Friday, March 11, 2011

Rand Paul on Jon Stewart's Show

And the winner in making Rand Paul look foolish is...  steel drum roll, please (Caribbean style, my cruise is so close...)  David Letterman. Yes, even with David Letterman's straightforward admission of his own ignorance, Dave wins!!! He let Rand be Rand and didn't act as if he were talking to a particularly knowledgeable person. Letterman-Rand looked appropriately more idiotic when compared to Stewart-Rand.

That said, Jon Stewart did more than just lose this contest. In the beginning of the interview, it felt like he was giving folk hero status to Rand Paul as he began with praise of Senator Paul as being the "Walkiest of the Talkers." Apparently, Jon Stewart believes that extreme positions mean action, when in fact, extreme positions lead to inaction. It's the people in the center who decide things and get things done. The wingnuts rarely affect policy and certainly affected no policy here. What Stewart must have thought about before he and his writers decided how to set up something funny, was that Rand Paul did not compromise his principles, extreme and wacky as they are. The specific that Stewart was referring to is Senator Paul's position that $500 billion should be cut (from discretionary spending and apparently some from defense) not the $100 billion that the rather extreme Republicans put forward. (It's still depression folks, tightening the belt is as dangerous as say, tightening my own actual belt.) It certainly was not the 60-whatever billion that they could afford to pretend-cut. They didn't have to even actually have the cuts take effect and they still couldn't imagine putting more than that small amount on the plate for voters to consider. A question screamed in my head: if Goldman Sachs is right about the country losing 700,000 jobs in the case of the originally proposed $100 billion dollar cut, would that mean that 3.5 million jobs would be lost with Rand Paul's 5 times multiplied cuts? Instead Rand Paul was Rand Paul Bunyan - a walkin' and not a talkin'.

Following this, Stewart proceeded to have a discussion with the Senator that made Senator Paul's ideas look downright cozy. Get me a cup of tea and join me by the fireplace. I used to suffer through these embarrassing interviews when I watched the show regularly. A time or two Stewart would make headlines, good and bad, with his self righteous and sometimes intellectually pure challenging of his guests. But only so many controversial guests will show up before they get wise and stop selling their book via The Daily Show. As a consequence Stewart usually has intellectually satisfying softball interviews with the hardball wingnuts. Rachel Maddow rarely gets to book anyone to interview from the right wingnut kingdom, because she remains Rachel Maddow. Jon Stewart morphs into a slightly more intellectual version of Larry King.

Stewart seems to know his stuff about the effects of capitalism. He makes a few hesitantly polite intellectual remarks then allows his guest to make sweeping statements like, for instance, the theory that capitalism had nothing to do with financial crises, it was the central banks (Fed). For some reason it doesn't occur to Stewart to zero in on this. Did the central bank actually go out of their way to create credit default swaps and force the banks to package mortgages into securities that were designed to be rated AAA by the rating services? Was it too much regulation that allowed the rating services to get into bed with the bank? Or did this inevitability happen based on the capitalist system of the free market's brand of regulators (ratings services) making profits directly from the people they were regulating?

Looking at the extended version of the interview, it seems that the things that were edited out were done so because Stewart had not gotten a laugh line through. Pretty much every laugh line remains intact in the final edit of the tape that made the air. What didn't make it to air was a longer polemic discussion on capitalism, which was obviously where Mr. Paul wanted to take it and where Stewart decided to let him go (yeah, we can talk about that.) The extended version makes a lot more sense and Stewart doesn't look quite so milk toasty. But he has already allowed Paul to make sweeping statements without countering them specifically, while mildly suggesting that a few of his own ideas about capitalism might perhaps - a little bit here and there at times and so forth- be relevant. It's obvious these are strongly held views that are weakly stated.

The odd thing to me was the juxtaposition of the interview next to a preceding joke in which Stewart had made fun of the fact that Wisconsin Republicans, via Fox News(like) Network, had made it known that $7.5 million was needed to clean the Wisconsin capital when in fact the number was in the hundred's of thousands. Stewart lampoons this with the spectre of a news story about a grizzly bear attack that really turns out to be a hamster attack. Very funny indeed, but with the interview of Rand Paul, Stewart makes the same mistake in magnitude interviewing a mountain lion like it was a cuddly house cat. Throughout the interview Stewart appeared to be compromising on an equal basis with the extremities of political thought. This is the same interview Stewart has done countless times before to proactively cajole the extremists onto his show for ratings purposes. Very seldom is Stewart actually confrontational. He gives logical arguments and then seems to be bending over backwards to give some space for the illogical arguments of his opponent, as if we can all just have a gentleman's agreement with the ridiculous. Appeasement for ratings.

Just to illustrate how wacky the things are that get across to viewers in his interviews, I'll again point out the $70,000 figure that Rand mentions as our median income.* Where does this come from? Senator Paul had used this statistic on Letterman's show. It is wacky. Then word for word the same argument is put forward on Stewart's show. Letterman had already said that there seemed to be something wrong with Senator Rand's numbers but he wasn't smart enough to know what it was on the spot. Letterman had logically singled out this factoid for public skepticism. Had Stewart done his homework? Was Jon Stewart ready for this now that the figure had been quoted on Letterman previously and held up to public ridicule? Stewart let it pass by as smoothly as if it had been said on Fox News(like) Network. If my research is correct Stewart could have nailed him to the wall on a specific number. He had foreknowledge of the factoid and chose not to research it.

Senator Paul also wanted to cut defense. It's the Tea Party's apparent admission that President George W. Bush was a total buffoon when it came to defense (the size of the spending being buffoonish), but not tax cuts. Questions are begged like neon lights. Go for it!

To Jon Stewart's credit, he corrected a few points that probably would have gone uncorrected by others but the manner with which he made these slight corrections was akin to "Excuse me Sir, but you are talking about money that was spent on stimulus as if that stimulus weren't necessary. But other than that -cough cough-huge cough-monstrosity of a cough-misrepresentation cough- we are in a complete gentlemanly rose garden of dynamic similitude, dude."

Further illustrating just how wacky things can get in the only moderately challenging seat opposite the "liberal" Stewart in this gentlemanly interview, Senator Rand Paul actually got across the statement on the air that the financial crises was caused by too much regulation rather than lack of it. Rand Paul's world takes a little explaining here. I think I understand it pretty much. His concept (being so extreme as to believe that a lack of capitalistic anarchy would result in a bunch of lawless but satisfyingly moral and market perfect Goldman Sachs type operations) is that we have mucked capitalism up with government. Well, yeah, I guess since about 1929 there has been a trend of mucking up, at that. But it was always mucked up, the populace believing in things like fairness and stuff. The point is that throwing the economy to unfettered capitalistic profit making "banks" is an extreme view and always has been since the first time someone started lending more than the amount of reserves in their bank while simultaneously ignoring religious moral teachings of the day saying "Ussery, schmoossery." Actually, there has never been a time that anarchic capitalism was purely unmucked.  One reason this might actually seem logical is that there is a very volatile supply of money that depends on how much banks lend. Then it depends on how much people spend that borrowed money in ways that the money goes right back into banks that lend beginning the next vicious circle. (The circle... the circle of banks.) People borrowing money to speculate in real estate and stocks, then making profits for these very same banks, adding to their reserves which they then can lend to more speculators has been the constant threat to the economy, and finally to the waitress who is out of work and had nothing to do with the process.

Even this assumes a little governmental regulation called a "reserve requirement." It's volatile WITH the government mucking it up with a reserve requirement. The waves of ups and downs are awesome, dude. Imagine banks being allowed to lend millions with no money required in reserve. Waves heck, let's go surf that Tsunami, dude. Let bank freedom ring!

In history, when the government ignored the financial industry they inevitable cooked up a depression. This extremely extreme view, that if we took away their regulations, banks would follow hygienic capitalistic successes and failures with little consequence to the common waitress, is probably babbled everywhere Senator Paul goes. Perhaps, Jon Stewart does a slight bit more nudging than some other interviewers on these points. He has some stock statements of his own, but he is hardly the paragon of liberalism he would like you to believe he is, without having to actually say it. Neither is he very intellectual although he seems to be and presents himself as such. The audience obediently applauds when Stewart seems to make any point that is understandable to them. There is no intellectual discussion of the Fed and moral hazard (something that would test Paul on whether he truly understands his own theory) just a search for the next laugh or applause line.

While the Daily Show is very funny when it is not trying to do interviews, there is an agenda that is portrayed to the max. Then the interview comes and it's as if the agenda turned out to be fairly meaningless, apparently designed only for laughs not true social change. In all honesty I haven't watched a Daily Show for a while. The interviews are the most uncomfortable part of the show to someone like me who stressed himself out over politics a few years ago. I'm happy Jon Stewart helped my side in some areas of politics, I'm unhappy he turned against his own side when he lacked enough jokes because of the loss of the self lampooning President George W. Bush. I'm unhappy his rally in Washington didn't even try to encourage people to vote.

Before 2008 Stuart ruthlessly criticized the Democrats for being "do nothing." The Republicans now in control of the House are doing the same nothing, just louder. Rand Paul isn't walking, Jon. But when the Democrats did what they could, made the deals they needed to make to get past the hopelessly inactive (60 votes out of 100 makes a majority in passage of all bills) American governmental system, they were criticized again by Stewart for their compromising.

I guess I understand that Stewart is just doing the compromising that he himself thinks is necessary to get both warring sides together. But he doesn't seem to remain consistent in a daily format. Stewart just seems irrelevant to me, compromising to make the most radical Tea Party member look sane. Not calling him on his outrageous statements from the past did a disservice to those watching. Stewart's compromising is not really about getting people together though. One goal is to keep the ulraliberal appeased with a few funny zingers, almost inside jokes that only they can understand. (I'm cool. I get what Stewart is saying.) And the other goal is to get people to watch who don't truly understand but tuned in to see Rand Paul. This group saw on their televisions a Rand Paul who was teaching a clown and the nation. David Letterman, even more than the Daily Show has to rely on guests to be a draw for his show. Somehow he managed to be Krusty the Clown in tripping Senator Paul. While Stewart has his intellectualism on display in his clown act, Letterman is very self-deprecating as he kicks the pee out of his guest with his big clown foot.

My theory is that a far right wing guest goes on left wing shows to get people to buy their book that ordinarily wouldn't think twice about passing it up. It's a vast market they would never reach. The point at which they might lose is when they look silly to their built in book buying constituency. Rand knew he was in danger on Letterman. He came out punching with a zinger message from Al Franken, who agreed to officially mentor the freshman Senator Paul, quoted as saying Letterman was not funny. "But don't tell Letterman that." For Stewart, Senator Paul had no zingers or jabs. Rand and his publicist must have known they were on friendly ground for their book selling stand.

At one point Stewart said "You want to abolish the Fed, right?" Rand's father wrote a book with the extremely extreme concept of completely abolishing a central regulating authority for the financial sector. Rand did not take a bite from the apple. Stewart allowed him to gloss over the topic. All was well.

One Daily Show a month is a bit much for me when relevant questions are basically written on billboards behind the guests' heads while Jon Stewart has a tea party with the Tea Party.

* I've looked far and wide... 

 Personal income:

Median personal income for the population age 25 or older.

 The overall median income for all 155 million persons over the age of 15 who worked with earnings in 2005 was $28,567.

Household income:

This graph is interesting because it has the figure 70,000 somewhere in it. :) If I'm making this out right, if we single out Asians in America in 1999 as a group, they actually reached Paul Rand's $70,000 figure. This is household income which is apparently actually $49,777 in the year 2009. Household income is usually used rather than individual but heck, I have looked everywhere for that $70,000 figure Rand Paul states. It is nowhere to be found in the USA. Half of American citizens could not possibly be paying 97 percent of the taxes if the half mark is $70,000.  I don't think it's true even if $50,000 is considered as the median. The bell curve skewed though it is towards the rich, still has to be in effect.

The odd part about Rand Paul's argument is that the more the bell curve is skewed towards the rich, the more taxes they pay and the more it looks like they are paying "all" the taxes. That is, the greater the disparity, the worse the damage to the middle class, the better the odds are that rich people will indeed be paying all the taxes.