Many conservatives have a conflicted attitude toward Jon Stewart. He can be clever, and he sometimes trains his sights on Democratic foibles, but for the most part the ridicule on his show is aimed at conservatives in public life. But Stewart’s transformation over the years into a hectoring, standard-issue liberal means his monologues and interviews often demonstrate clearly and pithily what conservatives don’t like about the big-government left.
And he did so last night, in his extended interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Stewart, ever in search of Republican hypocrisy, tried to tag Christie with the label because Christie accepted federal disaster relief funds after Hurricane Sandy but balked at setting up a state Obamacare exchange. This is how the conversation went:
Stewart: So New Jersey is in trouble, and it needs the federal government to step in. And you go to them and you say I need this amount of money. And there’s some horse-trading. But for the most part, they’re going to deliver at least $30 billion to the state of New Jersey, wouldn’t you say? Or maybe even a little more?
Christie: I’m hopeful.
Stewart: At the same time, they want to set up exchanges for health insurance in New Jersey, and you don’t want to do that.
Christie: Well, I don’t want to do it right now.
Stewart: When they’re doing it.
Christie: Well, no. Here’s the issue, Jon, and why I vetoed it. I’m asking them a bunch of questions about how much this is going to cost and everything else, and they won’t answer my questions.
They argued for a bit about whether the Obama administration was being forthcoming enough, and how much money it would ultimately cost New Jersey to set up the exchange. Here is Stewart’s response:
Stewart: So my point to you is, but when you need it for hurricane relief, they don’t come to you and say: But wait a minute, how exactly is this going to go? What is the money going to go for? How are you going to spend it?
Christie: Sure they do.
Forget for a moment that Stewart was wrong, as Christie pointed out, and just peer into the mind of a contemporary liberal. Sure, the government will be happy to help the stranded, the people who just lost everything in a natural disaster, the people with nowhere to go. But first, says the liberal, don’t you think you should do something for the president?
Everything comes with strings attached, even in the case of a natural disaster. Christie pointed out that not setting up a state health-care exchange doesn’t prevent people from getting insurance through the federal exchange the government would set up instead. And he reminded Stewart that when other hurricanes and natural disasters hit around the country, the federal help to those states was paid for in part through New Jersey taxpayer dollars, so this is hardly a case of the victims being greedy.
Later on in the interview, the two came back to this subject. Stewart said he thinks Republicans don’t want the government to do anything unless they themselves need it, in which case their needs rise above those of others. Here’s the example Stewart puts forth to make his stand:
Stewart: For instance, two wars that were not paid for with tax cuts and all those things, yet God forbid a woman wants birth control paid for on her health-care plan, that’s government waste. Not everybody believes that their tax dollars are being paid correctly, but we live in a society.
Christie: But now what prevents us though, and what’s destructive about having a debate about that?
Christie’s answer was appropriate: Welcome, Jon Stewart, to a democracy. But notice Stewart’s logic: If fighting a war to defend the United States is the government’s responsibility, then so is taxpayer-funded birth control. If government’s job is to do anything, then its job is to do everything. And when the government helps its citizens, it expects that favor to be returned.