"This is one of the rare moments--or perhaps only moment--in which I've felt disappointed in a Wieseltier essay. I think he's not looking carefully enough or from a wide enough view at these very effective court jesters. He gets Colbert's appearance in front of Congress wrong in the very way that congressmen who easily get their dignity ruffled got it wrong: Colbert was (I'm embarrassed to be saying this, it's so elementary) with obvious irony, irony which (to my ears) didn't trivialize a serious matter, but instead (to my ears) revealed the trivialization of a serious matter by continued unserious congressional talk, which always seems meant to avoid action. Colbert's very persona does that. Really, when he's a witness at a hearing, he's Lear's jester, telling him to cut the bullshit and getting to live another day because AS the clown he's been given dispensation. This is just plain obvious that Colbert and Stewart are the jesters we've currently picked to give dispensation for saying the truth; or rather, by giving them dispensation to say it, we give OURSELVES dispensation to hear it, because we don't seem inclined to hear it elsewhere. That Colbert and Steward miff Mr. Wieseltier would content me more if I didn't like Mr. Wieseltier's work so much. If Peretz were having this snit I'd grin.
Steward and Colbert are culturally ascendent at the moment NOT because we're all too-easily seduced or distracted by stand-up comics, but because NO ONE ELSE IS SAYING ANYTHING IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE that rings of HONEST moral dudgeon. We're only turning to them because, at the moment, there's no one else one cares to hear, and not because the speakers are themselves unworthy, but because they incessantly go round-and-round with an impoverished rhetoric that has so thinned out any actual argument that we're ALL left benumbed by the 'spin.' The court jesters shake us awake by not spinning. Their act itself--their shtick--strips away layers of spin. And Stewart's routine--dare I say it? I think I can use the word correctly--actually 'deconstructs' all the freak'n spin in a way that allows us to hear the difference between the said and unsaid; between the implied and the proven. Etcetera. Again, this is all obvious, it seems to me. Stewart and Colbert get all this attention because they do us a service as public rhetoricians.
Who but a comedian can reveal the sophistic shenanigans of a Glen Beck but a stand up comic? As Stewart said in his interview with Teri Gross, he can undo Beck for an audience so effectively because he and Beck do the same thing, they're both stand up comics, using the same rhetorical techniques. "Serious" writers have the skills to demolish Beck's bullshit (ok, ten-year-olds have the skills) but not the delivery. We need a clown, with comic timing, to take down the clown pretending not to be comic."