There have been times, both on and off The Daily Show, that Jon Stewart has felt like the voice of America’s silent, reasonable majority. Others, he’s been a step ahead of us all. Here are a few of his finest moments of leadership.
The 9/11 First Responders Bill
Jon Stewart has made plenty of noise in the political world down the years, but it hasn’t always yielded tangible results. A satirist has his limits. But when a bill to help 9/11 first responders who came down with chronic illnesses as a result of their work at Ground Zero was blocked by Senate Republicans—and the news networks completely ignored it—the fake newsman sprang into action. He lampooned the parties involved and had a number of first responders on to offer their views on what more and more appeared a national disgrace.
Three days later, the bill passed.
Stewart has long criticized the dog-and-pony-show partisanship of some cable news programs, where substance can often take a back seat to political gamesmanship and arguments for arguments’ sake. CNN’s Crossfire was emblematic of this, and Stewart appeared on the show in October 2004 to tear it apart. He so effectively gutted the show and its premise that it was cancelled within three months. Some have pointed out that the episode did little to change the general culture of cable news, but it did spare the TV-viewing public from Tucker Carlson—if only for a few months.
Corruption in Government
The growing influence of money and corporate power in government troubles many, including Stewart. When he had House Minority Leader Nancy Pilosi on in January 2014, he asked her outright to explain how the political system is not, in fact, “overrun by moneyed interests.” Her extended struggle to offer a response only seemed to underline his point.
Glenn Beck’s Appendix
For Stewart, Glenn Beck is the essential example of the political pundit in the Age of American Unreason. When Beck needed his appendix removed and had to miss his daily Fox News show, Stewart seized on the opportunity to illustrate the illogic and paranoia of Beck’s reasoning by brilliantly mimicking Beck’s free-associative style.
Jim Cramer Interview
Even months after the initial crash, deep in the depths of the Great Recession, it was still unclear to many Americans what exactly had happened beyond that Wall Street had taken eight too many pieces out of the American economic Jenga tower. Jon Stewart stepped into the void, providing some background on the financial tomfoolery and targeting the financial media, specifically CNBC, for its negligence in exposing the destructive behavior that led to the meltdown. Then he had on Jim Cramer, a former hedge-fund executive with a show on CNBC, to demand some answers and administer a rhetorical beat-down. Here are parts two and three of the extended flagellation.
Huckabee & Gay Marriage
In this conversation with Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Stewart helps to illustrate that the belief that gays choose to be gay—a “lifestyle choice”—is at the foundation of the argument against legalizing same-sex marriage. It’s also fundamentally flawed.
Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Stewart and his brilliant foil, Stephen Colbert, had different ways of approaching the growing issue of explosive, foaming-at-the-mouth partisanship that had come to dominate the American political dialogue and the media tasked with covering it. They came together to hold “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” a celebration of mild, reasonable political speech, soon after Glenn Beck—the posterboy for crazed partisanship from the realm of unreality—had held his own get-together on the National Mall.