Jon Stewart takes on Tim Pawlenty and "tyranny" talk

Jon Stewart in full flight.
Jon Stewart in full flight.

Jon Stewart said last night on "The Daily Show" that he wanted to "move past Tucson" in his interview with Tim Pawlenty and talk about political rhetoric in general.

Why, he asked Pawlenty, do Republicans treat Barack Obama as though he is something fundamentally different?

Why accuse him of marching the country toward tyranny, when his predecessor vastly expanded executive powers and government intrusion into people's lives?

Here's some of the exchange:

STEWART: "This administration doesn't appear fundamentally different than Bush, but the panic and the reaction that is has set off does seem fundamentally different."

PAWLENTY: "Is it a whole different level of vitriol different from George W. Bush?"

STEWART: "Yes, I would say there's a whole political movement based upon that, that has come out of this, that is based in a revolution fetish to some extent."

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Pawlenty picked up the theme he sounded over and over the day before in interviews, trying not to knock Sarah Palin while at the same time keeping her vitriolic rhetoric at arm's length.

PAWLENTY: "Just because you can do something, you can say something, doesn't mean you should. We all have a responsibility. If you've got rights and privileges, exercise them responsibly. Be fair. Be accurate. An informed citizenry is the key to democracy, and you've got to have accurate good information to make good decisions. All of us, setting aside Arizona, right and left, could benefit from a more informed debate."
Pawlenty: "Just because you can say it, doesn't mean that you should."
Pawlenty: "Just because you can say it, doesn't mean that you should."

Then Pawlenty adroitly threw Stewart a curve ball, teasing him for his habit of littering his monologues with F-bombs: "When you were throwing the effenheimer around here earlier that really contributed to it."

"The effenheimer?" Stewart laughed. "John Jacob Effenheimer Schmidt?"

"I thought that raised the debate up," Pawlenty deadpanned.

It was one of the few funny bits of the evening. Then, back to tyranny.

STEWART: "Why is the right so fearful of tyranny now, when George Bush expanded executive powers so greatly. No Child Left Behind. Honestly, put yourself in the position. Barack Obama [rather than Bush] comes out and announces No Child Left Behind, an enormous federal mandate for pubic schools. You supported it under Bush. Would you disagree with that if Barack Obama had suggested that, there would be, Glenn Beck would have pictures of Stalin behind him, giant. He would be leaning in and saying, "We have brought upon us the tragedy! They want our children!'"

Pawlenty smiles at the vision.

STEWART: "Is this a cynical attempt to whip up a voting block, or do people really believe there has been a fundamental change in our government towards tyranny and socialism?"

PAWLENTY: "Let's step back. I'm the governor of the state where the Republican National Convention was held in 2008. We had to put up an almost semi-military zone because protesters, mostly on the left, were yelling, screaming, in some ways creating a security threat and physical threat, not just to the convention to passersby alike."

STEWART: "No question."

PAWLENTY: "So this isn't limited to, you know, to one side or the other."

Where was the outrage when Bush was president?
Where was the outrage when Bush was president?

But that doesn't address the issue of tyranny rhetoric, Stewart says.

STEWART: If the defense is, they've got people who do it too, that doesn't appear to me to be much of a defense. And the other thing is, I don't think you can conflate 18-year-olds who've written lawyer's names on their arms, running around with bandanas, with Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, with the leaders of the Republican Party. I think that is a cop out. I don't think that is fair.

"Fundamentally, does the Republican Party believe that we are as close to tyranny and socialism as the tone of their rhetoric would insinuate?"

Pawlenty stops tap dancing around the issue and makes his case.  

PAWLENTY: "I think there's a lot of us in the conservative movement that view government, whether its personalized in Barack Obama or anyone else, as government that crowds into into more space that used to be for individuals, that used to be for private markets, that used to be for charity and entrepreneur activities, that used to be for faith organizations, and they push in and say 'we'll do that now.' And they take one more piece of what used to be reserved for individuals. There's a lot of us who say that feels kind of like government stepping on us, pushing us to the side.

"There's a continuum between liberty and tyranny. And it sometimes happens very incrementally. So is it about throwing stones and taking over by force? Maybe just incrementally, every day just a title bit more gets nudged out of the way, you gotta at least acknowledge, John, that it is a continuum. And in my view we have moved down the continuum."

Tyranny? Seriously?
Tyranny? Seriously?

Stewart disagrees. And again he steers back to the issue of real, as opposed to theatrical, panic about tyranny.

STEWART: "I don't believe it's a continuum. I believe it's a pendulum and it tends to moves back and forth at times, and that's why I probably think the country is more stable than what I'm seeing from the rhetoric.

"I guess the point that has yet to be addressed is, Why has this administration triggered this immune response, and the Bush administration didn't, when they were doing very similar things. The Medicare act, No Child Left Behind, National ID. There was a huge increase in fed presence."

PAWLENTY: "I guess I would respectfully disagree as to whether it's really different. You go back and play the tapes from the peak, or the low point deep on your perspective, of the Bush years, and you see the anger, you see the vitriol.

"What drives anger? What drives anger from the right or the left? And I think part of it is fear. So you have to ask, What are people afraid of? And you know what people are afraid of right now mostly in this country? They're afraid of losing their jobs. They cant get their kids to college. They cant pay for their healthcare. They're ticked off. And that's OK, as long as you act on that in a reasonable way.

STEWART: "Are we playing to real fear, or are we inventing fears that don't ultimately address what people are legitimately afraid of? Are we dealing with what's real, or what's expedient?

PAWLENTY: "Well, for those people who are unemployed, underemployed, can't pay their bills, getting foreclosed, cant make their health care payments, it's pretty real."

STEWART: "It's pretty real. And that doesn't sound like it's got a lot to do with tyranny."

How did Palwenty do on the Daily Show? Let us know in the comments.

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