The speech was very much in line with some of Stewart's earlier reflections on needless partisanship in the media, particularly his epic Crossfire appearance. The main argument, that people who disagree should still be nice to each other, is hardly controversial. But he goes beyond that, saying that we really do need more comity in government, that excessive partisanship is hurting the country. As he said on Saturday:
We hear every damned day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done. The truth is, we do! We work together to get things done every damned day! The only place we don't is here [the Capitol] or on cable TV!
But Americans don't live here, or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done--not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.He then goes on to draw a rather creative metaphor of cars entering a tunnel, who still manage to merge from 20 lanes to two despite their various disagreements. But this is a false analogy. Liberals and conservatives can merge lanes, or work together in an office, or live together as neighbors because those tasks have very little to do with being liberals or conservatives. Those philosophies are governing philosophies. We should not expect liberals and conservatives to get along when making governing decisions the way they do in other aspects of life because those decisions are essential to what it means to be a liberal or a conservative. Compromises are, in some sense, betrayals. When a liberal adopts a conservative policy stance, she has made herself less liberal in the process, and she has disappointed or even betrayed her cohort. Yes, sometimes governing requires compromise, but it's quite another thing to suggest that ideologues should compromise for the sake of creating a more agreeable work environment.
A friend of mine (Hans Noel - see comments) also pointed out that the Jon Stewart at the rally would have some real disagreements with the Jon Stewart who interviewed President Obama last week. The latter Stewart was criticizing Obama for compromising too much on health care reform and other policy matters. He apparently wanted Obama to be more confrontational, regardless of how that affected the tone in Washington, because he thought the outcome was important.
And there's the rub. We always want politicians to be nicer to each other, until they're arguing about things we hold dear, and then we want them to fight tooth and nail for those things.
So, okay, he's being a little ideologically inconsistent here, but he's no worse than the rest of us. And I'm willing to grant some slack to the guy who created a battle of the bands between Ozzy Osbourne and Cat Stevens.