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Jon Stewart: The Rolling Stone Interview

America’s leading satirist on Obama, fart jokes and how his show is like Fox News

Jon StewartJon Stewart

Jon Stewart speaks onstage at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on March 26th, 2011.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty

Jon Stewart is an angry white man. Not Tea Party get-your-gun angry, or even Fox News all-liberals-are-Hitler angry. He’s more waiting-six-hours-for-the-phone-guy-who-never-showed angry. Like he knew the whole thing was probably going to be a major fucking headache, but still, he expected better.

The most valuable public service that Stewart provides, in fact, isn’t his scathing and brilliant mockery of the frauds and hypocrites and liars who populate our news media and government. It’s the alternative model of anger that he offers America four nights a week on The Daily Shore. This is how we should conduct ourselves when we’re pissed off, he seems to be saying. With a little humor, a little sense of proportion – a little class, for God’s sake. Outrage is all well and good, but it doesn’t always have to be purple-in-the-face stupid.

Stewart is at his most galvanizing on those rare occasions when his passion is on full display, unleavened by comedy – his ferocious tongue-lashing that killed off Crossfire, the CNN shoutfest, back in 2004; his methodical, let’s-go-to-the-video takedown of financial blowhard Jim Cramer in 2009; his furious tirade against Congress for denying health care to 9/11 first responders last December; his heartfelt call for reason at the Rally to Restore Sanity last fall, a moment he calls his “10 minutes of rank sincerity.” “We can have animus and not be ene­mies,” he urged the crowd of more than 200,000 assembled on the Washington Mall. “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

It’s a message Stewart puts into practice each night on The Daily Show, the Comedy Central outpost he took over from Craig Kilborn in 1999. Stewart quick­ly transformed the show from a frat-boy clubhouse indulging in celebrity tits-and-ass jokes to an essential counterpoint to the nonstop noise of cable news. The fact that Stewart delivers his animus in the form of satire – he calls his staff “scolds who are good with a pun” – does nothing to deter 2 million viewers from turning to him each night for serious insight into the day’s events. In part, that’s because he’s been so effective at appropriating the props of a network news show – the anchor desk, the faux-grandiose backdrops, the know-nothing correspon­dents – that it’s easy to mistake his comedic take on the news for the real thing. But in a sense, it is the real thing. A desperate and grateful nation turns to Stew­art because he does the job the media have abdicated: combing the public record to hold politicians and journalists accountable for their own words.

Dressed in khaki pants, a T-shirt and a flag-emblazoned baseball cap given to him by soldiers from Combined Joint Task Force-1 in Afghanistan, Stewart sat down with Rolling Stone over grits and coffee at a restaurant in Tribeca to talk about his comedy, the state of the world and Keith Richards’ balls.

You watch a lot of news. Do you ever just get to the point where you’re so sick of it that you never want to see another second of Wolf Blitzer as long as you live?
Yeah, that happened right around 1998. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury now, but when I go away on vacation I won’t look at the computer – I’m out. It’s like oxygen suddenly returns to your blood – it’s awesome.

The 24-hour news cycle must feel pretty relentless.
The speed of it is unbelievable now. Ten years ago we could do something a week after it happened, and it wouldn’t feel dated to us. Now it’s like bananas – you bring em home, and the next morning they’re brown. You’re like, “What the fuck happened?” It can definitely drain you a little bit.

From the targets you go after on the show, it seems like what makes you maddest is when people aren’t held accountable for their own words – Jim Cramer acting like he’s never made a wrong call, or Fox News repeating an outright lie over and over.
What annoys me the most is when peo­ple are being disingenuous. To be able to see them contradict themselves – it’s the magic of TiVo. Some of it is spurred from all of us talking around the office: “I’m sure that guy fucking said the exact oppo­site thing six months ago.” Trying to line those quotes up – we call it the one-to-one. “Can you get a one-to-one on that?” If you can get a one-to-one with a guy saying the exact opposite of what he said today, then you don’t even have to do anything. You just lay them back-to-back and sit back and giggle.

You know a guy you’d have a hard time doing that to? Ron Paul – because he’s been consistent over the years. You may disagree with him, but at least you can respect that the guy has a belief system he’s engaged in and will defend, as opposed to people who will pull anything out of their ass if they think it will get them the advan­tage in that moment.

Given how passionate you feel about pol­itics, how do you keep the show from getting preachy?
[Laughs] If you have a solution to that, I’d be honored to hear it. The recipe is where the art is, I guess. It’s an odd pot­pourri of outrage and sanctimony and preachiness, with fart jokes. There are definitely moments in rehearsal where we go, “Wow, that’s a little strident or didac­tic. We might want to dial that down a bit.” But you also want to be in the moment of delivering it with an audience, so there are times where it will overreach. You just hope it doesn’t become unbearable. The key is not to contrive it – don’t bring the same level of indignation to things you don’t feel. As long as you keep it as honest as you can to your own feeling, then you hope it doesn’t become a pure parlor trick.

Some of the strongest responses you’ve gotten from fans over the years is when you’ve dropped your mask as a comedian and said what you really think, like you did on “Crossfire” years ago, or more recently at the Rally to Restore Sanity. Yet whenev­er that happens, it seems to make you a lit­tle uncomfortable.
Yeah, probably. I prefer to not neces­sarily state the subtext. So much of what we do is to work hard to make the show fun, not just medicine. That’s hopeful­ly what good satire is – something that’s sharp and pointed, but also funny. It’s just social commentary with comedy. I feel better-equipped to do the comedy part than I feel as a real individual, if that makes sense. I feel less skilled as a straight commentator or orator.

But you’re also aware that people see you as a social critic and look to you for that.
I think people would see me as a social critic whether I came out of that character or not. What we do is social criticism – it’s just done through comedy.

I understand that what we do is inher­ently annoying. As critics, we sit back and complain about things. We may do it with humor, but it’s still fucking annoying. It’s the privilege of satire, and it’s also the al­batross around its neck. It can be sharp and it can be pointed and shaming, but at heart it’s impotent and sort of feckless.

Everyone overestimates the power of satire. There’s a great thing Peter Cook once said. Somebody said to him that the most powerful satirists in history were the cabaret artists in Berlin during the 1930s. And Peter Cook said, “Yeah, they real­ly showed Hitler, didn’t they?” In a lot of ways that’s how I feel about it.

In fact, satire can be worse than impotent. If making fun of something turns outrage into entertainment, you wind up having the opposite effect of what you intended.
Exactly. In a lot of ways it’s a catharsis and a pressure valve. But that’s the difference between being a revolutionary and being a satirist. The key is to remember who you are. Because when you’re stand­ing at a rally and there’s 100,000 people there – boy, you realize how it happens. There is that incredible urge to go, “I have the answer! Follow me!” I can understand the frustration of people who would be in that audience and think, “You’ve been complaining for 12 years – this is your chance to stop whining and do some­thing.” I understood that people were an­noyed that I didn’t take that shot.

What did you think of Bill Maker’s criti­cism that the rally essentially implied that the insanity out there is equally distrib­uted between liberals and conservatives?
I don’t think that was the point of it. No one ever said the insanity is equal on both sides. The idea of the rally was that the majority of people in the world don’t self-identify along that paradigm: liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. But that’s the way everything is framed by the 24-hour networks. They’re now the absolute most powerful force driving the po­litical narrative. And the picture that they create is one of conflict, because they’re on for 24 hours a day, so they have to create a compelling reason for you to watch them. Otherwise, they’re just Muzak – newzak. The idea of the rally was to say, “They cre­ate this false sense of urgency. It’s a funhouse mirror.” That’s probably the frus­tration people had with the rally: It didn’t have aspirations beyond our normal aspi­ration, which is to point out comedically something we think is fucked.

It wasn’t that long ago that you were tak­ing on “Crossfire” as an emblem of all that was wrong with the media. But now “Crossfire” seems tame in comparison to what Fox News does every single day.
A perfect example. Basically we’ve been saying the same thing forever. And it gets worse and worse. Which just shows how incredibly impotent we are. To get in the game you would have to run your own news network. You would have to do the things right that you think are wrong, rath­er than just sit back and make fun of them.

But in some ways you do run a news show. You do what people wish the evening news would do: You hold people accountable for their words and fact-check it against the record. People are hungry for that, which is why they look to you as a voice of reason.
I’ve always thought we were somewhat an expression of people’s dissatisfactions with the existing institutions, rather than our own success.

The irony is, you’ve done exactly what Roger Ailes did when he created Fox News – you took the format of a news show and used it to deliver a different kind of message.
Oddly enough, Fox News and our show have a tremendous amount in common, in that we are both reactions to the news and to government. We’re both expressions of dissatisfaction. His, I think, happens to be a slightly more powerful version [laughs].

And you both use the news format as a kind of stage prop.
Right. What probably informs that is the difference between our backgrounds. Ailes was a strategist for Nixon. He comes from the seat of power, and he understands how important the narrative is. We come from comedy, so our natural instinct is to not understand that, and to be bratty. That goes a long way toward explaining the dif­ference between the two organizations. If you’re a guy who was sitting in the White House, then you believe in your own power to effectively create social change. If you’re a guy who grew up in the back of a comedy club, you don’t believe in your ability to do anything. So maybe the whole difference is confidence.

Given how much news you watch, is there any journalist out there today who gets you the most riled up?
The culprit is more editorial author­ity than individual journalists. It’s very hard to be in that world and resist the at­mosphere of it. The problem with the 24-hour news cycle is, there is no time to be thoughtful. And once politicians under­stand how to utilize a medium, they’re going to utilize it for propaganda. It just comes down to: You either bring clarity or noise. Here is this gigantic tool – now, there’s a double meaning – that can be, as Ailes has shown, an incredibly relent­less and powerful force. The frustration is that the mechanism could be used to clar­ify rather than obfuscate.

So who’s bringing more noise than clari­ty to the public discourse? Who in the news media frustrates you most?
CNN. Their version of clarity seems to me to be – [gestures at his plate] – grits without salt. It’s just all mashed up – there’s no direction, under the guise of “integrity.” I can never figure out what the hell I’m watching. With other networks, you either agree or disagree with how they do stuff, but CNN feels like an opportuni­ty squandered. They’ve decided the reason that Fox works is the TV tricks, so they’ve got those, but without any of the passion. Whatever else Fox is, it is joyful. If Oprah was to tell you how to live your best life, and that’s how you felt about shit, then Fox is doing that every day. You watch it and it’s people living to their fullest.

Let’s talk about politics. When Obama was elected, there was a fear among comedians that it was going to be harder to make fun of him than it had been of Bush. So why didn’t it turn out that way?
I was never worried, “Oh, no, now the world will be sane! Now what will we do?” But we’d grown lazy. However you decon­struct the Bush administration, they were consistent over eight years, so you kind of fell into a rut. They were really smart, and they figured out something new: that you can wait out any news cycle. It used to be this pressure would build to that Malcolm Gladwell-esque tipping point, and you’d have to get your guy to resign to allow your administration to go forward. They realized, “Oh, you know what we could do? Nothing! ‘Cause you know what’s going to happen? A white girl’s going to disappear somewhere, and all this shit’s going to go away. And nobody’s going to be bothering us anymore about whether the attorney general is full of shit when he’s saying he doesn’t know if we fired prosecutors. So we can wait that out.”

That was the first administration I ever saw do that. Clinton was sort of the opposite. He would fight as hard as he could. He would act like, “We are in this battle, and I will out-battle you!” Or he’d just do the Lenny Bruce thing: deny, deny, deny.

So what’s the key to making fun of Obama?
I didn’t have any fear that there would be some method to pick apart. The thing I’m most surprised about is how poorly ex­ecuted that method is. I just didn’t think they’d be as bad as they are at getting their message across. That’s the part that’s easi­est for us to pick apart: the PR strategy be­hind what they’re doing.

Do you think that’s Obama’s biggest fail­ing – the way he’s delivered his message?

So what are you most disappointed by?
Obama ran on this idea that the system and the methodology are corrupt. It felt like the country was upset enough that he had the momentum needed to re-evaluate how business is done. Instead, when he got elected, he acted as though the sys­tem is so entrenched that it has to be man­aged rather than – I don’t want to say decimated, because I’m not an anarchist or a nihilist. But I’m surprised at how much he deferred to the legislative process. He’s ac­complished some things, and I’m sure he’s pleased with what he’s done, but I would have preferred to see something a little bit more transformative. They haven’t made the case that government can be effective, or accountable, or agile.

Has his failure to do that altered your sense of what’s possible in politics?
No, I don’t think so at all. I recognize my own impatience, and I understand that I am incredibly unfair. As someone who does what I do, it’s very easy to say what I say. It’s tougher when you’re actu­ally in it, like he is.

That being said, too often we fall back on the idea that the system is just too difficult to change. Oddly enough, the mil­itary has the ability to re-evaluate their own mistakes and make changes. They are surprisingly flexible for a group that is stereotypically rigid. Yet government is surprisingly rigid for a system that is stereotypically populist and bends to the will of the people.

We’ve been given the choice of either unregulated, laissez-faire collateral dam­age or bureaucratic incompetence. I’m still naive enough to think there may be a slightly more middle ground. And when you say “middle ground,” people go, “Oh, here we go.” I’m not talking about passion­less. I’m talking about effectiveness. In some ways I don’t even care what they do anymore – just try to do it well.

What is Obama’s biggest accomplishment?
He’s maintained an even keel and has not said, “Fuck this, I quit,” and thrown anything at us. I have yet to see him really curse, which I think is nice. He feels like the only president who begins every press conference with a heavy sigh. I think he was already kind of over us by the time he got into office. And now he’s like, “What the fuck is wrong with these people?”

Some people feel that the very trait of Obama’s you’re describing – his even-keeled temperament – has hampered him. Like you, he seems to regard civility and reason as core values.
I don’t know if I have civility as a core value. That’s been overblown. But I do think it’s very easy to absolve behavior from people you agree with and demonize behavior from people you don’t. I be­lieve that not everybody who doesn’t support gay marriage is homophobic. I’m not for civility. I’m for not amplifying every­thing to the urgency of evil.

So has that belief prevented Obama from fighting harder? A lot of people wish he would take the gloves off a little more.
Passion doesn’t equate with “gloves off.” I would suggest that his problem is not his lack of passion. It’s his lack of direc­tion. I still don’t know what he believes in. Maybe that’s my biggest issue with him: I’m not sure what he truly thinks is the right path, other than that he believes the wealthy should pay a little bit more of their fair share.

I still don’t know what he wanted out of health care, for example. That was a 2,000-page clusterfuck. During the de­bate they were saying, “Well, it isn’t feasi­bly possible to do a single-payer system.” I was like, “Yes, but do you think that would be best?” Because as the president, you still do have to let people know what you think would be best.

Even if he didn’t think single-payer was the way to go, he could have at least used it as a bargaining chip – unleash your crazy guys and have them flood the streets, as a counterweight to the Tea Party.
I don’t know that he’s got crazy guys, quite frankly. I get the sense that there’s a Republican Party and a Democratic Party, and then there’s Barack Obama and a cou­ple of his friends. They seem like a sepa­rate group.

Here’s something I’ll give credit to the Bush administration for: They would identify a problem, identify what they want­ed to do about it, and then they would go about reverse-engineering how they were going to get to that. Obama seems the op­posite. He identifies a result and says, “We need more people covered by health care.” Then he allows the legislative process to, through horse-trading and lobbying, ar­rive at the ability to get 10,000 more peo­ple on the rolls, but without saying, “Here is what I believe is the best path forward for health care in this country.”

I don’t know. Whenever I start talk­ing like this, I get uneasy. I hate sound­ing unrealistic.

What did you make of the recent battle over the debt ceiling? How much of it was the fault of the Democrats, and how much were the Republicans and the Tea Party to blame?
On the whole debt-ceiling thing, you can blame the intransigence of Tea Party Republicans all you want, but Democrats had a chance to pass a budget before they lost the midterm election. They didn’t do it because they were afraid that those votes would cost them the House. Well, how’d that work out? They had the ability to avoid the entire fucking thing. And they didn’t do it out of cowardice. So I have a hard time mustering sympathy for the argument that a couple of Tea Partiers took Congress hos­tage. Was it a factor? Maybe. But condi­tions are what they are, and Obama is the president. You are judged by how well you negotiate those conditions, not by how ex­cusable the shitty end result is based on that it’s difficult.

Did Obama get our hopes up too high dur­ing the campaign?
His message struck me as, “This is the time. I know you’re burdened, so follow me! I will take you up the mountain!” Then he got elected and we said, “So when are we leaving?” And he said, “Yeah, you know…I was just looking, we don’t have enough gorp. So here’s what I’m gonna do. We made a deal with the gorp peo­ple.” And we said, “Why can’t we just get the gorp in Canada? It’s cheaper.” And he said, “Yeah, here’s the thing about that – it’s kind of complicated.”

You worried right after he was elected that the high expectations surrounding him were setting him up for failure.
I don’t know if it was setting him up for failure. But it was setting him up for what would have been an honorable dis­appointment, as opposed to shame. And he’s not in shame territory. But I’m not so sure he’s in honorable disappointment ter­ritory, either.

If you were going to give him one piece of advice, what would it be?
Oh, God. You know, I believe that at some level when you get elected president, they take you into a room and there are five guys sitting there you’ve never met before, and they open up a book and go, “Here’s what’s really going on.” And that’s when your hair first turns white. You walk out of that room like, “Holy fuck!” So at some level I have a great deal of sympathy for “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” I don’t necessarily have a good Chicken Soup for the Soul piece of wisdom for him.

A poll this week found that half of all vot­ers think their congressman doesn’t de­serve re-election. But come next November, half of all incumbents won’t find them­selves out of office. So what’s the disconnect? Why doesn’t the outrage translate into action at the polls?
Because you’re talking about outrage at a national level versus on a local level. All politics are local.

Right – but these are people talking about their own congressman.
Yeah, but they’re talking about it in re­lation to the debt ceiling, as opposed to in relation to whether or not the plant in their district got the earmark it was sup­posed to get. Beyond that, the system­ic nature of congressional elections is so heavily weighted toward the incumbent that even 50 percent outrage isn’t going to make that much of a dent in the incumben­cy rate. You could literally have the fucking storming of the Bastille – a French Revo­lution, with people getting decapitated – and their heads would still get re-elected to fucking Congress because of the way it’s gerrymandered. Somehow, their district happens to be all headless people, so they wind up getting in.

What do you think is going to be the hot-button issue in next year’s election – the one designed to distract people from the real issues?
“Freedom” and “jobs” are the loaded words that people use to shut each other down right now. It’s how “terrorism” was used eight years ago. That’s the cudgel: “Should we be talking about this? We should be focused on jobs.” Or if you don’t want to make a move legislatively, you say, “I’m for freedom.” Really? Freedom is a pretty broad word that is not necessarily defined along the construct of “Founding Fathers fighting a tyrant.” For most people, freedom may be a little bit more small ball than that: “I want my kids on my health insurance” or “If I lose my job, I don’t want to lose my house.” That’s the part of those arguments that drives me nuts. “Jobs” is the same way. It’s not just the private sec­tor. You may work for the government and feel that a government job is actually a job.

In some ways, the debt ceiling itself is a hot-button issue. It was a completely manufactured debate – a routine vote turned into a life-and-death showdown.
That’s right. Raising the debt ceiling is just to pay for shit you’ve already bought. So you don’t have a choice. The whole thing is an arbitrary construct to begin with.

And again, the Democrats could have by­passed the whole thing.
The debt ceiling would have been raised automatically if they had passed the budget before the election. The new House changed the rules to separate whether or not the debt ceiling would automatically go up. In some ways the Republicans are right in saying that without that forced issue, the Democrats wouldn’t have been willing to discuss the types of cuts that they’re dis­cussing. So in their minds, they feel like it was effective. And what’s the penalty they pay for it? Other than the idea that the stock market now has no idea what’s going on. Their whole argument leading up to this was, “The markets need certainty. So here’s how we’re going to give the markets certainty: We’re going to threaten to de­fault on the United States of America.” OK. I get your logic.

Let’s talk about the Republican field. Is there anybody who stands out for you?
I love the fact that none of them talk about Ron Paul. I don’t understand how a guy with consistent grass-roots support at the level he has is not a part of the conversation. I saw on the news networks, “Rick Perry enters the race and immedi­ately jumps in at second place, bumping Michele Bachmann down to fourth.” But they don’t mention, “Hey, guess who’s in third place?” Ron Paul! Aren’t you going to say his name? You’re not even going to mention it? You’re just going to fucking fol­low Rick Santorum around as he goes into his “Water is water, marriage is marriage. You can’t call water beer!” Nobody is fuck­ing listening to that guy. And yet the media pretends like all these fringe candidates are for real. Ron Paul has a constituency – like it or not, it’s there. How can you just ignore it? It makes no sense.

If you were moderating a GOP debate, what would your first question be?
“How could you have let me in here?”

The first thing I would say would be, “What’s the most important issue to you in the country right now?” I would start just general and see where we got. I like debates to be a discussion. I watch those debates and the questions to Michele Bachmann are like, “Would you submit to your husband?” I’m not sure what the point of that was – as if to imply, “In a na­tional crisis, because you are religious, would you have to defer not to Congress or the military, but to your husband?” It was very strange. We need to find a way to get out of the rote structure that they have placed all this in that has corroded the conversation. We don’t talk about what’s real. Everybody’s just talking about their strategic positions.

At the recent GOP debate in Iowa, they asked the candidates to raise their hand if they would oppose a deficit-cutting deal that had $10 in spending cuts for every $1 of tax revenues. And every single candi­date raised their hand.
That’s just asinine. That’s just abso­lutely asinine. But again, it’s an asinine question.

But doesn’t it at least show how all the candidates are locked into such an ex­treme position?
It’s not an interesting question because it’s a ridiculous hypothetical. Framing it that way is easy. “Who here wouldn’t raise taxes no matter what?” “I wouldn’t!” “Who here thinks people are good?” “I do!”

What they should say is, “Are you so inflexible that even though the tax bite is as low as it’s been since the 1950s and we have an enormous deficit, you would never ever raise revenue, no matter what happened in the world? Explain that. Ex­plain why you would sacrifice Medicare for that.”

You’ve been doing the show for 10 years now. When you look back, are there mo­ments where you feel like you really nailed it – bits you ‘re especially proud of?
Honestly, I’m proudest of how good we’ve gotten at doing the show. I think it’s a better show now than it was 10 years ago. We’re more consistent. The great thing about these shows – and the worst part – is that they’re ephemeral. They exist in that moment, and then they sort of disappear. That’s very forgiving. We can suck one night, and then you walk out and say, “Well, we’ll get ’em tomor­row.” It always sucks when you have a terrible show on Thursday, because then you’ve got three days to live in shame. Whereas, shitty show on Monday, you’ve still got three more shows to make up for it.

Speaking of the show, you know that I asked the writers on your staff to put to­gether some questions for you.
Yes, this will be interesting.

Here’s one: Please defend your obviously hasty decision to cut the third joke from last night’s Act Two headline, which clev­erly compared Keith Richards’ scrotum to an upside-down octopus wearing a belt.
[Laughs] Listen, they know that that stepped on the scrotum joke I had planned for Act Two. They have to understand: I have to see the big picture. I understand that in their minds, that was the perfect place for that individual joke. But when you hold back on the scrotum joke, now I’ve created a narrative that can pay off in the interview with the guy who invent­ed the new scrotum hoodies. That’s what they don’t get. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Here’s another question they suggested: What are your top 500 albums?
[Laughs] Here’s the weird part – the top 225? All Elton John. After that, I don’t re­ally know what happens – I just black out.

I saw you back in 2007 outside of Bruce Springsteen’s dressing room at Madison Square Garden. You looked like a six-year-old boy who was about to be introduced to Superman. You were just beside yourself.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was!

Why does he hold that place for you? You know, he holds that place for so many people that it’s hard to individual­ize it. [Adopting a mock pompous voice] “Well, he holds it for me because I happen to have a unique connection to him. See, I grew up in New Jersey! All these other people – I don’t know where they came from. Their understanding of him is ten­uous at best.”

Here’s what it is: When I listened to his music, I didn’t feel like a loser. I felt like a character in an epic poem about losers. You felt like there was possibility. That here is a guy who grew up like you grew up and had that same feeling of “I bet if I just fucking get in the car and drive, there will be an op­portunity for something different and better – an opportunity to be something that I want to be.”

Plus, you would go to see his show and he would blow your fucking mind for four hours. At a certain point you’d want to go up onstage and be like, “Guys! It’s OK. I got my money’s worth, like, two and a half hours ago. Save yourself! I don’t want you to burn out. You’re giving us too much! We do not deserve what you’ve done here to­night! A lot of us are jackasses!”

It feels like the kind of hope that Spring­steen offers is in short supply when it comes to politics these days. Is there a way out of the extreme partisanship we’re in now, or will it just keep getting worse? Are we going to look back someday and find the Tea Party seems like a Quaker meeting?
Ten years from now a Republican may look progressive. But I never think that things are intransigent. A guy on the floor of the Senate once beat another senator with a cane. We were in a civil war over slavery. The country began in a revolution, grew through a removal of a native people, enslaved a whole other group of people – and now our big culture battle is whether or not gay people can marry. That is a re­markable achievement as a society. If that doesn’t speak of the progress of a nation, I don’t know what does.

That’s why I always try and catch myself and not be, “In the old days people treat­ed each other with respect!” There’s a lot of shitty stuff going on, and there are a lot of people who are not as cooperative in the legislative process as you would like. But ultimately, we’ve moved from enslaving black people and forcing Native Americans to march through frontier areas into small­pox camps to realizing that gay people are human, too, and should have the opportu­nity to get married. I’ll put that up against any society that has sprung up anywhere in the world.

The thing that I truly believe is that the overwhelming majority of the country is not this conflict-driven, identity-laden group of ideologues. It just isn’t. And that ultimately always wins out. Because no matter what, the guy with the NRA bum­per sticker and the DON’T TREAD ON ME flag is still going to pull over when he sees an accident and help out No Nukes guy, and vice versa. Like with the World Trade Center. Nineteen guys can knock it down, but hundreds and hundreds are still going to rush to it to fucking pull people out. That’s just the way it is. So I’m always of the mindset that any asshole victory is short­lived. It just is. They lose. Assholes lose. They’re annoying. They cause momentary hardships. But they ultimately lose. And that’s a good thing.

Oh, wait – you know what? That actu­ally might be from Lord of the Rings. I just watched it again the other night.

No, I really do believe that. 

In This Article: Coverwall, Jon Stewart


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