Thursday, October 24, 2013

Scratching what glitches

Ever since Jon Stewart's admittedly hilarious takedown of the Obamacare website glitches on Monday night, a lot of conservatives are suddenly lionizing him as this generation's Walter Cronkite.

The reference, of course, being that after Cronkite's famous commentary on the Vietnam war as "a stalemate, at best," President Lyndon Johnson supposedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America." Similarly, President Obama's supposedly stewing over last night's segment, thinking, "If I've lost Stewart, I've lost the liberals."

Sorry. No.

First off, it's disputed as to whether Johnson actually said that. Though I'm certain he believed it.

Second, Stewart is no Cronkite (no one is). He's a comedian who, though personally liberal, has no qualms about skewering whatever requires skewering at the moment. That's why The Daily Show has endured while partisan ripoffs like The 1/2 Hour News Hour tanked — its first allegiance is to satire, not to Soros. If Stewart's agenda was to produce a Democratic show, it would stink. Such is always the case when the message comes before the comedy.

I don't agree with Stewart all the time. His recent interview with Kathleen Sebelius struck me as an exercise in stubbornness. Even though there were legit questions to be answered and Stewart often exceeds expectations as an interviewer, I thought he misfired by dwelling on a single, repetitive question instead of going with the conversation, and trying to get his answer that way. Instead, it was a futile, full-court press. But that's fine. His hits are far greater than his misses, and even his misses have value. I watch to be entertained and stimulated, not to be kowtowed to.

Third — and this is most important, going far beyond this particular clip — making jokes about (or otherwise criticizing) how bumpy of a rollout has had, or how clumsily some officials have attempted to rationalize it, isn't a condemnation of health care reform in general. This is an important point that everybody seems to be overlooking, and it's annoying. 

Are there legitimate gripes about how the administration went about setting up the technological infrastructure? Of course. Some of it is utterly facepalm-worthy. But this should be a relatively pedestrian, minor concern. However, just as wonky concerns like the deficit have now become emotional fodder in many American households, so has this bumpy debut become a grand indictment of reform overall — not just for its bitter enemies itching to pounce on every potential setback, but even for some who otherwise support the plan.

Whether it's Republicans suddenly loving Jon Stewart because he said something they agreed with, or supporters of health care reform who think one bump in the road marks the end of the road, a second look is a good idea. Because the health care exchange website isn't the only glitch in America right now.

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