Jon Stewart, TV Scourge of America's Right, Turns His Satire Against Barack Obama

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The Guardian/UK

Jon Stewart, TV Scourge of America's Right, Turns His Satire Against Barack Obama

Daily Show host spearheads liberal discontent with the president's failure to deliver radical change

by
Paul Harris in New York

Barack Obama is greeted by Jon Stewart during an appearance on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, a year before the presidential election. (Photograph: Jason Decrow/AP)

Jon Stewart, the famously smart host of the satirical Daily Show and habitual scourge of rightwing Americans, has embraced a remarkable new role as one of the fiercest critics of President Barack Obama and someone who is spearheading a wave of liberal discontent with the Democratic party.

The
turnaround is a remarkable one for a man whose show soared to national
and international fame during the George W Bush era, on the back of
incessant ridicule of Republican policies and personalities.

But over the past year Stewart, who was a notable supporter of Obama in the presidential election campaign
of 2008, has taken an increasingly strident tone on a wide range of
White House policies, from the war in Afghanistan to gay rights and the
economy.

Last week Stewart twice took on Obama head-on in brutal attacks during his trademark monologues at the start of the Daily Show.
On Wednesday night he lambasted the president and the Democrats for
their lack of backbone when it came to standing up to Republicans. "We
came, we saw, we sucked," Stewart mockingly quipped.

The outburst
created waves and prompted the influential gossip website Gawker to
describe the incident under the headline, "The night Jon Stewart turned
on President Obama".

Stewart followed up the next night by mocking
Obama's recent campaign appearances in people's backyards, as a way of
attempting to reconnect with disaffected voters. "Sir, you're the leader
of the free world, you've taken the presidency from Air Force One to
backyard number two," he said.

Critics – many of them liberal fans
of a man who combines comedy with biting political observation –
believe Stewart is going too far. Danielle Belton, an influential
culture and politics writer who runs the popular blog The Black Snob,
said: "Jon Stewart made the mistake that a lot of liberals did when
they got caught up in the romance of the 2008 campaign. People like
Stewart want Obama to be an 'imaginary Obama' that they created in their
head during the campaign."

Belton said Obama had always run as a
moderate who would try to unite American politics, not carry out a
difficult liberal agenda. She said that people like Stewart were just
damaging the Democrats' cause. "People are taking their eyes off the
larger issues here," she said.

But Stewart's anger is only the
most high-profile expression of an increasingly widespread
dissatisfaction among liberal Democrats with the achievements of the
first 18 months of the Obama presidency. Though the White House touts
its success in stabilising the economy and bringing in a version of
healthcare reform, much of the Democratic base is unhappy at a perceived
lack of ambition from a president in whom they had invested many hopes.

"Stewart
is reflecting the disillusionment that many voters have for Obama. They
elected him for certain reasons that have not exactly worked out for
them," said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University in
Pennsylvania.

To his liberal critics, Obama's healthcare plans
were a pale imitation of what might have been. They argue that the White
House has spent far too much time trying to appease Republicans with
compromises and not enough on pleasing its own supporters with bold
plans.

The result, they say, has been a catastrophic collapse in
liberal support that promises to hurt the Democrats in November's
mid-term elections. The Democrats are expected to lose control of one
house of Congress, or perhaps even both, a blow that is likely to
hamstring Obama's ambitions in the run-up to 2012's presidential
election.

Polls for the mid-terms show the Republicans picking up
Senate seats, congressional districts and state governorships across the
board.

According to one on Friday, the number of Americans
identifying themselves as Democrats had fallen to its lowest level in
eight years. But, instead of mollifying liberal concerns, Obama and his
vice-president, Joe Biden, have instead slammed their critics. "When I
hear Democrats griping and groaning… I say, 'Folks, wake up!'," Obama
said last month. Biden went further last week at a fundraiser in New
Hampshire and told complaining liberals to "stop whining".

Such tactics are unlikely to impress Stewart or stop his attacks. In fact, the Daily Show
host has been slamming Obama's policies for at least a year, growing
ever more strident. He has been a vocal critic of a failure to act
decisively on gay marriage and the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bars
gays from serving openly in the military.

He has also been a
critic of sending more troops to Afghanistan and of the president's
tepid support for a planned Islamic centre near Ground Zero in
Manhattan.

In a recent interview on Fox News, Stewart
explained his disappointment with Obama. "He ran as a visionary, and
he's led as a functionary," he told Fox talkshow host Bill O'Reilly.
Obama had betrayed his "change" campaign mantra by keeping the "same
system and the same people in place".

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