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Cheddar revolution? Glenn Beck vs. Jon Stewart on Middle East-Wisconsin comparisons

Commentator Glenn Beck and others have repeatedly drawn parallels between Egypt and the Wisconsin protests. 'Ah, they're not the same in any way, shape, or form,' says Daily Show host Jon Stewart.

Protesters bang drums and chant inside the state Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 22, in Madison, Wis. Opponents to Gov. Scott Walker's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers are taking part in their eighth day of protesting.

Jeffrey Phelps/AP

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By Stephen Kurczy, Staff writer / February 23, 2011


From the Middle East to the Midwest, protesters are taking to the streets to upend the world order as the "winds of change" blow from Tunis to Tripoli and now across the Atlantic Ocean to the capital of Wisconsin to spark the Cheddar Revolution.

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"It is happening," commentator Glenn Beck said Monday on Fox News. "Now in Ohio. Now in Wisconsin, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. It's happening."

Maybe not quite.

"Ah, they're not the same in any way, shape, or form," The Daily Show's host Jon Stewart also said Monday, referring to Mr. Beck's comparison. "This [situation in Wisconsin] is the same as people in the Middle East overthrowing years of dictatorship? Or is that just the last story you saw on the news?"

So who is right? Certainly the Middle East uprisings have dominated public discourse over the past two months, making it easy to jump to tenuous conclusions between disparate events. Yet regardless of what Mr. Stewart thinks, Beck has tapped into a feeling among at least some Americans.

"The Egyptians have been a great example to us," retired teacher Jim Schneider said in Madison last week, waving a sign with "Hosni Mubarak?" written next to a picture of Wisconsin's governor, who is attempting to gut unions' collective bargaining power. "What happens here is going to be very important to what happens in a lot of other states, just like the thing that happened in Egypt had an effect on a lot of other countries in the Middle East."

Nevermind that "the thing" in Egypt was a violently repressed revolt against an autocrat who had ruled for 30 years and repeatedly rigged elections, abused human rights, emasculated the political opposition, and reportedly robbed the nation's coffers of billions of dollars. Yet these differences haven't stopped both Republican and Democratic congressmen from drawing similar parallels with Wisconsin.

"It's like Cairo's moved to Madison these days," Rep. Paul Ryan (R) or Wisconsin said on MSNBC Feb. 18. The following day, Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia also said on MSNBC: “There is an unbelievable parallel and a real connection that I can readily identify with the people in the streets of Cairo and Madison, Wisconsin."

Journalists are also making the comparison.

The New York Times wrote Feb. 18 that images from Wisconsin "evoked the Middle East more than the Midwest. The parallels raise the inevitable question: Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?"

Kathleen Parker, co-host of CNN news show "Parker Spitzer," also couldn't help making the parallel, saying Feb. 17 that "the thousands of [Wisconsin] demonstrators are clearly inspired by the pro-democracy protesters in the Middle East." She was quickly corrected by her stand-in co-host, Ali Velshi: "But, Kathleen, there is an important distinction. And that is that this is Wisconsin. It's not Egypt."

And to that, Stewart of The Daily Show readily concurs.

"If I may, there are a few small differences between this and Cairo," he said Monday in a segment titled "Crisis in Dairyland: Revenge of the Curds."

"The Egyptian protesters risked being shot. The Wisconsin protesters risked being caught in a drum circle," Stewart said. "And as for protesters' charge that [Gov. Scott] Walker is a tyrant, I will remind you that he was elected with 52 percent of the vote; tyrants tend to poll in the high-90s. C'mon, man, like 400 people died in those protests, reporters were brutally beaten, I'm sure you can come up with a more appropriate comparison."

Unlikely, at least in the case of Beck.

The protests "will cascade," he said on his show Monday. "They will sweep the Middle East and begin to destabilize Europe and the rest of the world." And in the end, what will come of it? "It's going to work out super special for you and me while we're at the gas stations," he said, laying on his signature sarcasm.

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