Saturday, March 14, 2009


From Comedy Central courtesy of Eschaton, the Daily Show episode everybody's talking about:

From Merriam-Webster Online:

1 : a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights

2 : a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action

cognitive dissonance

: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously
A little background. For about a week now, John Stewart has been lambasting cable business news channel CNBC for being wrong about pretty much everything regarding the many years of runup to the financial meltdown and Great Recession we are currently enduring. I've been checking clips of this stuff out over at Crooks and Liars, and it's been a fun ride. But with each successive episode, with each new response from CNBC, Stewart's tone has become incrementally as serious as the subject he has been addressing. That is, it was riotously funny to watch a clip of Jim Cramer touting Bear Sterns stocks a few days before they fell so dramatically that the Fed had to bail them out, riotously funny to see clip after clip of this shit, but after a couple of days, it was just painful: the awful truth, that the mainstream news media is just as responsible for the horrible state of our economy as the Wall Street wolves, corporate lobbyists, and bribe-drunk politicians who poured the gasoline and lit the matches, kind of kicks you in the gut.

As I've said several times here before, comedy is serious business. Or it ought to be.

And this Daily Show episode is no exception. In fact, it's so serious that it gets downright weird. Stewart pounds CNBC's Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager and host of the network's stalwart show Mad Money, relentlessly, rubbing his nose in his own bullshit again and again. Cramer sputters and stammers, providing no satisfying answers to Stewart's questions.

I mean, short of "look, we're just a propaganda vehicle for Wall Street, and when they blow it, so do we," there are no satisfying answers Cramer can give. I've got to give the man some credit, though. He was nice. He was good natured. He was honest. Okay, he wasn't telling the truth, either, but not because he was lying. That is, in order to lie, one must consciously misrepresent the truth. Cramer is obviously one of those right-wingers, among many, who honestly believes his own bullshit. He's a true blue free market fundamentalist, a neoliberal, a supply-sider, a bigtime cheerleader for the laissez faire economics that have driven this country for the last thirty years. And now the whole theoretical framework has totally fallen apart. Cramer's not a liar, not an asshole. It's just that his beliefs are now utterly at odds with reality, and that hasn't quite set in yet.

He's suffering what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Indeed, most conservatives are suffering cognitive dissonance, and reacting in various ways. Compared to people like, say, Rush Limbaugh, who simply ignores reality and ramps up his anger as a coping strategy, Cramer's reaction is downright uplifting.

It remains to be seen what will come of all this. An entire segment of American society must necessarily now rethink its cosmology, and its own self-worth, if it wants to participate in rebuilding, rather than destroying, the nation. Most of them are not evil assholes like Limbaugh; like Cramer, they're nice people who genuinely believe their now discredited economic ideas are helpful to most Americans. It's kind of sad thinking about twenty million or so fellow countrymen coming to the conclusion that they've unwittingly supported for years ideas, policies, politicians, and institutions that have harmed their country. And that's how this interview with Jim Cramer ultimately makes me feel, sad.

On the other hand, I've always been very much of the opinion that it's not really funny unless someone gets hurt. Judged by that standard, this Daily Show episode is the funniest thing I've encountered in recent memory.

(Hat tip to my buddy Reuben for inspiring me to post on this)