In the same way that Bill Clinton was the first black President even though he isn't black, Jon Stewart is our first Jewish President - even though .. you know ... he isn't President.
Strafing the yapping cable media like a Dockers-clad Snoopy on his dog house was good fun (he does this nightly, folks). Staking out new ground for true centrism - which is to say, the new American norm - was deadly serious. And with flags swirling to the breeze before hundreds of thousands of souls on the Mall, Stewart promoted a muscular, practical form of big tent progressivism that - quite frankly - rose well above what the White House and Congressional leadership offer in direct political vernacular.
Stewart seems to have an innate understanding of this moment in American cultural and political history that both major parties, and President Obama's team of image-makers, don't seem to grasp. With a veteran comic's sense of the audience, he knows where the veins are and that knowledge reveals both a moderate electorate and a socially progressive trajectory; what I got from Stewart that I don't get from Obama or Reid or Pelosi is the open realization that this country is inexorably moving to the left on social issues related to tolerance - that the United States has and always will continue in that general direction, at least if viewed in 20-year chunks. It's not a theory or a polemic of an ideology on Stewart's part. It's reporting. It's listening. And it's bringing back this frankly welcome view that a massive swath of the citizenry supports core values of progressivism - more open government, respect and diversity, civil rights widely applied. And if that's the case, there's fertile territory for the real work of government.
That new ground established, Stewart's approach to the nitty-gritty is the comic's timely shrug - a gesture honorably (and hilariously) rooted in generations of Jewish-American humor. Or New York humor. With a dash of blarney thrown in. Humor that is self-deprecating and deeply tied to assimilation, commonality of experience, and the wider community. Humor that rips down pomposity and entertains the unwashed poor, whether in cramped Vaudeville houses or the Comedy Channel. No rabbi is safe humor. No politician off limits humor. Equalizing humor. My humor. Which is to say, the humor of my generation - the same shoulder generation as Barack Obama and Jon Stewart (very late Boomers, early Gen-Xers, darkly cynical to the very structure of its DNA). The humor of sanity.
And the sanity of open imperfection and recognized difference as well. In some sense that's what Stewart's surprisingly moving message went fishing for. The frame isn't about these meshugenah mid-term elections. It's not about President Obama (though Stewart got a prickly and somewhat deluded President the other night, I thought). In watching the video highlights last night, I thought I saw the kind of open-source message that doesn't pretend a slogan or a website or even a spiffy blue-themed GOTV social media campaign has all the answers - something that moves beyond the notion of winning and losing, up and down.
Yeah it probably won't be a big hit. And by next week, the lame-ass headline will be "How Can Obama Save His Presidency?!" with suggestions ranging from concern-trolling Dick Morris to the clueless Elmer Fudds of the DNC. But I think Jon Stewart surprised a few people yesterday (you could tell by the prissy, seemingly hurt mainstream media responses - especially the "liberals"). And maybe he made a few Democrats and independents think about how they interract with media and politics. Or maybe it's just a few yucks.
In any case, next year in Jerusalem.
UPDATE: Dennis Perrin offers a tart opposing view, which I quite liked.