Jon Stewart didn’t just go for the gags.
While joshing around with Barack Obama last night on a set festooned with faux Roman columns, Stewart spoke as the voice of disenchanted liberalism, demanding to know: What happened to that hope-and-change guy?
“You ran with such, if I may, audacity… yet legislatively it has felt timid at times,” the host said. “I am not even sure at times what you want out of a health care bill.”
The guest, buoyed by an adoring audience, pushed back: “Jon, I love your show”—here Stewart mugged for the camera—”but this is something where I have a profound disagreement with you…This notion that health care was timid—you’ve got 30 million people that will have health insurance because of this.”
That the president of the United States would appear on the Daily Show six days before a midterm election that could sink his party speaks volumes, or at least chapters, about that buzzworthy forum. But it was also a test of sorts for the host, who is casting his big “sanity” rally in Washington as an escape from the nuttiness fostered by the extremes of both parties.
Can Saturday’s extravaganza live up to its nonpartisan billing if its ringmaster is seen as too friendly with the Democrat-in-chief? I’d say Stewart passed the initial exam, making Obama feel comfortable while also delivering the zinger that “Democrats this year seem to be running on ‘please baby one more chance.’”
Stewart told me years ago that he regarded the nightly interview segment as little more than filler that spared his staff from having to write one more comedy sketch. But it’s evolved into an key component of the program, as anyone who saw his combative sessions with CNBC’s Jim Cramer or health care critic Betsy McCaughey can attest (though Stewart conceded that Bush torture defender John Yoo “slipped through my fingers”).