As PopTort readers may know, we stay out of electoral politics. That’s not to say that we don’t cover politicians who finally make it to office (Remember Better Call Ted?) but once they’re running for, say President, it’s pretty much radio silence from us. We realize that greatly shrinks the roster of folks to cover for the time-being, but those are the rules!
That said… Did you happen to catch the first night of Steven Colbert’s new Late Show gig? Here’s what The Fix said about it:
After watching just a few minutes of Stephen Colbert's very first “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” two things became clear: 1) Colbert plans to be a major player at the nexus of pop culture and the 2016 presidential election, and 2) he's going to take politics and its players seriously.
The article was titled, “Stephen Colbert serves notice: He will matter in 2016.”
And then there's Colbert's partner in crime, Jon Stewart. I’m not even talking about what reporters and pundits have pontificated about Stewart’s influence (like here, here.) I’m talking about honest-to-goodness real life examples.
One of the most significant examples was what happened following his 2010 show featuring 9/11 first responders who were fighting with Congress over the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act - a bill that funds health care for sick and dying 9/11 workers. The bill passed following that show. Wrote the New York Times:
Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?
And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow? …
Certainly many supporters, including New York’s two senators, as well as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, played critical roles in turning around what looked like a hopeless situation after a filibuster by Republican senators on Dec. 10 seemed to derail the bill.
But some of those who stand to benefit from the bill have no doubt about what — and who — turned the momentum around.
“I don’t even know if there was a deal, to be honest with you, before his show,” said Kenny Specht, the founder of the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation, who was interviewed by Mr. Stewart on Dec. 16.
That show was devoted to the bill and the comedian’s effort to right what he called “an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11.”
Well, that was five years ago and the Act is set to expire at the end of September while these workers continue to get sick and die. Once again, Congress is a problem and this time, Mr. Stewart is heading to Washington. He may be without a show but, writes the Daily Beast:
Stewart plans to roam the halls of Congress with roughly a hundred 9/11 responders next Wednesday. The goal is to pressure lawmakers to continue funding health programs for thousands of firefighters, cops, and EMTs who suffer from illnesses, including cancer, caused by their work at ground zero.
“Honored Jon Stewart will join 9/11 heroes next week, but fact is, they shouldn’t have to walk the halls of Congress at all,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) tweeted on Tuesday. “It’s our moral obligation to ensure they get care.”
Other lawmakers who have worked on renewing this legislation have lauded the 52-year-old comedian for his efforts.
“Jon Stewart was one of the driving forces behind getting the Zadroga Act passed in the first place, but the law is set to expire unless Congress acts again,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said in a statement. “The ailing 9/11 responders and survivors are suffering a range of health care problems. We can’t force them to come back to Capitol Hill every five years to beg for their health care. Nobody understands that better than Jon Stewart, and nobody is better suited to make sure Congress gets the message.”
“Jon Stewart was on the front lines of the battle helping us to establish these programs,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said. “We are all grateful to him for once again fighting for our 9/11 heroes.”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), whom Stewart once called a hypocritical “terrorist sympathizer,” is praising the comic for bringing attention to the issue.
“I welcome his help,” the congressman told The Daily Beast. “Any help we get is vital…Whatever political or philosophical difference we have, I give him a lot of credit for going at an issue that is important to get public support for. He was helpful, there’s no doubt about it.”
I hope it works. For everyone freaking out about the cost of this program, the words of John Feal, who is leading the fight, should send shivers right through you. "We're asking for a permanent bill, but lets not kid ourselves," Feal said. "There's nothing permanent about 9/11 responders. We're all going to die off."