Jon Stewart appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” Tuesday, hawking his new book, Earth: A Visitor’s Guide To The Human Race, which was released to bookstores the same day. While with the queen of daytime talk shows, he discussed other matters as well — like politics and the possibility that he might run for public office in the future. For those who were hoping that the guy behind the “Rally To Restore Sanity” would actually toss his yarmulke into the political ring, his words may have been disappointing. But in true Jon Stewart fashion, they were reasonable, incisive, and funny.
Stewart has made a career out of lampooning and comically eviscerating politicians on his Comedy Central program, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” That he is one of the most trusted voices in the political world and in news dissemination, regardless of the fact that his show is mostly faux-news or poking fun at some political or social issue, has become the stuff of legend. His placement in a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll at #4 alongside such notables as NBC’s Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and CBS’ Dan Rather has given him political cache. His studied arguments and incisive comments in interviews have made him a champion for reasoned political discourse. But does that mean he would turn that popularity into a political career?
When asked if he would ever seek the presidency, Stewart told Oprah he would not. “I would lose my mind almost immediately,” he said. “My job is I make jokes. I don’t solve problems. If my job became solving problems, I would suddenly become a lot less good at what I do, unless the problem being had by the country was a lack of jokes.”
But Winfrey persisted, noting that he had considerable influence over his audience. “I deny that I am powerful,” the 47-year-old Emmy-winner said. “Power implies an agenda that’s being acted on.”
Stewart offered that political satirists have been around for quite some time. “Every generation has had its people who stand at the back and make fun of those in charge. When the Nazis came to power in the ’30s, it created an incredible underground scene of satirical comedy. Peter Cook (a British comedian) once said with a straight face, ‘Yes, they really showed Hitler.’ That’s how I see it.”
But does the man’s humility show him selling himself a bit short? His recent co-announcement with Stephen Colbert to hold a “Rally To Restore Sanity” has been met with over 100,000 fans signing up to the Facebook site created just last week to support the double rally (Colbert’s “March To Keep Fear Alive” will be held the same day — Oct. 30). The rallies are a tongue-in-cheek refutation of the Glenn Beck-hosted Washington rally that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert contend played on extremist fears of an America that just does not exist.
Instead, they proposed a rally of “reasonable” people. If just those who have promised to be at the rally show up, the Stewart and Colbert rallies will have matched the “Rally To Restore Honor” gathering of conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, whom the two comedians mock incessantly for his demagoguery, jingoism, posturing, and blatant disregard for rational argument.
“I’m not saying I’m powerless and in a vacuum,” he added. “But if I really wanted to change things, I’d run for office. I haven’t considered that, and I wouldn’t – because this is what I do well. The more I move away from comedy, the less competent I become.”
Although the latter statement is questionable, there is little doubt that Stewart is at least perceived as politically competent.
And it is that political incisiveness that people trust. And it is just the opposite that he targets when taking on the likes of Beck. During one point in the show, Oprah Winfrey asked Jon Stewart to say the first thing that came to mind when shown the picture of a current newsmaker. When Glenn Beck’s picture was shown, Stewart said, “That’s Glenn Beck! He’s my money maker. You know what I call him? My kids’ college fund.”
But Stewart might also be a realist. A comedic talk show host quitting what he is best at — bringing humor and clarity to the often sanctimonious and almost always convoluted and confusing world of politics — and running for political office sounds just like a Barry Levinson movie starring Robin Williams. That he would then become the target of pundits and people like himself might be a daunting consideration. That he could hold such sway over those feeling politically weak, disillusioned, and disenfranchised by the current political system and become their champion might even be a bit more responsibility than he would want to shoulder. That so many would put their trust in him and that he might be able to actually pull it off might be his biggest fear.
“The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Harpo Productions
“Oprah Winfrey Show” clips via Oprah.com
Pew Research Poll via NYTimes.com