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More on a Jon Stewart Candidacy, or How to Open the Democratic Party Primary
Additional thoughts on a Jon Stewart candidacy, and why thinking about it matters.
What’s the Problem with Jon Stewart? For President, I Mean.
Not long ago I wrote about the benefits of a Jon Stewart presidential run (see “Why Jon Stewart Should Run for President”). My main point was captured by the subhead: “His Sanders-authenticity would draw Sanders-style crowds and make him a welcome bane to both parties' establishments.”
Among the arguments for this idea:
He has Sanders-authenticity, the real thing, not the fake-authentic variety manufactured by PR firms.
The principles he holds are good.
He would inspire a Sanders-like following.
He’d be better by miles than Biden against Trump in debates. That goes for any other Republican, including the feared Tucker Carlson.
Among the arguments against it:
The Democratic establishment would work to defeat him at every turn. The antidote to that would be the Sanders-style wind at his back.
He appears not to want to.
Consider, for example, Stewart’s opposition to the neoliberal belief that the goal of the state is to guarantee the wealth of the wealthy:
Is it not clear he gets it?
Or his clear opposition to the hegemonic American state (listen to the end to appreciate all of the snark):
The idea of a Stewart presidential run got pushback, some gentle:
Stewart’s comedy was always well within the bounds of establishment Democratic Party politics. He has never wavered from the pro-war orthodoxy. His only asset in the race is that he is well known and not disliked by most Democratic voters.
and some a lot less so:
Absolutely no. … He panders to the blue side. We need someone to take 'em both on.
Stewart would be completely unreliable as a left-populist, and if he somehow got elected President, the probability that he would cave to the ruling elites would be […] 99%.
So the added argument against would be, he’d be just another Establishment lockstep enabler.
But would he be?
The Real Problem with Jon Stewart
Consider an actual Stewart candidacy. First, it’s easy to see this happening…
…over and over again.
That satisfies the first of our rules for rebellion — achieve critical mass. More on that here:
But there are added benefits as well. My “plan” — if you could call it one, I who have no control — would be for Stewart to run up Bernie-sized crowds before the nomination and build a ton of momentum. That would put the wind up mainstream backs.
At that point, if in office, or just on the campaign trail, he would naturally bring up areas where he has real concern. See the videos above for just two. Proposals like these — dismantling the hegemonic state, impoverishing the super-rich — are verboten to offer unless you don’t really mean to enact them.
This, for example, is what Sanders meant to do in 2016, or told us he meant to do:
The fact that he didn’t stand up when Obama said “down” is beside the point — or beside this point, anyway. (It still breaks some hearts to recall it.) This is what those crowds thought he offered to them.
Yes, Stewart starts as a non-critic of the Party in general; he’s a Democrat in that regard.
But I read him as having integrity, which puts him at odds. If he were in office or at a campaign event, and had to choose between promising something that’s right and something that’s obviously wrong — more war-for-oil perhaps; nukes on the Chinese border; burning fossil fuels in order to save the planet, what do you think Stewart would do?
I don’t seem him doing what’s wrong, or saying he would, just to please the Party. “He’s nobody’s boy,” to quote from an earlier age.
What crowds who pack stadiums to see him would likely get back, if he talked like Sanders once talked, are actions that matched the words. Or he just wouldn’t say them.
Which is the real problem with Jon Stewart. He’s smart enough not to do it. He knows he wouldn’t sell out, or fearfully cave. So why put himself in that position at all?
This Doesn’t Leave Us Nowhere
This, however, doesn’t leave people who want a revolt with nothing. It leaves them with a shape of what could be done. Sanders came close both of the times he ran. This mythical Stewart could win, if he wanted to run and run hard.
Thus a shape of what could be done:
The revolt needs someone who could bring in big crowds, night after night, day after relentless day.
The revolt needs someone young voters would believe. (See the chart below for the largest untapped voting bloc in the country, not all, but most of it, young.)
The revolt needs someone to campaign to the end, not submit when Obama comes calling.
That's all it would take. And these people exist. Stewart is one of them, if he wanted to be. Sanders certainly was, until he wasn’t.
This plan would move a revolt through the August Convention. After that, what happens next would determine the next move.
Not Everyone Wants a Revolt
Revolt or not revolt: That’s really the choice. Each individual who cares about the future can make a decision. Let the country limp along; or disrupt the game. Challenge the Party to be its FDR self; or cave to the blackmail we always seem to face — “It’s us or Republicans, folks.”
I’m frankly happy with either choice — vote status quo or try to force change — if that’s what most people want. This is, after all, a democracy in form, and I’m not ready for the next philosopher-king.
What I’m not happy with would be this: a revolt that takes over the country, which only Republicans lead because Democrats won’t. Which is why I’d consider a challenge that took this form.
RFK thought Johnson was unassailable — until he wasn't.
If you say, “But that led to Nixon,” I'd answer, “Yes, but only thanks to assassins.” Think about that.