[22 July 2005]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
I think voting is great, but if I have to choose between a douche and a turd, I just don’t see the point.
—Kyle, South Park (Comedy Central Quickies)
I think that maybe John Kerry must have shot [Zell Miller’s] dog.
—John McCain, Daily Show (2 September 2004)
“Everything on this DVD is old,” announces Jon Stewart during his sappy-piano-accompanied “introduction” to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004. “For the first time ever, you can see our coverage of the 2004 presidential election months after the fact, completely unfettered by context or relevancy.”
Ah yes, the election. It seems so long ago, and yet, so devastatingly immediate too. Not that it necessarily mattered who won. As the Daily Show crew demonstrates here—again—the similarities between the parties and the candidates were depressing and daunting. The coverage collected here includes the Democratic and Republican National Conventions (on one disc each), and a third disc of “Bonus Material,” with bits on the debates, the 2002 midterm elections, “Prelude to a recount” from 2 November 2004, and specific correspondents’ highlights (Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms). Thankfully, the discs include some “Back in Black"s, and even more thankfully, omit Stewart’s interview with John Kerry.
The first show, from Day One of the Dems’ Convention in Boston (on a disc subtitled “The Race from the White House”), 27 July 2004. “Any network can bring you news ‘at it happens,’” he announces. And so, they are condensing the news into “turds of wisdom.” Big cheers from the audience. Senior Political Analyst Helms appears on a big fake screen, to say, “I’ll be here on the floor all week, ignoring the content of speeches to ask inappropriate questions about Teresa Heinz Kerry’s behavior, and to show irrelevant embarrassing pictures of the candidates.” Colbert tracks the route to Kerry’s nomination, via super-debates, 16 of them. The one man who “emerged triumphant”? Al Sharpton, whom Colbert describes as speaking “concise, elegant circles around his opponents, but alas, he was black.” From here, the Dean scream, Lieberman dead last, Kerry’s undying lack of emotion, all leading to the convention’s kick-off, with a retro “I Love the ‘90s theme,” Jimmy Carter’s anti-Bush speech, and Hillary Clinton’s intro to hubby, and his rousing reference to Kerry’s naval service via a pile-on of boat metaphors—plus “dance parties” following every speech.
Reports on days after are equally irreverent and resourceful, including snarks aimed at network decisions to air Trading Spouses and Extreme Makeover, Ron Reagan’s passion about nuclei dividing, the eerie similarities between Teddy Kennedy and Mayor Quinby, Edwards’ “Hope is on the way” hook, Kerry’s greatest attribute, that he is “anybody but Bush.” The final night of coverage features Colbert on the floor ruffling feathers during Kerry’s speech (“Oh, Teresa: that bitch is loaded!”), interviews with bloggers, clips of Kerry’s supporters mythologizing him and his own acceptance speech, his legitimacy “based on his patriotic street cred.” All the speechy excesses are fodder for Stewart’s face-making and Lewis Black’s take on the DNC’s shameless use of celebrities and children (“Our vice president used a really bad word”).
Typically, Stewart takes perfect aim at the “real” journalists, the many cable commentators from Bill O’Reilly to Chris Matthews to Howard Fineman to Douchebag Novak, all condemning Sharpton’s rousing speech for running too long and off-script. “It’s grating,” worries Doris Kearns Goodwin, “You can’t bear to listen to it.” Stewart does the befuddled face and asks, “What the fuck were you guys watching?” wonders Stewart. When Brian Williams wonders out loud—to Sharpton—that he “did a riff on whatever you did a riff on,” Stewart is priceless: “You were there!”
While Stewart makes no bones about his own preferences, Republicans, Democrats, and reporters all come in for the same rowdy treatment. Starting on 31 August, the coverage of the RNC sets up the incongruity of setting—New York City, home of “Greenwich Village, Harlem, Spanish Harlem, and English as a third language.” In other words, no place for upright Republican delegates. As Helms puts it, decked out like a sneery uniformed cop, “If you’ll excuse me, couple a hippies have a date with Señor Nightstick.” As the RNC opens with show tunes, Ron Silver (“We will never forgive”), John McCain’s denunciation of “disingenuous filmmaker” Michael Moore, and a million mentions of “September 11th,” Stewart trades japes with Ted Koppel.
The Daily Show‘s consideration of the RNC includes checks on Lynn Cheney (“Dick did not”), and Cheney’s “good cop” speech, and closing with the trauma of Zell Miller (“Kneel before Zell!”). The recap of Matthews and Miller’s throwdown is brilliant (though, to be fair, the Miller performance hardly needs commentary). “I wish we lived in then day when you could challenge a person to a duel,” rants Miller. Stewart blinks, “That’s Democratic Georgia Senator Zell Miller, building that bridge to the 18th century.” Really, at this point, it becomes clear that all the DS have to do is watch and edit: the material is, as Stewart says, “awesome.”
On the last night, Stewart hosts Matthews to discuss the Miller business (“He went old coot on you!”), celebrating convention’s end, especially the fact that New Yorkers survived the onslaught of this campaign for a “Safer World, a More Hopeful America,” with Pataki’s blame of the Democrats for 9/11, Bush’s anticlimactic speech—“all coming together to form the Republicans’ central theme,” as Colbert succinctly puts it, “John Kerry is a pussy!” Stewart closes this segment exhorting viewers to “Vote for George Bush, so he can complete e work he never began.” And Black roars about the (repressed coverage of) half a million protestors, on the streets and outside Phantom of the Opera, and excoriates the fellow who showed up at the convention with a band-aid purple heart.
The third disc gathers together episodes and bits from the election year, including John Edwards’ announcement on the show, “Daily Show Rock! Presents ‘Midterm Elections,’” the live coverage of the first Bush-Kerry debate, “The Squabble in Coral Gables,” and an hour’s worth of election night coverage. For the first, Colbert knocks the ridiculous haggling over format (which Jim Lehrer extends by describing the light system). Stewart then launches into comments on a series of debate points: Bush’s reference to “terrorists” as a “group of folks” (“what you run into at the Olive Garden”), Kerry’s concern about lack of security inspections (“Thanks a lot Scaredy McFear-A-Lot”), and Bush’s list of coalition countries (“Your second country’s Poland?”). He interviews spin-alley denizens Wesley Clark (“No one that I talked to has any doubt who won this debate”) and Rudy Giuliani (“John Kerry continues to not be able to define himself”). Stewart challenges Giuliani’s characterizations of Kerry’s positions and the presumption of the war against Iraq’s connection to 9/11.
The election night coverage begins with a spoof of the 2000 Bush-Gore meltdown, then launches into a telling and intelligent examination of the 2004 “countdown.” “Pretty much the same thing as last time,” says Stewart, now that Iraqis are watching, and likely saying, “You invaded us to bring us this!?” The Daily Show is repeatedly good on this point, reminding you of the connections between real issues—the war, for instance—and ridiculous diversions (the various election night maps, Samantha-Bee-on-the-street interviews [“Have you ever had a homosexual thought?”]). He interviews Sharpton and former Kerry adversary William Weld, as representatives for “opposite sides of the aisle.” “Do you have any idea where this thing sis going?” he asks Weld. “No, I’ve been watching your show.”