Jon Stewart for Celebrity President. This Is Not a Joke!

Republicans understand that America loves celebrities. Democrats need funny and famous people running for office.

Jon Schwarz

December 6 2023, 6:00 a.m. (

NEW YORK - JUNE 17: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Jon Stewart during Monday's June 17, 2019 show. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
Photo: Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

SHOULD LIBERALS — i.e., America’s jambalaya of FDR-heads, radicals in name only, organizers with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and even normcore Democrats — try to get Jon Stewart to run for president?

An affirmative response comes from Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and former director of Ithaca College’s Park Center for Independent Media. Stewart rose to stardom as host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, and after stepping down in 2015, he returned to TV in 2021 in “The Problem With Jon Stewart” (which Apple TV recently canceled). Cohen makes the case here, in a column, and here, in an interview with Salon.

Whether or not Stewart will run for president, Cohen convincingly explains why he should. His arguments about this apply beyond the specifics of Stewart and suggest that what Democrats truly need is more funny celebrities running for office.

First of all, this kind of brainstorming should be the norm instead of the exception in progressive U.S. politics. For a society that comes up with a new, crucial form of social media every month, it’s notable how stultifying our politics are. It’s not just that there’s never any outside-of-the-box thinking, it’s that the box itself is a cube 2 inches on each side. You can still go to protest rallies and hear people chanting, “The people, united, will never be defeated.” This may be new and appealing for younger activists, but it’s 50 years old, from another country (Chile), and doesn’t rhyme in English — all a measure of how there hasn’t been a lot of recent new work in this area.


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Second, let’s face it, America loves celebrities. Republicans understand this and utilize it. Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump could never have become president without first achieving their chintzy forms of fame. When Reagan was asked why being an actor was a suitable preparation for politics, he astutely observed that he didn’t understand how anyone could be an effective politician who wasn’t an actor.

Other GOP candidates who’ve ridden preexisting renown into office include George Murphy (senator from California), Arnold Schwarzenegger (governor of California), Tommy Tuberville (senator from Alabama), Sonny Bono (representative from California), and even Fred Grandy, star of “The Love Boat” (representative from Iowa). There almost certainly will be more soon, such as Tucker Carlson (TV’s representative from white grievance).


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For whatever reason, the hearts of Democrats seem to cry out against this. Indeed, there are examples of Democrats taking this path in reverse, as with Jerry Springer: an extremely talented orator who parlayed the mayorship of Cincinnati into a lucrative career in trash television. Many regular Democrats seemingly would prefer that politics have no humans involved at all and simply be a battle of lengthy position papers available online in 10-point type. (One unusual Democrat here is Al Franken, who started off on “Saturday Night Live” before being elected to the Senate from Minnesota in 2008.)

The U.S. has barely any culture in which people can rise to prominence beyond the culture of corporate entertainment.

Nonetheless, it’s time to accept that we are the country that we are. The U.S. has barely any culture in which people can rise to prominence beyond the culture of corporate entertainment. While there’s been a minor upsurge recently in union culture, we generally don’t have a political culture. (When’s the next meeting of political parties in your neighborhood? You probably don’t know unless you live in Iowa or New Hampshire.) We have barely any noncorporate music culture. (Maybe in Austin?) We have a culture of regular people acting in one city. (Chicago.)

The filmmaker Michael Moore (whom I once worked for) has tried to make this case to Democrats for decades. As he said when he once beseeched Matt Damon to run for president, “If you want to win, the Republicans have certainly shown the way: that when you run someone who is popular, you win. Sometimes even when you run an actor, you win. … I’d like us to start thinking that way.” 

Third, being funny is an underrated superpower in politics. In Reagan’s first debate in 1984 with the Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, he appeared frighteningly confused. For the next debate, his writers gave him a perfect line, which he hit out of the park: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” He remained noticeably confused, but the issue evaporated.

Both Trump and Barack Obama also thrived in the presidency thanks to their comedic effectiveness. Trump is essentially an insult comic, a Don Rickles who sincerely hates the objects of his cruel jibes. As Obama’s speechwriters noted, his understanding of comedic delivery — showcased every year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner — was impeccable, so perfect that if his life had taken another path, he could have hosted “The Daily Show” himself.

So why not just go for an actual host of “The Daily Show”? The rationale for why the 2024 Democratic candidate should be someone other than Joe Biden is obvious, so obvious that it’s boring to run through it. Biden is too old. He will be 82 on Election Day. For comparison, people used to call the Soviet Union a gerontocracy in the early 1980s when the average age of its members was 69.

Biden is unpopular, with an average approval rating of 38 percent, despite the U.S. economy being in good shape by normal standards. Trump is ahead of Biden in most swing state polling. Even last year, before Biden’s full-throated support for Israel’s actions in Gaza, which has probably cost him some votes, 94 percent of Democrats under 30 wanted another presidential nominee.

Why Cohen believes Stewart specifically — among the large crop of funny celebrities — would be an ideal replacement is more subtle and intriguing, and you should read it for yourself. The short version is that Stewart is not just famous and beloved, but also has a genuine passion for public life and viscerally understands why Americans are so angry about it — because he’s angry too. 

Whether there’s any chance of this happening is unknown. Eleven months before a presidential election is pretty late to launch a campaign, even with an enthusiastic candidate. Most importantly, Stewart has shown no signs of being interested in being an enthusiastic candidate, or any candidate at all. Cohen acknowledges that this idea is “a Hail Mary,” but “these are desperate times,” given that we are currently on track for a second Trump presidency.

That concept is horrifying, given that it could plausibly mean the collapse of U.S. democracy. The paradox of our current plight is that the people screeching most loudly — the corporate Democratic establishment — have demonstrated by their immovable support for Biden that they do not actually take this threat seriously. As Cohen puts it, they’d “rather lose with Biden, someone they can control and someone they’ve known and used for 30 years, than win with someone they can’t.” 

That is no joke. But maybe we should start taking famous people who tell jokes more seriously.


Jon​ X

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