Watching the beginning of the Republican presidential debate season give way to the end of the Daily Show as we know it: as depressing as it was eventual
Flipping over to the Daily Show following any political event has become something like American ritual for over a decade now, especially for those of us needing some kind of antidote to the wreckage lying before us on Fox News.
On Thursday night, as the first Republican presidential debate ended and Jon Stewart’s show began – only to disappear from our screens, for ever – things were no different, ritualistically. Next time, though, Fox’s friends will be onscreen unchallenged, and they won’t even have to try.
Stewart and Co couldn’t respond to the first official Republican party debate of course – the show was taped, and is no more – but it offered a fitting commentary anyway.
After the predictable and fun reunion of former cast members , after a long on-screen tribute to all the behind-the-scenes workers, he left a kind of valediction on the show’s purpose, and its target: bullshit and, especially, “institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract”. Even more pointedly, he attacked the common Republican philosophical refuge of the doctrine of unintended consequences, or, as he put it, “We can’t do anything because we don’t yet know everything.”
“The bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy,” he said, and the previous six hours of debate coverage on Fox News could have told you as much.
Fox News personality Chris Wallace devoted an entire segment of the prime-time debate to asking candidates about their budget records and projections, essentially setting out proof that none of them worked, nor can. The candidates proceeded to champion their proposals anyway.
For a crowd of deficit hawks, the only difference among the 10 men on stage was who would drive a bigger hole in the budget via military expansion concomitant with tax cuts. And as for the purposes of that military, each besides Rand Paul offered a broad menu of states for overseas conflict – China, Russia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine – and often selected all of the above.
All condemned the weakness of American diplomacy and the essential unseriousness of the Obama-Clinton policies by vowing to “do something” about Iran apart from or in addition to war – God knows what that would be. (There was also an entire segment devoted to God.) For many of Fox’s top 10, that meant re-imposing sanctions that would be laughably useless after alienating Russia and Europe, who would have no incentive to reinstate them.
Every single one of these 10 men condemned federal funding for abortion , and condemned the Planned Parenthood videos that are, unquestionably, edited in a way meant to mislead and instead support claims that are manifestly false.
Each praised a celebration of life belied by their foreign and healthcare policies while supporting repeal-and-replace, with the replace bit still somewhere on the way.
The star of this absurdist evening in American politics, of course, was a reality-TV star representing the apotheosis of such a spectacle, only without substance or relation to fact.
Here was a man who is wholly preposterous in nearly every circumstance. Here is a man who, in the circumstances by which Fox News wins and Jon Stewart loses, somehow came off as the second most reasonable candidate on the debate stage. ( Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is, for the record, a lunatic .)
Because this is what happens in a hermetic system defined – more narrowly by the day, and especially by night – on the catchphrasing of bullshit and the homiletics of bullshit ethics. They are bolstered by bullshit economics and spun out by thinktanks endowed for the specific purpose of mainstreaming bullshit through relentless repetition.
The bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy, because they’ve thrown away all dictionaries and encyclopedias containing words or ideas that are unbullshit. What we will see over the months ahead – only 459 days and 11 debates to go! – is the stress-testing and purification of the most masterful bullshit artist, the person who is the most authentic fraud.
No wonder Jon Stewart’s job was so easy. No wonder he eventually wanted to walk away.
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