Stewart Tries Shame, Fury, TV, Trumping It Up To Get Through: These Guys Are All Dying, So We'd Like To Stop That

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In an intrepid effort to get a shameless Congress and an especially shameless Mitch McConnell - "He doesn't give a shit about anything but politics" - to act like human beings at least this once, Jon Stewart is pushing hard to refund the Zadroga Act, created to care for the many 9/11 firefighters, EMTs and cops now deathly ill from working in toxic dust at Ground Zero. After rallying and lobbying and having legislators repeatedly, smoothly shut their doors in his face, Stewart sorrowfully says, “The only conclusion I can draw is that the people of Congress are not as good a people as the people who are first responders.”

In 2010, Stewart lobbied tirelessly to get Congress to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named for the first NYPD officer whose death was attributed to toxic exposure at Ground Zero. Since then, over 70,000 people have enrolled to get health coverage, including over 4,000 with cancer. But that funding expired this fall and supporters are trying to pass an extension before the holiday recess; if they fail, federal officials say the program would likely shut down by summer. At a D.C. rally last week, a frustrated Stewart appeared with first responders, many sick or dying, to excoriate lawmakers who have unconscionably failed to act. "This is stupid and embarrassing - these guys should never have to come down here again," he said. "A public sense of shame is all I can bring....What message does it send to our first responders if once we're done as a nation with them helping us, that we forget about them? That's unacceptable."

The group, some in wheelchairs, also patrolled the halls of Congress, trying to meet with legislators who were mysteriously all, according to their ever-smiling minions, in meetings, in conference or otherwise missing in action. Cameras capture Stewart getting increasingly miffed, finally explaining to one blank-faced staffer, "I'm just trying to see if shame works.” They also protested outside the office of McConnell, who's reportedly trying to hold Zadroga funding hostage for an oil bill he wants passed. Firefighter Robert Digiovanni, who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, "Here we are, all dying, and they're playing politics."

After the fruitless trip to D.C., Stewart made a powerful return to The Daily Show to urge viewers to support Zadroga funding by tweeting McConnell and newly appointed Speaker of the House Paul Ryan with the hashtag #WorstResponders - ie: Congress - and, less politely, #EndtheFuckery. Most poignantly, he decided to recreate a 2010 segment on the issue he did with four first responders. You knew it was coming, but still: Gut-punch moment when he walks to the set to find only NYC firefighter Kenny Specht, who explains, "It's just you and me, Jon." Two of the others are too sick to come, he says, and the other has died.

Last night, Stewart returned to late night T.V. to get goofy with his old chum Stephen Colbert.  After Stewart began his earnest speech about helping those who helped us, Colbert brusquely cut him off with, "Boring!" and promptly "zazzed" up his presentation in the only way it would capture the attention of an inane media:  By adding a Trump wig he keeps around "to say anything important," and dust from a Cheetos bag to replicate that singular orange glow. "Bring the Trump!" ordered Colbert. Gamely Stewart began again, ranting about walls and threats and diamond-crusted heroes: "Tell Congress Donald Trump said to pull up your big-boy pants and make America great again!”

Jon, we miss you. Congress, you should, once again, be ashamed. Stewart rightly often cites the tiresome, meaningless blather that regularly makes the national rounds, especially in September, about how we as an alternately grieving, grateful and vengeful country will never forget 9/11. Says Stewart, "This is forgetting." 

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