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Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Person of the Year: Jon Stewart

The New "Most Trusted Man in America??"

Yeah, yeah, I know who Julian Assange is, and about WikiLeaks.

And I'm aware that Time magazine chose Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its "Person of the Year" -- if not a "jump the shark" moment, then awfully close.

But my candidate for "Person of the Year" is Jon Stewart, of The Daily Show fame, and now an increasingly assertive political voice.

People such as myself have been decrying that this generation has no one comparable to Walter Cronkite: someone of unimpeachable credibility and stature (dareI say "transcendant"?), who both serves as society's conscience, and whose sentiments on a subject, when they weigh in, are decisive.

Cronkite played such a role vis a vis the war in Vietnam.

Stewart just played a similar role in getting Congress to fund health care for 9/11 responders:

“Jon Stewart so pithily articulated the argument that once it was made, it was really hard to do anything else."

--Robert Thompson, professor of television at Syracuse University; "In ‘Daily Show’ Role on 9/11 Bill, Echoes of Murrow" (The New York Times, 12/26/2010)

Junior "Senior Statesman"

Oddly, the person who Stewart reminds me most of is Ronald ("we begin bombing in five minutes") Reagan, circa late 1970's.

A two-term California governor and a fixture on the political right for decades, Reagan had yet to be embraced by the mainstream.

Instead, he was derided as a washed-up actor of dubious intelligence, who may or may not also be a trigger-happy cowboy.

Posthumously, Reagan is warmly remembered as The Great Communicator, a man with a genuinely sunny disposition and bedrock principles who guided the country into and through a period of national prosperity -- and not incidentally, a successful resolution of the Cold War.

(Sorry, lefties, he did.)

Stewart's Ascent

It's a bit hard to see Stewart's new-found stature, both because Stewart is a contemporary, and because his credentials -- in this case, as a wise-cracking satirist and media personality -- can also be easily dismissed by the opposite end of the political spectrum (ask now-U.S. Senator Al Franken whether his comedian background helped his candidacy).

But as evidenced by this month's 9/11 legislation, Stewart's growing influence -- culturally, politically, etc. -- is for real.

Amongst all our other problems, perhaps lack of leadership is the most acute.

If we can cultivate a couple more "senior statesmen-types" like Jon Stewart in the next few years, there's cause for optimism.

P.S.: Maybe it was the "avuncular" thing, or that "Walter" sounds so, well, senior citizen-like.

Or perhaps it was just because I happened to be 8 years old at the time.

But it sure seemed like Cronkite was older than 52 when he pronounced Vietnam a lost cause in 1968 -- barely older than Stewart's now 48 years old.

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