. 

Would you let the free market dictate what happens after Sandy? Stewart asked. 

“That’s a ridiculous question,” Christie said.

They got rid of the planned funny business of the interview (Guess the quote: Chris Christie or Don Rickles?) in favor of a prolonged harangue. 

Stewart seems, after a long and valiant struggle, to be succumbing to the popular meme that the reason no one is having a Serious Discussion of the Issues, the reason we Can’t Get Anything Done In Government, is because and only because of Republicans. All the obstruction is on one side. One side consists entirely of unsubtle monsters who chalk everything up to Encroaching Socialism. They are dreadful people who want to line the pockets of themselves and their friends and their Sinister Corporate Overlords. They are not people acting in good faith who disagree about the role of government. No, they are malign and bigoted.

It is so easy to find quotes that support this idea. Scour the remarks of enough state lawmakers and certain members of Congress and you are bound to come up with something. So the monsters don’t seem so mythical after all. If they are myths, then where are we getting all these quotes? 

“We are not The Problem,” the left points out. “We are civil. You are the uncivil one, you heartless, ugly bigot! You and your stupid, hate-filled friends are the reason we can’t have a Serious Discussion of the Issues, poop-head!”

I am, again, paraphrasing slightly. 

Stewart used to make this point. At some point, you need to lower the dukes, accept that people who disagree with you can be sensible humans who are acting in good faith, and try to make government work. At his Rally for Sanity two years ago, Stewart urged people to do just that. Heck, by the end of their chat, he suggested that he and Christie get together amicably over a tomato pie and try to solve the world’s problems. If only more of the interview had been like that. 

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.