I anticipated the airing of The Daily Show’s “Democalypse 2014: America Remembers It Forgot to Vote” on Tuesday night, knowing fully that I was in for a cutting, ridicule-filled night. It was November 4, 2014, the day of the midterm elections that had gained so much traction as the moment the Republicans would finally gain control of the Senate and House of Representatives. This is the first time in 8 years that the Republicans have taken the Senate.
The Daily Show is Jon Stewart’s late-night television program that airs on the Comedy Central Network, 8PM PST, 11PM EST. Stewart, as what many describe as a “satirical left-wing fake news anchor,” has been hosting the show since 1999. Stewart sits at a news desk and offers critical, satirical takes on key issues in the U.S. and the world.
I had never watched an episode of The Daily Show before, and the first thing I saw on the screen was Stewart scribbling ferociously on a notebook followed by a spirited joke about how the Democrats were about to lose the good bathrooms in the Senate.
The show typically opens with a long monologue from Stewart relating to recent headlines. However, in the opening this night, Stewart tried to straighten out his misunderstood barb at those who said they were too uninvolved to vote. He had joked to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour earlier that day that he wasn’t voting because he “had just moved, and I don’t even know where my thing is.” However, some took the comment seriously. Stewart’s joke sparked a controversy: the comedian wasn’t voting in an election he had been talking about for months.
Stewart told his The Daily Show audience, “First of all, I’ve known where my thing [his polling place] is since I was 13. I was being flip, and it kind of took off. I shouldn’t have been flip about that … It sent a message that I didn’t think voting was important or that I didn’t think it was a big issue. And I do, and I did vote. I was being flip, and I shouldn’t have done that. That was stupid. So, I apologize.”
I had seen the CNN interview and I wasn’t used to Stewart’s sense of humor. His humorless tone had made me think that he was being serious. I admired his courage for admitting that he’d mis-joked and misfired.
Stewart then turned his attention to the night’s election results. As information was available, Stewart displayed photos of the Democratic and Republican candidates. Under each candidate’s picture, he showed the percentage of votes they had won. His tone grew in satire as he announced when Republicans had swept a seat. He displayed photoshopped pictures of Charlie Crist, a Florida gubernatorial candidate, and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell as cartoon turtles and alligators. I’m used to Democrats clenching elections left and right in San Francisco. I soon found that the case would be different for much of the rest of the nation. The wave of red sweeping over the electoral map dampened my mood a bit, not because of my own party affiliation, but because a Republican majority in both houses would mean an enduring legislative gridlock for the rest of Obama’s term in office.
In the end, the Republicans snatched the Senate away from the Democrats: 53 Republican seats, 44 Democratic seats, and 2 independent seats in the Senate.
The evening seemed to highlight the fight between money and ideas in this year’s midterm elections. The 2014 midterm elections went down as the most expensive in history, costing $3.7 billion, The Center for Responsive Politics estimates. “Quite a success story tonight for money,” Stewart said.
The $3.7 billion spent stems from donations from individual contributors, party committees, and political action committees. The stakes were high, and with the gates of legal contributions wide open, money flooded in to support special interest candidates.
Stewart’s 2014 midseason election special ended with Stewart’s interview of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, chairman since 2011. Jon Stewart asked Priebus, “It’s a blood bath out there. Were you surprised that the Democrats’ strategy seemed to be … curling up in a ball and hoping you didn’t kick them in the face too hard?”
After the show ended, I thought about what I am going to do when I’m eighteen. I’m not going to curl up into a ball, become misinformed, or miss out on elections. I’m going to get out there and vote, and not just vote, but be a proactive voter.