This week comedian Jon Stewart made headlines with a rant he went on during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. Faced with a bunch of empty chairs, Stewart angrily denounced members of Congress for supposedly not caring about the plight 9/11 first responders.
Stewart was there to testify in favor of legislation appropriating more money to the 9/11 victims fund, and he got a little heated:
I’ve never been a fan of Jon Stewart. He’s an undeniably talented man, but his forays into American politics have been deeply hurtful to the process. Whether it was helping to pioneer the politics-as-entertainment genre with his Daily Show schtick or the usual clueless celebrity buffoonery he’s prone to, Stewart has generally made things worse. Not better.
The performance he put on at the hearing this week is no exception. Stewart was angry about the empty seats, but remember this was a subcommittee hearing held in a full committee room. There were going to be a lot of empty seats even if everyone was there.
What’s more, there wasn’t any opposition to the legislation Stewart is backing. The legislation passed in the committee unanimously, despite Stewart’s diatribe, and according to Congressman Kelly Armstrong who I just spoke with earlier today, the legislation is expected to pass by a wide margin once the full House chamber votes on it.
To the extent that people were missing from that committee hearing, it was likely because they didn’t need to be convinced. They were already supporting the appropriation. They were probably spending their time on matters more important than a pro forma hearing for legislation that has no real opposition to it.
Armstrong, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, told me in an interview for tomorrow’s podcast that he had a meeting of the oversight committee he serves on at the same time as Stewart’s hearing, as well as a meeting with the Department of Justice about federal land use.
Put simply, Stewart had already won the argument, and since he’s certainly not a stupid person, he had to know this. Yet when presented with what seemed to him like an opportunity to create a moment he went with it. No doubt to draw attention to himself, and service the needs of his celebrity career.
I guess gracious acceptance is too much to expect from someone like Stewart.
American politics needs fewer performers, and more serious people.