>Stewart, Colbert, and Changing Public Discourse

>colbert and stewartImage by PinkMoose via Flickr
This may be more revealing than it should be.  I normally play my political cards pretty close to my chest.  I find it’s best not to be pinned down, politically, so that I’m able to have intelligent conversations with those to the left of me and those to the right of me without being pigeonholed. 

My own children have noted that I seem to be able to talk respectfully and discerningly with person with whom I disagree, even passionately.  I try to be open to their perspectives and try to see what life experiences and history and theology have shaped their beliefs.  I also don’t want anyone to have preconceived notions about what I believe — which I know they already do.  I don’t want anyone to prejudge me for that they assume will be my opinion — which I know they already do.  I don’t want to miss a chance to be able to really hear the heartfelt opinions of others as I try to know them better.

Now, I like to think this makes me a pretty rare species in today’s world.  In the world today, as I look at it, we have some very strict boundaries around our political groups.  And, while we may have politicians who claim they “reach across the aisle,” we really know that this phenomena of “aisle reaching” doesn’t happen much at all.  Take a look at all the votes in the Senate and Congress that fell right down along party lines.  Those aisle are made for walking, not crossing.

Furthermore, it seems that our American political groups are so entrenched that they are forced to demonize those on the other side.  Republicans feel a need to characterized Barack Obama as a Muslim and a Socialist and draw him with a Hitler moustache…which, unless you’re the real Hitler, is just an unnecessary hyperbole.  Democrats feel a need to characterize their opponents as “fascists” and “pro-business” when, let’s face it, there are some businesses that have been pretty good to Democrats.

This is not helpful.

And the media plays into all of this.  What sells as “news” these days is most often commentary disguised as news.  A typical “news” story will essentially be two persons yelling across their ideological differences and trying to paint the “other” into a caricature of who they really are.  Therefore the one who wants to raise taxes to make sure Social Security is fully funded and to provide unemployment insurance in these economic times is called a “socialist” who believes in “spreading the wealth” just like Karl Marx did.   And the person who ideologically believes in a smaller government with more privatized social services “hates poor people” and is a “friend to the rich.”  And so we watch our pundits yell at each other, take quotes out of context, and use “slippery slope logic.”  We’re told “if they pass this bill requiring children under the age of 18 to get parental consent for an abortion, the next thing you know all abortion will be illegal and young women will be dying because of back-alley abortions.”  Really?   We’re told that if we pass this bill requiring a 10-day waiting period to buy a gun the next thing you know all our guns will be taken away and American won’t be able to defend themselves or even hunt.  Really?

And, I have to admit, it’s not just political discourse that’s fallen on hard times. Religious discourse is right there with it.  We’re real good at demonizing those persons who disagree with us theologically. 

It’s not helpful.

It’s not civil.

And, I would say, it’s not Christian.

So, it is with some interest that I’ve paid attention to the Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert’s dueling rallies, “The Rally to Restore Sanity” and “The Rally to Keep Fear Alive.”  I know a lot of persons just think of these guys as “liberal comedians.”  I endured a Sunday School class once, as an outsider, that spent a great deal of time talking about how un-American and “evil” Jon Stewart and his Daily Show were because he was speaking out against the War in Iraq.  But both of these guys are more like the court jesters of our day, speaking truth to power, poking fun at the inconsistencies of who we are.

And Stewart, for whatever liberal leanings he may seem to have, seems to honestly respect the persons who come on his show, even if he passionately disagrees with him.  I’ve seen him with conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly a few times but I find it interesting that, even though these two aren’t going to come out on the same side of many issues, it seems that each of them honestly wants to know what it is that has shaped the others’ perspectives and beliefs.  I think they both appreciate that the other is not just going to put out sound bites or yell.  Neither is coming to the “gunfight” with just a “knife” but has a carefully reasoned approach and, in kind, is able to hear the reasoning of their opponent, even if they come to different conclusions.  To be honest, this is done for and with “entertainment” and “humor” but it feels different.

So, where is this going?  I think we need to change the tone of our public discourse in this country.  I think we need to be careful how we characterize and mis-characterize those with whom we disagree because we’ll make the divide between us so great that, not only will we not be able to talk together, but we’ll also be unable to work together on the issues we all think are important. I think our inability to hear perspectives other than our own stunts our growth, intellectually and politically and socially. 

Not all Democratic or Liberal ideas are bad.  Not all Republican or Conservative ideas are bad.  We need both, working together to make any kind of progress.

Religiously, I’m reminded of Shane Claiborne saying that he has a hard time defining himself “denominationally” because he wants the fire of the Pentecostals, he wants the rituals of the Catholics, he wants the faith in action of the Methodists, he wants the emphasis upon God’s Word of the Fundamentalist, and he wants the theology of the Lutherans and Calvinists.  And he thinks he’s better for each of them.

Perhaps we can have more of that in our country as well.

Today I’m going to have a few follow up posts from these dueling rallies of Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart from Saturday.  I was gone all day Saturday and most of Sunday and have only seen a portion of the rallies on the internet so far.  But there’s some stuff in there I really like and I think it’s helpful to the conversations I have on a regular basis with persons in life, in community, and in ministry.

And it all spring from my deep-rooted belief that we need to change the way we talk to each other and relate to each other…particularly when we disagree.

I hope, when all is said and done, persons will still find my political beliefs somewhat of an enigma.  I truly want to be open to hearing what all persons have to say…if what they say is more than a bumper sticker and is said quietly.  Then I’ll listen and, hopefully, be open to being transformed as their perspective meets/confronts mine.

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