Saturday’s “Rumble 2012” debate between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly shared one key feature with last Wednesday’s presidential debate: a bipartisan meta-loser. While Wednesday’s title went to moderator Jim Lehrer, Rumble 2012’s was Nox Solutions LLC, a third-party venue hired to host the streaming website, which failed miserably.
However, that was pretty much where the similarities ended.
Young or uninformed voters who may have tuned in to Wednesday night’s presidential debate looking for a crash course on the policy differences between the two candidates were likely disappointed. The debate dissolved into bickering—not to mention flat-out lies—before most people could make any sense of it. Not helping matters was President Barack Obama, who looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.
Contrast that against Saturday night’s spectacle. Both debaters were clearly happy to be there—O’Reilly even brought cute little cards to illustrate his points—though it was unclear if he were trying to invoke Ross Perot or Dora the Explorer. And because these two are entertainers above all else, they were able to call bullshit (or, in Stewart’s case, “bullshit mountain”) freely.
This setup led to a better explanation of where the key differences between liberal and conservative ideologies lie—and served as a prime example of what was missing on Wednesday night.
O’Reilly doesn’t need to worry about swing-state voters, so rather than try to court female voters, he was able to tell Sandra Fluke in his opening statement to “buy your own” birth control. Stewart doesn’t have to worry about the right spinning him as a communist, so he was free to sing the merits of “social democracy,” using PBS and Title IX as examples.
Because they didn’t have to care as much about being likable, Stewart and O'Reilly were far more watchable and informative than the presidential candidates.
This dynamic was most apparent during the health-care portion of Rumble 2012. Obama dropped the ball last week, failing to adequately defend—or even explain—the signature legislation of his first term. Stewart picked up the president’s slack. He slammed the illogical and fiscally unsound policy of telling people who can’t afford insurance to just go to the emergency room when they get sick—an idea Romney has pushed more than once.
Americans getting their news from entertainers is practically expected by now. The O’Reilly Factor was the highest-rated cable news show for a long time, and more young people get their news from The Daily Show than from any traditional news anchors.
But news is one thing, and policy is another. The rules are always different for entertainers and politicians, and rightly so. But to try so hard to be likable that you abandon any inconvenient opinions, as Romney did on Wednesday, or to want so much to appear bipartisan that you fail to highlight any policy differences between politicians and parties, as Obama did, is to let down the American public. There are some things people need to hear out of the candidates' own mouths.
Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly filled in this time, but this country deserves a debate between the real candidates vying for the highest office in the land. Someone needs to call bullshit mountain on Romney and Obama.