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Sunday, October 23, 2016

I am not insane. For this, I have Jon Stewart to thank.

Thirteen years ago, it felt like I was in a front row seat on the express train to Crazy Town. That, you will recall, is when the wheels began to come off the Bush administration’s argument for invading Iraq, i.e., to find the weapons of mass destruction. But of course, there were no such weapons, an inconvenient truth to which Team Bush responded with a new, after-the-fact rationale. Now, the argument for war was and always had been the need to free the poor, suffering Iraqi people.

By itself, this steaming load of cattle waste and the smarmy self-righteousness with which it was dumped was enough to make me wander the streets muttering to myself. But what really made my brain simmer in its own juices, what really made the steam build inside my skull, was the way the American people responded to the tacit assumption that we were a bunch of compliant dopes too stupid to care that we had been baited and switched into the biggest foreign policy debacle of the last 40 years.

Namely, by proving ourselves a bunch of compliant dopes too stupid to care that we had been baited and switched into the biggest foreign policy debacle of the last 40 years. America shrugged, better than half of us telling pollsters the war was justified whether WMDs were found or not.

It made me want to holler, made me want to stop random people and shake them by the shoulders.

Then my friend Bruce tells me about this news parody program called The Daily Show, hosted by this guy named Jon Stewart and says I really ought to watch. So I do. And I feel encroaching insanity rolling back, borne off on the simple, soul-saving realization that somebody else Gets It.

Jon Stewart is why I’m not crazy. With his recent announcement that he will be leaving the show this year, I figure now is the time for a thank-you long overdue.

No, Stewart did not invent fake news. Saturday Night Live got there decades before him with its Weekend Update segment. But where SNL and others approached the news with ironic detachment, Stewart alone climbed into the pit and wrestled with it. His innovation was simply his willingness to be outraged, to be an informed, intelligent and decent man unable — or, perhaps, unwilling — to close his eyes and anesthetize his soul to the hypocrisies, distortions, inanities and steaming loads of cattle waste the news too often brings.

Though his worldview was unabashedly liberal, Stewart’s only true loyalty was to his own everyman sense of right and wrong. So he went after Team Obama for its drone diplomacy, domestic spying and failure to provide timely health care to veterans with a ferocity that rendered foolish all those folks who predicted he’d run out of material once Bush left office. His show was a rare television platform for authors selling weighty tomes on difficult topics. He rendered the financial meltdown comprehensible. He skewered Fox with its own words and CNN with its own holograms.

And he did it all with a potty mouth and a razor wit.

We tend to underestimate humor, but it has this way of clarifying that which is difficult and opaque. You can often make a more trenchant point with a joke than with a 10,000-word treatise, something Stewart proved night in and night out. For my money, he is the news media’s moral center, a Cronkite for the new millennium.

Yes, that’s a lofty role to ascribe a nightclub comic, but I stand by it. I don’t think I’d have gotten through the madness of the last 13 years — death panels and Tea Parties and Ferguson, oh my! — without him.

People are asking who his replacement will be. They needn’t bother. Yes, someone else will eventually sit in the chair and spin jokes off the news, but Stewart won’t be replaced. Can’t be.

And I can feel myself getting a little crazier already.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected]

Screenshot: Comedy Central

  • raginyank

    The announcement of Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show has many people feeling sad and wondering how we can begin to fill the void. He was such a great voice for everyone capable of appreciating objective points of view, despite their political alignment, how can this vacuum be filled?
    Who can do what Jon has done with such pointed and effective political satire is not immediately known, but replacing him will be impossible, as he is one of a kind.
    From the first time I watched his show I was hooked, not because he was able to contextually poke fun
    of those who I do not share a common set of beliefs, but his ability to see the irony and dysfunction along so many venues from political to economic, and all points in between. Jon had a rare ability to make us laugh at ourselves and others without really leaving any scars, and the people who wound up on the receiving end should know that his observations were as much for them as for all of us to recognize.
    He had that ability to view life as it is around the globe. Even in our own country, with so much political
    division, he was able to show us all that there is more than meets the eye. And he sure had a good eye for the material, and there was never a short supply of it.
    It is rare for me to feel that I speak for many, but we will miss having Jon available to say what we fee,l better than we could ourselves. Maybe there will be someone that will become our voice down the road, but it will be difficult to have that same effectiveness that Jon was so adept at.
    I hope the Steven Colbert will be able to retain some of his most endearing schist abilities in late night hosting, but he may have to cave some to stay relevant in the eyes network executives. It really seems as though we are at the crossroads here with both these tremendously popular icons and never again leave us saying to ourselves, yah that is what I’m talking about.

  • FT66

    If hate really exist, I wish I can apply to this man Jon Stewart.This man has been playing people around while cashing in. How old is Jon Stewart? I do not understand really the reason he is leaving his job. This man might have been a rat in the house or the lice inside someones cloth without the owner knowing it.

    • Insinnergy

      Deep, man.
      Try breathing underwater next.

  • nancyminter

    Thank you Leonard for another wonderful article. I also retreated to the Daily Show to hold onto my sanity. I’m not sure what we can do now? I will miss him.

  • idamag

    Jon Stewart is the voice of reason in a crazy world. No matter what label the politicians carried, he ragged them. It is just that some politicians provided more fodder.

  • charleo1

    The fact that the Iraq War didn’t completely discredit the GOP, tells us a lot about the folk that continue to support them. Their willingness to ignore the massive foreign policy, and military blunder. And their incredible pretensions they’d support doing it all again. Even as they scream epitaphs at the current President’s inability to fix at once, what might well be irreparably broken. Who are these people listening to anyway? Clearly not themselves. What it does demonstrate is something very troubling, and very dangerous in a democracy. When we have literally millions of Americans, who are either uninterested in, or worse, perhaps aren’t even aware. That after all that’s been revealed about the horrible damage done, and the true motivations, and objectives of those who were willing, and eager to launch this catastrophe on a lie. There hasn’t been a single call from anyone on the Right for an investigation, even in the most token, cursory, or superficial of ways. With the aim at the very least, of preventing such a mistake from being repeated. Indeed the opposite seems to be in the works. As the Republican Party is now in the process of serious consideration of reinstalling the handpicked team that lead us into the debacle. Complete with the younger brother of the President who cheered for it, lobbied for it, and lied when necessary, to sell it to the America People. Who has decided to run for President on the odiously shameless campaign slogan, “I’m my own man.” And then that being entirely dependent on if he’s able to secure the backing of a few heavy hitting billionaire donors. Then, of course the support of the rank and file Republican Party, is a given. We love John Stewart because he says the things a staid, formal, news media should say, but refuse to. Or are not allowed to. Take your pick, Either way, unless John says them, many times, they just don’t get said. And they need to be said. And we thank him for that. For one great thing, he has found a way to deliver the bitter medicine in a spoonfull of sugar called comedy. That leaves us laughing at first, then crying later, on reflection. And wishing there were at least a dozen more like him.

    • bernieo

      Jeb’s history is even more disturbing than his brother’s. Scroll down

      He has also been tight with the neocons since the 90’s when he helped found PNAC. I would bet that since he was the favored son the faux moderate Poppy got him more involved with his CIA pals – read the article – and others on the right.

  • bernieo

    My sanity was saved during the Clinton years by Gene Lyons book “Fools for Scandal” which showed just how the mainstream media was manipulated by the right wing spin machine’s totally bogus accusations against the Clintons which led to Ken Starr. Later Joe Conason and Gene Lyons’ must read book exposing the tactics of the far right and the abject failure of the MSM to inform the public was also a great help. also did a great job reporting on this.
    But what Jon Stewart did was to expose the lunacy to a larger, younger audience, which was a huge contribution. He also has repeatedly shamed the media and they know it. Since my kids and their friends started watching the Daily Show they understand that what I was saying about just how extreme Republicans had become and just how badly the media has covered it instead of thinking I was a conspiracy nut.
    John Oliver is doing a fabulous job of even exposing right wing and corporate lies but his show is on HBO so I would bet fewer people see it – even though it is available on You Tube. I wish he would take over the Daily Show – seems like I read his HBO contract is not too long. We desperately need an independent voice to challenge the corrupt Bush machine which the media has never done and probably never will.

    • ralphkr

      Well, bernieo, the Republicans did accomplish one thing by their constant harassment of Clinton. They were able to change my opinion of Clinton as pretty much a waste of space to thinking that he was a pretty great guy worthy of my vote for his his second term and I, along with most of America, would have happily voted him in for a third term if we could have.

  • plc97477

    I would like to add my deep felt thanks. Thank you Jon for keeping us sane in an insane time.

    • neeceoooo

      I would have to agree with that, he will be missed and as the article indicates, he can not be replaced.

      He made the election with W so much more pleasant (although there was noting pleasant about W).