The much-hyped political debate between cable personality heavyweights Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart turned out to be a very spirited—not to mention popular—affair. The Fox News and Comedy Central hosts squared off Saturday night in a 90-minute “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” at George Washington University that was streamed live online.
A little background on the event: Stewart and O’Reilly have clashed numerous times on their respective programs “The Daily Show” and “The O’Reilly Factor” over the past decade, but this was the first time the two partisan personalities squared off in a head-to-head debate.
Unfortunately for fans of Stewart and O’Reilly, the event did not go off without a hitch: Many who had paid $4.95 to watch the debate were unable to do so after the server crashed.
As far as the debate itself went, though, it did not disappoint, with the two men jousting on a wide range of issues, including the economy, the role of government, entitlement programs, foreign policy and the current state of political discourse.
The two men also discussed plenty of topics that did not make it into the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, such as Romney’s controversial “47 percent” remark (said O’Reilly: “About 20 percent of us are slackers. And it’s a growing industry”), the so-called war on Christmas (If people think there’s an attack on Christmas, they should “walk a mile in Hanukkah’s shoes,” Stewart said) and Sandra Fluke, the women’s rights activist who was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention and has become somewhat of an O’Reilly obsession (the Fox News commentator mentioned Fluke right off the bat, telling the audience he “left two tickets for Sandra, plus a month’s supply of birth control pills” at will call to get the former Georgetown Law student to come to the debate).
It also featured something else not allowed in the presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney: props. For the 5’7’’ Stewart, it was a mechanical riser that allowed him to elevate himself to the same height—if not at times taller—than his 6’4’’ opponent. O’Reilly, meanwhile, used (highly entertaining) signs that said things such as “Bush Is Gone,” “WHY IS NPR GETTING OUR MONEY?” and “Income redistribution = Robin Hood on steroids.” If only he had taken a page out of the Glenn Beck playbook and used a chalkboard instead.
While O’Reilly and Stewart clearly disagree on most (that’s correct, there are matters on which the two men share similar beliefs) of the issues, they still manage to do so in a somewhat agreeable manner (even if Stewart did reiterate a recent attack from “The Daily Show,” calling O’Reilly the mayor of “Bullshit Mountain”). How else to explain how, at one point, Stewart ended up sitting in O’Reilly’s lap?
It was like two ships passing in the night – or more like a massive Empire Strikes Back AT-AT with a faded Reagan ’84 sticker on its bumper slowly stomping across a tundra of delusion while a rebel snow speeder zips around tying it in knots. Sometimes the two couldn’t even agree on what they were disagreeing about. (“Are we talking about Libya or Egypt?” Stewart asked during a less-than-conclusive segment on the Middle East.)
But even at their most heated, Stewart and O’Reilly were rarely disagreeable. During the question-and-answer period that followed the debate, O’Reilly complimented Stewart for “going to visit the wounded troops,” and the array of faces Stewart has invented to express his Job-like yet genial incredulity when O’Reilly really jacks up the crazy is downright staggering. They’ve always made a pretty good comedy team – not quite a Gore Vidal and Williams F. Buckley for our time, but maybe the one we deserve – and definitely worth $4.95. Next time though, maybe put it on YouTube, just to be safe.