Would The Left Support a Jon Stewart Presidential Run?
There’s an outside chance Stewart could save the Democrats by inspiring them to abandon the failed New Democrat experiment. But would progressives tune out?
It’s the fourth Thursday after the Fourth of July, and it’s sweltering on Capitol Hill. Jon Stewart, a stand-up comedian who borrowed the template of Saturday Night Live’s weekly sketch segment Weekend Update and turned it into a full-time job for himself as a comedy-news host, is turning a blather-filled political talk-op on veterans issues into an impromptu campaign event, or at least a lot of people on Twitter will be taking it that way a few hours later, (despite the fact that he’d rejected the idea of running for president weeks earlier in a two-word tweet). In a speech peppered with R-rated epithets, Stewart blasts Republican senators, who today, despite their endless pro-military rhetoric, voted against the long-overdue PACT Act, a bill that would bring desperately needed help to military veterans by covering their health care costs and providing other relief.
If it had passed, the bill would have provided aid to more than 3 million veterans and 9/11 first responders who’d been exposed to toxins found in burn pits (dump sites where various types of toxic trash, including medical waste, rubber, plastics and other hazardous materials are burned), as well as dangerous chemicals like Agent Orange and, of course, the 400 tons of pulverized asbestos and various other hazardous materials that burned for weeks after the 9/11 attacks.
Stewart sure seems pissed. “I’m used to the hypocrisy… but I’m not used to the cruelty,” he intones to kick things off. In no time he’s swearing like a deli owner during lunch rush, while behind him, positioned like a royal guard corps, stands a Who’s Who of politicians and other mucky-mucks who are heavily involved in the cause of veterans’ rights. They’ve all spoken already: two Democratic representatives from California who sit on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (Mark Takano and Raul Ruiz); Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who served a term on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; David Shulkin (Trump’s Veterans Affairs Secretary); VFW Associate Director Kristina Keenan and so on. Even Nancy Pelosi speaks for a bit.
There’s no question that Stewart has earned a spot on the dais with those big shots; he’s no newcomer to the “military and first responders getting screwed” cause. In 2019 he choked up during a speech to Congress in which he pressed for reauthorization of the 9/11 victim compensation fund, and he was advocating for passage of the PACT Act long before today’s outburst.
Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) is there too. Known for waxing foul-mouthed himself, Tester suddenly finds himself being thoroughly upstaged in that department by a world-famous entertainer whose apologies for his language, if Stewart ever offers any, will be perfunctory. Stewart knows that he’s not going to get beaten up by Amy Klobuchar for having a potty mouth the way Tester was once, or that if he does, it’ll be easy enough to get away with it. He’s an entertainer, after all, just like US neoliberal darling/Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was, but regardless, at least Stewart, unlike Zelenskyy, will never have to explain a stunt during which he played a live version of “Hava Nagila” on a keyboard with his dick.
Stewart doesn’t just have fame, he has impeccable cred with US liberals, the types who watch CNN and MSNBC all day and night, the way sports fans will watch ESPN even if it’s just a rerun of a hotdog-eating contest. A friend of mine, a state-employed lawyer, is ecstatic over the thought of Stewart running for president. Stewart wouldn’t have to sell himself to voters who are like my friend. He’s already sold, being that he’s part of the very core of the Democratic base: he qualifies as a member of the progressive-despised “Professional Management Class” (that is, he’s a knowledge worker who enjoys great privilege thanks to our meritocratic system; someone with so few financial worries that he has the luxury of constantly maintaining a deep faith in “liberal class” institutions like education and the mainstream media, in short, he’s representative of a breed that writer Chris Hedges believes is becoming extinct). My friend happily voted for Biden in 2020, but he, as I’m sure a good percentage of Democratic voters would also admit, is more or less ready for Biden to retire and take his elderliness and decades of anti-progressive/anti-worker baggage with him so that the Democrats can kick Trump’s ass once and for all.
All-in-all, Stewart would be something of a slam-dunk pick as a Biden replacement. I think he’d beat Trump in the 2024 election, and he’d surely mop the floor with the boring, seedy, MAGA-pandering Ron DeSantis. But there are problems that Stewart would have to overcome. Not from the Fox News right so much (although it’s basically guaranteed that they’re going to dig up a video of Stewart, riffing privately in party mode during the 80s or 90s, saying something that was acceptable at the time but which would now result in stirring the wrath of the gigantic, Obama-loving center-left). No, Stewart’s challenges, if he decides to accept them, will come from the vast throngs of American voters who prefer progressive, decidedly left-leaning politics. They fall into shades of gray, from casual Bernie Sanders supporters to Stalin-loving, spittle-flecked “tankies.”
Even this early, it’s obvious to me that Stewart could win over a good chunk of the “very online” progressive demographic, Twitter-addicted news-junkies like me, who are well aware of, among other things, a couple of basics:
- The Republicans have time and time again revealed themselves to be absolute ghouls who want to finish off the middle-class forever by revoking all worker protections (including Social Security); expanding corporate fascism (or just regular fascism, if it’s faster) to make the work environment unlivable; and allowing Charles Koch and his handful of raving mad oil baron super-criminal cohorts to destroy the planet as quickly as possible, all for the sole purpose of their personal enrichment. Fact, not opinion. We know that. We don’t need 5,000 retweeted center-left-approved “Trump/Giuliani/Mitch McConnell Sucks” memes in our Twitter feeds every week; we’re well aware of it and have no plans to jump ship to the Republicans. That’s a promise, pinkie swear.
- Anyone with just a couple of working synapses knows that the system is all but completely broken and doesn’t really function at all for working citizens, who suffer new indignities and setbacks every day owing to government action/inaction. We know that middle-class misery, born from decades of government neglect, has become so severe that it’s allowed nationalist terror groups like the Proud Boys actually to grow rather than remain almost completely ignored, mocked, and, like their predecessors, constantly subjected to so much persecution that they’d have to beg for help from the ACLU just to hold a rally. Countries that have their act together don’t experience this bullshit.
Twitter’s progressive bloc wouldn’t trust any politician right now, and that absolutely includes Stewart, who’s, you know, not even an official politician yet. Nevertheless, anti-Stewart-for-prez tweets are flying around already, a harbinger of gigantic bot-swarms to come if he does go for it. It’s a bit chaotic and unintelligible, even at this early (and purely hypothetical) stage. For example, here, see if you can guess this tweep’s political leaning:
Surprise: the person who posted that tweet identifies as a libertarian!
Right, but whether or not such views are held by individuals whose ideologies typically skew conservative, they’re looking at the right problem (second only to the climate, of course, which I sense a President Stewart would face head-on). Americans don’t want war. They don’t want more deficit spending to expand our empire. They’re sick of it. Support for things like sending aid to Ukraine to help them fend off Vladimir Putin has eroded well below 50%.
There is no doubt that our overarching sociopolitical problem is that far too much of our treasure goes toward preserving the empire. Basically bankrupt, it is on its last legs, still funneling money to weapons and private military profiteers rather than its suffering proletariat, all while a well-financed Russia/China/Iran axis watches us closely, possibly waiting for the right moment to replace the dollar with the yuan as the international currency standard.
All empires fall, and ours will be no exception to the rule. I’m sure if political scientist Chalmers Johnson were alive today, he’d note — in keeping with his part-time hobby of seeing stark similarities between the ancient Roman republic and the modern US empire — the resemblance between Joe Biden and Rome’s last emperor, Romulus Augustus. Both are/were nothing more than figureheads: Romulus was a living tribute to his father, while Biden was drafted by a desperate Democratic party for the sole purpose of having him star in a just-inspiring-enough encore performance of Obama’s version of Clintonite/New Democrat-flavored politics, that is to say, feel-good, GOP-lite neoliberalism.
Given all that, Stewart’s occasional dissing of our country’s fetish for imperial war is his best selling point. It’s definitely encouraging, but either way, he’ll run into all manner of pushback from the full leftist spectrum if he does take a shot at the presidency. For starters, many voters aren’t big on celebrities in politics:
I’d be the first to concur with that in general; celebrities should stay out of politics, not because they don’t have the ability to excel at two or three different things, but because celebrities are part and parcel of the aforementioned PMC and therefore have no interest in making any real effort to assist in implementing system-wide changes that would benefit everyday people (I’ve written about this stuff before).
But I might be able to make an exception in Stewart’s case. I can’t bring myself to believe that he’s insincere about PACT, for one thing. Two, he has a podcast that dives quite deeply into the topics that are currently being debated by us too-online types, including Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a hyper-progressive economic paradigm that has incredible potential for helping regular Americans live better lives.
But that brings up another thing, at least to me. When Stewart was discussing MMT with its most well-known supporter, author Stephanie Kelton, it appeared that he hadn’t dug too deep into Kelton’s book; he seemed a bit lost. It’s a very complicated concept, yes, but it wasn’t the first time I’d seen him sucking wind while interviewing someone.
But at least he’s trying, and as he keeps learning about progressive ideas through his very-online podcast The Problem With Jon Stewart, chances are good that he’ll come to support them.
Personality-wise, he’s got a lot of schlub appeal, but all is not perfect. Too often on his podcast, Stewart hams it up and wastes time. If a long-time Stewart fan like me thinks it’s a little annoying, I’m sure there are plenty of po-faced progressives who find him unwatchable.
Despite such things, he could still get support from progressives, but he’d have to exhibit no small amount of enthusiasm for socialist programs, like the Green New Deal. Many progressives believe correctly that a little (or a lot of) socialism (I prefer “FDR Democrat-style policymaking,” but call it whatever you want) would solve many or all of our middle-class ills. The good news there is that Stewart actually has that covered, at least on face: in 2000, he stated that he generally skews Democratic, but described his political affiliation as “more socialist or independent than that.”
Next step if he were to announce his candidacy independently and become the favorite? The DNC would have to decide whether to let him into the club. They probably wouldn’t, as the Democratic party is nowhere near ready for the sea change a truly progressive, antiwar, non-Clintonite candidate would bring. The Democrats are, after all, one-half of a military industrial complex-controlled duopoly that never met an imperial invasion it didn’t like, so Stewart would probably have to run as an independent until the Democrats came to their senses and let him in, which could certainly happen if Stewart were systematically crushing Biden in the polls. If the Democrats actually did back Stewart, it would be a very hopeful sign, indicating that they’re ready to shed their New Democrat skin and emerge as a party that can accomplish good things.
I like what I’ve seen so far, but personally, I would need to see Stewart join forces with the thousands of small leftist/progressive groups that support a national strike in the US. The climate crisis and general middle-class misery are at such perilous stages that only a colossal, all-in act of nonviolent civil disobedience can get us out of it.
And besides, like I said, he’s already tweeted “Um, no” to the suggestion that’d he’d run, the same sort of response everyone gives when queried about such plans.
Thus, as is, I’m not there yet with Jon Stewart For President. But close, sure.
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