Who needs enemies?
Imagine you’re at a party. The room is full of people, but you’ve managed to find a quiet corner. Sitting next to you is a professional colleague, one you’ve met several times and know reasonably well. You even refer to him as a friend. You’ve found this individual to be very intelligent. You know him to be well educated. He has an excellent reputation among your other friends and colleagues. You might not know many specifics about his personal life, but you’ve always heard he’s a good man of character and integrity. It just so happens that you’re both really into movies. You’re both very knowledgeable about the movie industry, and love to discuss it. But for the most part, you can never agree on anything when movies are the topic of conversation. You know quite well that his opinions on movies differ from your own, but you still claim to have a vast respect for him and for his knowledge on movie-related topics.
Your friend turns to you and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve done a ton of research, and I’ve reached the conclusion that Citizen Kane is a horrible movie.”
How do you react to this startling revelation? After all, Citizen Kane is one of your favorite movies of all time. Film industry professionals, critics, and average citizens alike all list it as one of the greatest movies ever made. Even considering that your friend often states opinions you disagree with, this one just seems shocking. You can’t even begin to imagine how someone could possibly think Citizen Kane is awful.
So what do you do? Do you calmly ask the friend to explain his position? After all, this is a man you supposedly respect, and he claims to have done a lot of thinking and research on this topic. Even though you can’t imagine what his reasoning could possibly be, surely there has to be some justification for his having taken such a controversial position. Wouldn’t you have the intellectual curiosity to calmly and politely ask him? To fully hear him out and give serious consideration to his arguments before attempting to debate him on the issue? Is this not the proper way to treat a friend, a person you greatly respect, who happens to disagree with you (and with the majority opinion) on one specific issue?
Not if you’re Jon Stewart. If you’re Jon Stewart, you stand right up, get the attention of everyone at the party and say: “Hey everybody, get a load of THIS guy! He thinks Citizen Kane is terrible! Isn’t that bizarre? What is he thinking? I mean I respect him and he’s my friend and all that, but man, this is Citizen Kane we’re talking about here! What a ridiculous thing to say!” If you’re Jon Stewart, you do everything in your power to make your “friend” look stupid in front of as wide of an audience as you can muster. You display no legitimate curiosity. You give your friend no benefit of the doubt. You immediately attack and demean and belittle.
That’s exactly what Jon Stewart did last week, when he engaged in a “debate” with Judge Andrew Napolitano regarding whether or not Abraham Lincoln was a great President. The Judge expressed opinions that, contrary to what the vast majority of people (both the intellectual elite and the general public at large) believe, Lincoln was pretty awful. Stewart seemed completely taken aback by this. He didn’t know how to respond to it other than to get really loud and attempt to embarrass The Judge for daring to express such an unpopular opinion.
I’ll discuss the (lack of) merits of some of Stewart’s arguments later. The point of this post is to draw attention to the tactic that Stewart is using here. He’s not a dumb guy. I find it really difficult to believe that he’s not at all familiar with the various anti-Lincoln arguments that are regularly made by libertarian political commentators. This is all very deliberate and calculated on his part. The SHOCK he expresses at hearing someone he supposedly likes and respects say something critical of Lincoln is completely and entirely fabricated. It is a reaction designed to rally the crowd and an attempt to shame and humiliate The Judge. It is not the way that an intellectually curious person approaches ideas that they haven’t heard before, and it is certainly not the way that any decent person would treat someone they describe as “a friend.”
That’s why I found this segment to be completely and totally disgusting, as opposed to the Peter Schiff segment a month or so ago, which I found to be slightly humorous, even though it was obviously manipulative and dishonest. What Stewart is doing here is the intellectual equivalent of the Soviet Union putting on show trials in order to prove how fair their justice system is. Sure, he brings on someone with an opposing viewpoint and “lets them talk.” The Judge gets plenty of time on the mic. All the trappings and appearances of a legitimate debate are here. Everything about this segment is meticulously calculated to trick the audience into thinking that we are watching a completely honest and fair debate, that Jon Stewart just so happens to win because he’s just smarter and morally superior to The Judge.
Once again, this is a common tactic. Stewart isn’t the first to use it, and he won’t be the last. Bill O’Reilly does this with his “liberal” guests all the time. He makes sure to call them his friend and point out that he greatly respects their work and their intellect, all while bullying them around and directing the conversation in such a way as to make them look as stupid and wrong as possible. You need to remind the audience as often as possible that your opponent is your friend and that you respect them, because that way, the audience will assume that your vehement opposition to their beliefs is based on your firmly held moral values and intellectual study of the issues, rather than on personal animosity or partisan politics.
The fact of the matter is that Jon Stewart intentionally misled his audience for the purpose of delivering pro-government propaganda. He made a series of terrible arguments, and immediately changed the topic whenever The Judge attempted to refute them. He took every possible opportunity to express shock that “someone so smart” could possibly believe such ridiculous things. He exhibited absolutely zero intellectual curiosity as to why The Judge might hold such obscure opinions, and spent the entire interview treating him as a hostile opponent who needs to be “proven wrong.” He attempted to embarrass and humiliate his so-called “friend” on the most public of all stages.
The Judge is one of the most brilliant political minds of our time. He can take care of himself. He doesn’t need my help. I’m not an expert on Lincoln by any means. If you’d like to learn more about the anti-Lincoln argument, you should look up Tom DiLorenzo, the man who basically put the anti-Lincoln movement on the map and who is essentially the go-to guy for these sorts of debates. For me, this issue isn’t about who was right and who was wrong. It isn’t about Lincoln at all. It’s about Jon Stewart being a scumbag. This segment didn’t offend me as a libertarian. It offended me as someone who enjoys honest and open intellectual debate. Because I was once in that very position! It wasn’t that long ago that I was speaking to someone who I knew was a very smart individual and who I highly respected. This person made many of the anti-Lincoln arguments that The Judge and DiLorenzo have made over the years, and I found them absolutely shocking. I had never heard them before. But what I didn’t do was immediately yell and scream at them for daring to advance an unconventional opinion.
Instead, I told myself that this was probably something worth taking a look at. I was curious. So I did some research. I read some books. I watched YouTube videos. I spent a long time examining my principles and attempting to reconcile some of my core moral beliefs with many of Lincoln’s actions. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that my friend was right. I had been wrong about Lincoln. It wasn’t the first time I was wrong, and it certainly won’t be the last. But I never would have found that out if my intellectual curiosity and genuine respect for my friend didn’t kick in. If I had acted like Jon Stewart on that day, then I would be like Jon Stewart today – a disrespectful and ignorant jerk.