“Cash for Clunkers” Is a Glorious Success! (Pause for Laughs), or, Why The Daily Show Just Isn’t Funny Anymore

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

It really isn’t. He’s given them plenty of material, but the show just doesn’t have the same claws for Obama that it had for Bush. Even when Jon Stewart occasionally goes after Obama, it’s of the why do you have to be so awesome, Mr. President? variety. Hardy-har.

None of this is really surprising. Just disappointing.

Stewart’s interviewing skills are suffering, too. When he interviews people he disagrees with, he can be brilliant. When he interviews Democrats, he tends to sound like he’s hosting The Chris Farley Show. Last time I watched the show, Stewart was interviewing HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius about Obamacare. At one point, Stewart asked if, once the government is paying for more of the population’s health care, the government will take a more active role in trying to influence lifestyle choices. That’s a legitimate concern. But Stewart asked the question in his sneering “this is what the idiots on the other side are saying” voice. Sebelius replied that the government did have a financial interest in preventing smoking, obesity, and such. Stewart then damn-near made a point. He asked if preventing early death would really save taxpayers money. It actually doesn’t. But again, he asked it in a “aren’t your opponents stupid?” tone of voice, and never made Sebelius actually answer the question.

Anyway, on to the point of this post. Last night, Stewart mentioned the “Cash for Clunkers” program, and credulously and uncritically repeated the Obama administration’s line that the program as been an unqualified success. Now maybe the show has taken some real shots at Cash for Clunkers in prior episodes. I don’t watch regularly any more. Seems to me, though, there’s quite a bit of TDS sarcastic humor to be mined from all of this. You mean the government is offering people free money . . . and they’re taking it? And they’re measuring the program’s success by how many people . . . are willing to take free money? Shocker that it’s been so succesfull, huh?

There’s also the laughable idea that the government is ordering the destruction of tens of thousands of used automobiles it paid people thousands of dollars to exchange . . . for new cars that may get no more than an added four miles per gallon. And all in the name of saving energy. I’m no television comedy writer, but if they wanted to, the creative minds at TDS could certainly have gotten some mileage (sorry) out of the idea that the government’s energy savings equation looks something like this:

(all of the energy that went into making the old car) + (the energy it will take to destroy it) + (all of the energy it took to make the new car) + ($3,500) < an extra four miles per gallon!

Somehow, Stewart was only able to find humor in the program’s critics, who frankly make some pretty good points.

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Stewart might have looked to USA Today for inspiration. From the paper’s lead editorial yesterday:

From its outset cash for clunkers has been more about rewarding two politically powerful industries — automakers and auto dealers — than about promoting energy efficiency or juicing the economy.

As a way to improve mileage, the program has always been a farce. Car buyers would qualify for a $3,500 credit with trade-ins that net just four additional miles per gallon. With 10 additional mpg, they’d get $4,500. (For light trucks and SUVs the numbers are even smaller: two and five.) Since all trade-ins must get 18 miles per gallon or worse, it provides no incentive whatsoever to buy any cars getting greater than 28 miles per gallon, because that is a segment of the market where the foreign makers are strong…

As economic stimulus the program is bogus as well. The money allocated is enough to generate about 250,000 trade-ins. While that may seem like a lot, about 200,000 would have happened anyway industry experts say.If taxpayers are spending $1 billion for about 50,000 additional car purchases that comes to about $20,000 per car.

In theory, the first allocation clears out all of the people who would have traded in anyway, so any additional money could be more stimulative to the economy. That may be so. But if the best that could be said for spending another billion or two is that it won’t be wasted like the first billion, it makes for a pretty weak argument.

So far the program has actually been de-stimulative to the economy. That’s because people in the market have stalled, in some cases since February when the idea was first floated, waiting to take advantage of the sweet deal from the taxpayer.

Now, with buyers pouring into showrooms, it has created an enormous spike in demand, stretching the available inventory and removing the need for dealers to offer even the most routine of incentives.

Note to Stewart: Reverence isn’t funny. You need to decide if you’re a comedian or a shill.

Unfortunately, it looks you already have.

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204 Responses to ““Cash for Clunkers” Is a Glorious Success! (Pause for Laughs), or, Why The Daily Show Just Isn’t Funny Anymore”

  1. #1 |  Mike | 

    Stewart was always the least funny, and most partisan, part of his own show. If the show has gotten less funnny, it’s not so much because of him but because, as others have already pointed out, the funny people who surrounded him have left.

  2. #2 |  colson | 

    It’s funny to see all of this over John Stewart because I always felt Bill Maher did the same thing about 5 years sooner. Maher is interesting when he has actual conservatives and the occasional libertarian who are permitted to get a word in edgewise. Most of the time you get two liberal actors and a token conservative everyone really wants to hate. The worst episodes are those where they can only muster three liberals. It looks like a bobble-head convention on HBO.

    The best Maher episodes were those with PJ O’Rourke sitting on the same side of the desk as Maher. At least Maher doesn’t get away with as many stupid statements as he makes anymore. So maybe JS needs Glenn Beck as a co-anchor. That might be half-way interesting.

  3. #3 |  kurt | 

    Wife and I used to watch TDS religiously. We laughed. GW was such a gold mine for material. Thing is, it got too easy. I didn’t realize how easy until he was no longer in office because BO took GW’s place. Now, neither my wife or myself have really understood all the fuss over BO’s supposed charisma and eloquence, etc… actually feel he comes across flat and bland and generally ho-hum. Maybe that monotone causes hypnosis upon the fuzzy-minded. And I wonder if, even if the writers were to be struck by lightning and decided to exert some of their brain muscles on ways they could do their comedic duty, BO would still give them problems because, well, he’s just a very boring man. GW, nutty as he may’ve been gave the writers easy gigs and made Stewart look good. BO being a boring man, offers little to comedic writers who probably should’ve stayed on strike or they could go on another one; anyway, consequently, Jon Stewart has become a boring man too.

  4. #4 |  AnarchyIsTrueFreedom | 

    “First, your criticism of this episode is really about you being a libertarian and Stewart being a liberal. Liberals like cash for clunkers because they don’t have a problem with the government nudging the economy in different directions and basically handing money to consumers.”

    You are sorely mistaken. When people are handed a blank check, that’s handing money to the consumers. When people are handed a check already filled out to the UAW, that’s union pandering. Nice try, though.