Many of the world's leaders, including President Obama and three of his predecessors, gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday for a sometimes solemn, sometimes jubilant memorial service for Nelson Mandela. And Mandela's death "left a message for the world," said Jon Stewart on Tuesday night's Daily Show: "That no act is too petty for America's news media to blow completely out of proportion."
Stewart was talking about Obama's brief handshake with Cuban leader Raúl Castro, whom Stewart half-dismissed as "Cuba's Jim Belushi: He's good, but he ain't John." This was at the funeral for Mandela, a man who transformed his nation and inspired the world by radically forgiving his tormentors, Stewart noted, and people are really outraged over "a gesture so meaningless you can train a basset hound to do it"?
Many people were upset, at least. Stewart was especially bemused by Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) almost inevitable breaking of Godwin's law, when he compared the passing Obama-Castro encounter to Neville Chamberlain's handshake with Hitler. McCain's argument was that Castro is diplomatically toxic because he's holding at least one American prisoner, but you know who else has a spotty record with imprisoning people... in Cuba? Stewart asked, archly.
The point is, Stewart concluded, "the president behaved himself just fine" at Mandela's memorial service. Well, except for that selfie...
Stewart started out Tuesday's show with a different kind of American exceptionalism: The 113th Congress, which is about to wrap up perhaps the least productive legislative years in U.S. history:
To get to the bottom of how the U.S. arrived at this point of not-completely-accidental gridlock, Stewart turned the show over to correspondent Jason Jones. The culprit, Jones decided, was the gerrymandering of districts so that all but a handful of House seats are all-but-bulletproof for whichever party drew up the state's redistricting map. This has been discussed in great depth and in detail elsewhere, but Jones went somewhere new, at least to me: He spoke with one of the partisan mapmakers.
Kimball Brace is president of Election Data Services Inc., a Virginia consulting firm, and he told Jones that his data-driven, partisan district mapmaking is a fine art. Jones ran with that conceit, even stumping redistricting opponent Melanie Sloan, of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), on why Brace's dark arts can't actually be considered, well, art. This being The Daily Show, Jones took the analogy to its logical conclusion.
This sort of absurdist take on America's absurdities is where The Daily Show shines. Watch:
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