When Jon Stewart hosted right-wing stooge and pretend historian David Barton on The Daily Show, Tuesday, May 1st, a number of diarists here were upset that Stewart had not pounded Barton into submission, or at least kicked him in the groin once or twice. The next night Stewart kissed up to right-wing stooge and pretend economist Senator Tom Coburn, and nobody said a word. I submit that Coburn's stupid yet prevalent beliefs about the national debt are a greater threat to the welfare of all of us than Barton's Christian Dominionist rantings will ever be.
The point here is not to bash Stewart. Stewart is a comedian, just as he has always claimed. He brings guest from right, left, and center on his show to sell their books or promote their cause. He does not attack them except to point out a few inconsistencies and get a few laughs. But he treats guests politely - and relatively even-handedly. He has to, or else guests from across the spectrum would not come on his show.
Compare Rachel Maddow, who runs a news and commentary program. Right wingers won't come on her show (with a few exceptions) because she will show them up for the idiots they are. Think Rand Paul. If he came on the Daily Show, Stewart would hold up his book, ask a few pointed questions which his audience would appreciate, get a few laughs, and let him go on his way.
Maddow is catch a fish and filet it. Stewart is catch and release. Some people didn't seem to get that. I wonder why. And I especially wonder why they were so infuriated when the fish was a slick-talking fundamentalist who claims to have the founding fathers all figured out in the born-again glory they never professed.
Barton gets no respect in academia, and academia is not going away in the near future - nor the distant future, we hope. There is little chance that his ideas will gain the upper hand in learned circles. There will be a Bush or Reagan-appointed federal judge or two who will rule in favor of That Old Time Religion in some cases, but the impact will likely be contained.
On the other hand, Coburn's austerity ideas already have currency, and if they are acted on, the economic future is going to be grim. If anyone deserves to be kicked in the testicles for promoting an economic menace, it's Coburn. And yet Stewart practically fawned over him.
The problem Barton represents is the influence of the religious right. We've seen how revolting it can be, and we want it to be diminished, not advanced. Barton is the glib, fast-talking Southern Baptist shyster who is in it to snow people into believing he has the superior argument. He is a sophist who depends on evasion to trick his audience. Talk fast enough, move on to another point before anyone can ask about the one you just blew past us, and people will think you made sense. It's not that hard when you have a belief system that, when traced back, is built on myth and superstition.
People rightly want Barton skewered, but Stewart is not the person for the job. He's in it for laughs, and he gets them in barrels. I hope Barton jumps in Rachel's pond someday.