Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stewart v. O'Reilly: a battle of the deluded

The winner of the unedited version of the Jon Stewart/Bill O’Reilly show according to the liberal blogosphere is naturally the Comedy Central host, which, frankly, is like winning an arm wrestling match against someone who has no arms. But while Stewart did skewer the comical, alleged sexually harassing curmudgeon -- pointing out the ludicrousness of labeling Obama a “socialist” when he following Bush's lead, redistributing income upward to bankers and brokers, not the crack-smoking welfare queens of the right-wing imagination -- he also looked the fool himself, ignorantly suggesting to O’Reilly that the man who has bombed at least three countries without congressional approval has ceded power relative to his predecessor:
O'Reilly: There are little socialistic programs and giant socialist programs. OK? And some people believe that Obama is on the huge government creation -- the government dominance. And you yourself said it! You yourself said it! He wants more regulation, he wants to create things, he wants big government.
Stewart: But he's given back so much executive power!
O'Reilly: What?
Stewart: Executive power!
O'Reilly: He hasn't given back anything. He just hasn't handled the Congress. He doesn't know how to handle them yet. That's inexperience.
Earlier this month I felt myself siding with Andrew Sullivan when he was dishonestly (and oh so pretentiously) labeled an anti-Semite by an editor at The New Republic for having the temerity to question the policies of the nation-state of Israel and their embrace by some neoconservative pundits, and now I can’t help but conclude Stewart just got owned, as the kids say, by Bill-freaking-O’Reilly; what other surprises will 2010 bring? On the issue of executive power, though, it’s appallingly ignorant to claim, as Stewart does, that Obama’s reign in office has seen a diminishing in the power of the executive. Beyond bombing Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia without so much as a constitutionally dubious congressional resolution, Obama has asserted the right not just to murder individual foreigners overseas without so much as a trial or a hint of oversight -- something liberals have usually been okay with, it being the price necessary to ensure their local NPR affiliates are safe -- but to kill American citizens deemed threats to U.S. national security, either by Obama or a designated subordinate, such matters being unworthy of the emperor’s time. He also, like Bush, maintains the right to wiretap the conversation of anyone in the world without a warrant, or to jettison said person away to one of the U.S.'s numerous military prisons around the globe.

O'Reilly is absolutely correct, a series of words I never thought I'd put together in a piece not labeled satire, when he credits Obama's difficulties on some domestic policy fronts, not to a weakened executive branch, but to inexperience, to which his failure to get even the corporatist health care scheme devised by the Senate to his desk is testament. On the other hand, Obama's failure to push for a "public option" and other initiatives desired by his progressive supporters has been entirely consistent with his governing philosophy -- corporatism mixed with liberal internationalism -- and should not be chalked up to his limited time in Washington, as some of his followers are wont to do. On Afghanistan and support for the financial industry, two areas where the president has de facto dictatorial powers, Obama has pursued the course laid out for him by his predecessor with zeal; only on areas involving cooperation with the increasingly irrelevant and dysfunctional Senate -- though I assume certain interests believe it's functioning quite well -- has Obama stumbled, which has nothing to do with diminished presidential power.

Tolerating a belligerent foreign policy and expansive empire in exchange for some liberal reformist policies at home was never a morally defensible position for progressives, and now, in light of Obama's actual performance in office, it's more clearly untenable than ever. Jon Stewart ought to know that by now.

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