Last night, Jon Stewart proved again that not only is he the funniest guy on TV, but he can also be TV's most compelling interviewer. His guest was Marc Thiessen, the former Bush speechwriter who seems to now make a living trying to scare the living daylights out of people about terrorism. He has a new book out that contends that in changing Bush-era policies on detainee treatment and torture, Obama is making the country less safe. Stewart, clearly passionate about the issue, shreds his arguments, not with wit but careful reason. The interview is well worth watching. It actually comes in three parts, two of which are online exclusives because at the end of the interview Thiessen invokes his 14-year-old self and whines that he hasn't had enough airtime. That's not true of course, but Stewart graciously continues the interview beyond its allocated time. But here's a quick recap of the bits I found most inspired. Spoiler alert: none of them are funny.
Thiessen compares the lawyers who are the subject of Liz Cheney's attack ad to mob lawyers, implying that their loyalties lie with terrorists. Stewart disagrees, asking if Thiessen thinks that a lawyer who defends a pedophile can then be deemed a pedophile sympathizer. Disturbingly, Thiesson appears to agree with the notion, wondering aloud what would motivate someone to spend their time "trying to free these people." Stewart responds: "Because you believe in the rule of law and that the country's fabric is decided not by the easiest cases to take but the hardest cases to take."
Later, Stewart objects to Thiessen's implication that conservatives know the secret formula to preventing terrorism. Here's the exchange:
Stewart: The thing that I object to is the idea of safety, and I'll explain that. The idea that [safety] can be a concrete certainty. This makes us safe, this doesn't. These are all subjective realities, the idea of something that makes us safe. You can make the argument that Guantánamo keeps us safe because there are bad people in it. They can make the argument that by having Guantánamo open it allows easier recruitment for terrorists which ultimately ...
Thiessen: I disagree with that entirely.
Stewart: I know you disagree with it, but I'm saying that that is a valid argument.
Thiessen: I don't think its.
Stewart: It's a, as conservatives like to say, a complex adaptive system, very similar to climate change.
Thiessen: Except it's real. [Laughs.]
Stewart: And Republicans and conservatives are suggesting without any of the science that backs climate change that they know the equation. That they can solve the unsolvable. That Liz Cheney knows more about this than say Matthew Alexander, who was actually doing the interrogations.
Later, Stewart summarizes: "The point is that it's not clean. That you can't know for certain ... It's a very selective world that you live in, and it must be very lovely to live in, but things are not so clear cut ... The idea that you can castigate people as though they are purposefully making America less safe and in league with the terrorists that we're fighting because they disagree with your ideas about safety, I think is what's offensive about this.
It's a serious point, and Stewart presents it with appropriate sobriety. There is no magic formula that prevents terror attacks. There is just a range of opinions and ideas about how best to safeguard against attacks while upholding the rule of law and maintaining the country's integrity. Politicians disagree about the methods, but they agree with the end goal of preventing terrorism. The idea that an administration of either party would purposely choose to make Americans less safe, more exposed to terrorism, is, as Stewart puts it, quite simply offensive.