One hell of a conversation
I became interested and active in politics in the early aughts. Alongside my best friend and many of our peers, we turned our disgust with the political landscape into activism. We campaigned, we donated, we protested. I marched through the streets of Washington DC with the National Organization for Women (NOW), vocalizing my support for reproductive rights. How did I end up there? It was a spur of the moment trip during which the aforementioned best friend, Kimmie, came up to me and said, “Hey, I’m hopping a bus to DC with a bunch of strangers for the NOW march. Wanna come?” And the only way to answer was, “Fuck yes.”
Kimmie pursued a degree in politics and government, which launched her into a period of campaigning and volunteering. I maintained my interest in Creative Writing (whoda thunk?) and even though I was assured by friends, family and culture itself that my English degree would be, well, useless, I decided to follow my passion. Still, I remained enthralled with the political process. I followed Bush’s reelection like a hungry vulture. I worked for the Kerry campaign—not as tirelessly as some, namely Kimmie, but with gusto. I plastered my VW Bug with liberal messages and anti-Bush bumperstickers—and if you are familiar with my neck of the woods, you know that it would have been less effort just to slap a big target on my back window with the message, “Go ahead and vandalize me!”
Political dissenters got the message, as it was, without guidance.
But even as we approached Election Night in 2004, the hopeful messages of victory I received from like-minded students were awash in a dark cloud of dread. A very real part of me knew the election wasn’t going to go our way. It wouldn’t. I’d so badly wanted to Kerry to be President Josiah Bartlet that I’d ignored what he really was—the guy who was going to lose.
In fact, right before the election, Kimmie and I attended a viewing of Rocky Horror Picture Show held on my college campus. I wore, in addition to my fishnets and hooker boots, a hat, to which I had pinned a Kerry 2004 button. Someone I didn’t know came up to me, giddy, and pointed at my head.
“Just a week until victory!” he declared.
I blinked, shoved down the dread in my stomach, and nodded.
That is the moment I recall most from the campaign—not the hours spent at the phone banks or the door-to-door canvassing, or inevitable arguments with my Bush-loving friends and family. It was the knowledge that a week away from Bush’s reelection, I knew I was about to experience my first political heartbreak.
That didn’t stop me from plunging head-first into a grief-stricken coma after Bush’s victory speech. I lost interest in everything. I’d never cared about anything the way I cared about the 2004 election. The part of me that knew Kerry was going to lose took a back-seat, waiting to scream, “I fucking told you so!” at the devastated idealist. I was beaten and bruised.
In 2006, I joined the McCaskill campaign for Senate, but I was still gun-shy. I cautioned myself—as someone might in returning to a restaurant that gave them food poisoning the last time—not to go all in. But as Election Day neared, and 2006 proved to be a huge rebound year, I became invigorated again. Not enough to dedicate myself to the Obama campaign the way I had Kerry’s—by that time, I was trying to graduate, dating Aaron (my now-husband), and balancing the next phase of my life with the parts of the last phase that I wanted to keep. But Obama, I had high hopes for. I believed, genuinely, that he could be our President Bartlet. I didn’t have the dread going into that Election Day I’d had with Kerry’s. And though I knew better than to tempt fate, I remember whispering to Aaron, who was canvassing with me on Election Day, that I had a good feeling.
But of course, life isn’t like it is in the movies—or on The West Wing. Where I was enraged with Bush during his presidency, I have been disillusioned by Obama. I learned the truth of the “they’re all the same” pieces of fortune-cookie wisdom I’d heard when campaigning so actively for Kerry. I shed my allegiance to the Democratic Party, registered as an Independent. It’s something sure to gain groans, but for me, it was necessary to divorce myself of what I’d wanted and face the reality of what I got. The change was symbolic more than anything. I had once been a proud Democrat. I wasn’t anymore.
Through it all, though—giving my anger toward Bush voice, sharing my exasperation with social issues, and going through the same disillusionment with our current president—was Jon Stewart. Saying what the rest of us were often thinking. I’ve been in denial most of the year, namely because even when I knew the day would come eventually, I couldn’t accept that eventually would happen so soon. But shortly after Stephen Colbert announced the end of The Colbert Report, a part of me knew Jon Stewart would follow. Lennon and McCartney had broken up.
It’s so strange to be in mourning over something as overly insignificant as a television show, but to me and many other people, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was more than the kid at the back of the classroom harpooning spitballs toward authority figures—he was in a unique position to be the voice of the exasperated, the frustrated, and the politically fatigued. Sure, he did so while making us laugh at our outrage, and on occasion he got us even more riled. After national tragedies, of which there are far too many, viewers of The Daily Show knew Jon Stewart would vocalize our combined anger and sorrow with eloquence. When a politician did or said something stupid, horrific, or just plain cruel, Jon was there to tell them what the rest of us wanted to say.
He might not have changed the world, he did something incredible. He made a generation of disillusioned people realize they weren’t alone. During the Bush years, and especially after the reelection, I turned to Jon every night to connect, even remotely, with people who shared my beliefs. With people who needed to laugh, and needed to know we were being represented somewhere.
I’m in the reddest corner of a red state, and over the years, I’ve become even more unapologetic about my beliefs. I’ve changed my mind on a few issues—I no longer want to ban any gun, for instance (though I am still a staunch supporter of gun control). However, the older I get, the more myself I am determined to be—the liberal, heathen erotic romance author, and no, I won’t be shamed. My family, for the most part, has come to accept this. I say for the most part, because I was recently ejected from my half-sister’s life for sharing an article from The Atlantic (without commentary) on why the Confederate flag should be retired. The same bible-thumping, gun-loving, Religious Right quoting sister, who had no issue with my frequent posts about religion and social issues, decided that the Confederate flag was the idol worth defending. That smarted, but not nearly as much as the blanket lack of support I received from my father (our shared parent), even after I had abandoned my life for 6 weeks to take care of him while he was ill. My stepmother removed me from hers and my father’s Facebook accounts over the issue, and I was cautioned to respect others’ views after I and several others had been called idiots and assholes.
Now, Aaron, Kimmie, my mother and most of my friends and coworkers are like-minded. The blue population in my red corner has become more prevalent over the years. Still, we’re a community that earlier this year overwhelmingly rejected an anti-discrimination law. Yes, where I come from, we’re pro-discrimination. Home sweet home. And in times when I didn’t feel as connected as I do now—when my circle was smaller and I felt more isolated than ever—Jon Stewart provided me a lifeline.
I’m fortunate enough to have gotten to see The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report in person. Neither episodes were particularly memorable, but the experience was. As was Kimmie’s and my trip to Washington DC for the Rally to Restore Sanity. We even ended up at the same hotel as the cast, and while we didn’t get to meet Jon himself, we did get another John. And we had an amazing time.
I didn’t want to watch The Daily Show after Jon announced he was leaving. I watched clips as they populated my Facebook feed, and lamented to others about his impending departure, but for someone who was able to say the things I couldn’t—or at least in the place so the people they were being spoken to heard them—the idea of goodbye was like closing a chapter forever on my life. And I know, as I write this, how melodramatic it sounds. I know, I know, I know it’s a goddamned television show. But there’s a reason the end of The Daily Show was a big deal for so many of us.
Last night, I finally saddled up and watched the final episode. Up until that moment, it was Schrodinger’s episode—as long as I didn’t watch it, it wasn’t over. But all things, especially the good, come to an end. Which brings me back to where we started.
But to Jon’s closing words, I want to say this: thank you for the conversation. Thank you for making me laugh at things that should have made me cry. Thank you for giving my political frustration a voice, and my political idealist an outlet. In these later years, while I didn’t watch every episode, it was a comfort to know you were there. And I know you’re not going away forever—hey, maybe there will be a podcast or something down the line. But being that this part is over, I just needed to say how much your silly 4 day a week half hour show meant to me.
Thanks for the laughs.