Hypocrisy, John Oliver, and Jill Stein
John Oliver did an extended sendup of the third-party candidates in a recent episode of This Week Tonight. In it, he discussed how, in a certain light, the election is not just a choice between the lesser of two evils but, in fact, the least of four evils. He attacked Jill Stein in seemingly justified ways, but were they so justified? Is he right to paint Jill Stein in the same light as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Is he correct that, while the choice between Clinton and Trump may represent a choice between “a neoliberal disaster and a neofascist catastrophe,” adding Jill Stein to the mix doesn’t present the voter with anything markedly better?
One objection Oliver raised about Stein was her answer to the question from a 9/11 truther about what really happened on 9/11, to which she said that she doesn’t believe the American people had the full story, and that she would bring back the 9/11 commission to further investigate 9/11 and give us the full story. His objection was that, even though Stein is in no way agreeing with the 9/11 truther movement or their myriad absurd ideas with her answer, that it could be taken as fanning the flames of a conspiracy theory. He said, “you know that man thinks you agree with him, right?”
Why is this hypocritical? Earlier in the same segment, Oliver took an answer Stein gave about quantitative easing out of context to deride her for her plan to eliminate student debt, never mind that he did no actual analysis of her student debt plan, but hinged his entire argument against her plan on Stein not wanting to fully explain the details of quantitative easing, the process by which the federal government famously bailed out Wall Street banks in the aftermath of the great recession, in an interview. He took her decision to not explain quantitative easing as demonstrative that she has no legitimate plan to enact the elimination of student debt, a clear non-sequitur. Her point, simply, is that if we can find trillions of dollars to bail out bankers, then, surely, we can find billions of dollars to invest in students. The hypocrisy, however, came when he analogized Stein’s student debt plan to Trump’s plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, making them seem like equivalently ridiculous ideas. To that I say, “you know your viewers think you believe eliminating student debt is as crazy an idea as building a wall between the United States and Mexico, right?”
Maybe John Oliver, a man originally from England, a country that has low tuition caps and government subsidies for tuition, really does believe eliminating student debt is as crazy an idea as building a wall between the United States and Mexico, but I doubt it. So, why is he being hypocritical about this?
I am not planning to vote for Jill Stein, despite her endorsement by many respectable intellectuals, and despite how she showed up in person to participate in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, so I am not some angry Stein supporter on a rant. I am imminently disappointed in John Oliver, however, for using counterfactual, hypocritical tactics to basically smear a candidate, and, in doing so, paint discussion of a very real, very crucial issue as crazy talk, when he could just stick to the facts and offer intelligent critique. It’s not hard to find real reasons to criticize any candidate, so why play the mainstream media game of hyperbolic innuendo and mudslinging if you’re a self-admitted non-journalist and comedian on a weekly HBO show unless your motive is something other than honest elucidation of facts? What gives, John Oliver? Why would you elect to use your considerable influence this way?