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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Embarrassed, again

by John Brummett | October 11, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Jon Stewart's aim was to expose a Southern rube saying ridiculous things against transgender therapy for children.

That way, he could enhance his television program's appeal to its target audience, the liberal and young. He could advance the case against the first-in-the-nation law spawned in the Arkansas Legislature that presumes to tell doctors they can't prescribe or provide that therapy.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's aim was to absorb this national celebrity leftist's ridicule on the issue, thus enhancing her political standing in Arkansas where sensitivity to transgender issues is not at all strong but disdain for national celebrity liberalism thrives.

Both Stewart and Rutledge succeeded wildly.

He furthered his reputation as liberals' best agent for making mincemeat of right-wing inferiors. He destroyed Tucker Carlson years ago. She burnished a wider reputation as a conservative who rope-a-doped the extremism and meanness of a liberal icon.

Stewart, the comedian and former "Daily Show" host and now public policy advocate, has a relatively new show on Apple TV, a streaming service blessed with "Ted Lasso" and other worthy original productions.

Last week's Stewart episode was about efforts to do what the pioneering Arkansas law tries to do, which is substitute social and political conservatism for medical science and parental rights. The Arkansas law has been enjoined in federal court and the state is appealing under the representation of its attorney general--Rutledge for a few weeks more.

Stewart's producers probably investigated Rutledge to see what kind of interview subject she would be, and, after a few YouTube searches, exulted in her perfection for their purpose.

Rutledge has an unwarranted confidence in her wit and rhetorical flourish.

So, while a more discerning move in times past would have been to decline Stewart's interview requests on the basis that she was in the middle of a race for lieutenant governor--and that her office's appeal brief could speak for itself--she said come on down and get a load of this country girl.

I suspect she also wanted to meet a star, which Stewart is, and to be on a national program, albeit one with little more viewership in Arkansas than my weekly video interviews with Talk Business and Politics.

If Rutledge bothered seeking the advice of her political advisers, she no doubt was told that the interview was a no-lose proposition. Arkansas voters have little use for a celebrity liberal like Stewart, and even less concern for children with troubling concerns about their gender.

These advisers might have told her that the worse she performed, the better she would fare politically. She performed as if determined to heed such advice.

Stewart wanted to know where conservative Arkansas politicians get off making a law taking medical authority away from medical professionals and parental decisions away from parents, and giving it in both cases to conservative politicians.

Rutledge replied that there was an equal number of medical experts who believed children needed to be spared such medications. Stewart said "you know that's not true," and that all the "established medical experts"--specialist physicians and the American Medical Association--held the opinion that such hormone treatments were helpful in some cases and ought to be used if favored by parents.

Rutledge said, "we don't know that," and Stewart asked why the state would rush to make first-in-nation law based on what it didn't know.

Rutledge said Arkansas plainly knows that 98 percent of childhood cases of "gender dysphoria" resolve themselves in time when those youngsters come to realize they like their genders.

"That's an incredibly made-up figure," Stewart said. It did rather sound like one. What is the likelihood every gender-uncertain child could be identified and then tracked into adulthood?

Stewart wanted to know the identities of experts supposedly compiling data on this 98 percent. Rutledge said she didn't have that off the top of her head.

Stewart asked Rutledge if Arkansas would ban a doctor's right to treat pediatric cancer. Rutledge said cancer kills. Stewart said gender-confused youth sometimes kill themselves.

Rutledge said Arkansas is not going to let children buy cigarettes, at which point Stewart interrupted to say surely she was not going to compare buying cigarettes to gender dysphoria.

It went on like that for a short while with Stewart debating smugly rather than interviewing and Rutledge holding an unnatural smile.

A few people are telling me they felt embarrassed for our state by Rutledge's performance. But the state elected her, twice, so any embarrassment would be deserved.

The way for Arkansas to stop being embarrassed is to stop being embarrassing, or for the politicians it elects to stay off national television.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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