Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Love You More, StewBeef

If you can get one of these guys to admit their mistakes, you may have a moment of self-satisfaction and catharsis. But, it doesn't mitigate the horrible consequences of those decisions—nor does it seem to stop the next guy from repeating those mistakes... 
So, people of the future, is it futile to try to pin these people down? 
Would it be easier just to give up and let Rumsfeld go—preferably on an ice floe into the North Atlantic? 
Because, no matter what evidence, no matter what arguments or historical fact you put in front of these people, they think learning curves are for pussies. And, even if they did learn, it wouldn't change the past or prevent the same mistakes in the future. Which is why I want to say to you, in the future, please, never stop trying anyway because there's always hope that one day they'll think just for a second. And that second will be enough time for us to shove these motherfuckers onto that ice floe.

Profanity and ice-floe fantasies aside, I think Jon Stewart has been reading TS Eliot.

As his tenure on The Daily Show winds down, last Thursday Mr Stewart revisited (above) his disastrous 2011 interview (below) with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Confessing my love for Mr Stewart, I wrote with disappointment about his performance in that interview:
For (almost) 30 minutes, you tried to ask a question...But, you did not interview him. Mostly, you testified. You talked about reports few in your audience know. When you did—finally—ask a question, you asked the wrong question. 
You let him slip away.  
And, you fell into the single biggest challenge with reasonableness: What to do with a competing view that is reasonable?
For me, the issue was not so much whether Mr Stewart "nailed" Secretary Rumsfeld. The issue was whether Mr Stewart put Secretary Rumsfeld in the position to explore and explain his decision-making and whether Secretary Rumsfeld responded with more than self-defense.

In their best form, interviews are partnerships in which the interviewer not only asks questions but explores the answers—not because those answers are right or wrong (though there is that) but because they are reasonable and so subject to, deserving of useful testing. The interviewee not only responds but demonstrates their thinking about their subject and their willingness to test (not merely defend) the contours of their thinking.

In a democracy, an interview like Mr Stewart's of Secretary Rumsfeld takes on an interesting and additional importance: This is a means for The People to access their government and for government to make itself accessible to the People. This additional dynamic puts Mr Stewart in the position of inquisitive representative; it puts Secretary Rumsfeld in the position of responsive public servant.

That is, Mr Stewart is not out only to get laughs—which, in this instance, he did not try to do very much or successfully. He is there to ask the questions we cannot ask.

Secretary Rumsfeld, his preference notwithstanding, is not there to sell his own view. He is there to explain his decision-making and, in so doing, account for its strength and its weakness and so demonstrate his awareness that his obligation is not simply to a policy decision but to The People.

Alas, both failed in this regard, in my view. Mr Stewart berated Secretary Rumsfeld with testimony-laced non-questions and Secretary Rumsfeld, almost reclining, patiently (and, I expect, wisely) waited Mr Stewart out.

What makes last Thursday's revisitation by Mr Stewart so sweet (and affecting) is his twin realization that his effort to "get" Secretary Rumsfeld, even when it happened (however remotely in time and place), is ultimately both hollow:
it doesn't mitigate the horrible consequences of those decisions—nor does it seem to stop the next guy from repeating those mistakes
and worth repeating:
because there's always hope that one day they'll think just for a second.
We cannot let Mr Stewart's failure to get Secretary Rumsfeld to talk in one instance prevent us from expecting and pursuing responsive government—especially though not exclusively in the matter of life and death. The obligation of government to respond to the People survives any one failure—by us to ask and by government to respond.

We should find encouragement in the fact that Secretary Rumsfeld's subsequent revisions and oddly slim recollections of his views on the war in Iraq and his experiences in government show Mr Stewart, however unsuccessful to realize it, was on to something important.

As TS Eliot wrote in East Coker,
For us, there is only the trying.

And so, StewBeef, for your trying, I still love you—but more.