Stewart, Colbert influence politics through comedy


Throughout history, jesters have provided satire and comedy as an escape from the problems of everyday life.

More importantly, history has given these comedians the ability to comment on politics and society in a way that few others can. In old kingly courts, jesters could often give the monarchs advice that others could not.

Today, that tradition continues with the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert commenting on the political landscape in their own satirical ways.

The influence of these two modern jesters in particular is obvious. A Pew Research Project for Excellence in Journalism study published May 8, 2008, noted that Jon Stewart was the fourth most trusted name in news, and “tied in the rankings with anchormen Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and cable host Anderson Cooper.” For a self-proclaimed comedian to obtain that level of recognition is no small feat.

Perhaps his 30-minute slot contrasts effectively with the 24-hour news cycle, allowing him to more concisely analyze the news than his counterparts. Maybe his satire is more palatable to the national audience than dry newscasting. Whatever it is, Jon Stewart and his protege, Stephen Colbert, have influenced the national dialogue, and they’re about to influence the national elections as well.

Stewart and Colbert are holding a joint rally in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 30. The “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” is bound to draw a huge crowd, and it comes as no coincidence that it takes place mere days before the election. And despite being comedians, Stewart and Colbert have clearly set themselves up to tremendously influence the outcomes of the coming political contests.

Colbert already threw his hat into the ring when he testified before Congress about immigration in America. Maintaining his over-the-top character angered some, but his ever-growing clout is apparent and brought attention to the issue.

To better understand what they’re doing in this rally, look to the obvious contrast of the rally held by Glenn Beck back on Aug. 28. Beck, a conservative libertarian, drew in a huge crowd of Tea Party supporters and others who feel disenfranchised by the political system.

During the “Restoring Honor” rally, Beck said, “America today begins to turn back to God.” His implication that America, and of course the Obama Administration, have turned away from God is troubling to say the least. The deeply conservative message he presented, backed by religious overtones, energized the conservative base to stand against Democrats and President Obama.

Little did Beck know that his rally would set the stage for his more liberal counterparts. Stewart and Colbert intentionally named their rally and chose their location to mimic Beck and contrast his fear-mongering with a more civilized discussion, hence the “Sanity and/or Fear.” Clearly, their purpose is to undo whatever damage was done to the national political scene by Beck and his rally.

Furthermore, Beck obviously fears the impact of Stewart and Colbert. On his Sept. 20 radio show, he said about Stewart and Colbert and their rally, “they are going to activate the youth to try to get them to vote with the labor unions, apparently.”

Yes, it’s all just a liberal plot to get young people to vote for socialist labor unions. Obviously.

How did a couple of jesters come to be the most reasonable voices in politics? I don’t know. But I do know that those two are bound to influence the political discourse in profound ways. They offer a much more level-headed, if liberal, alternative to Beck and his ilk.

Or in other words, “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” as one of Stewart’s rally signs proclaims.