Perhaps it was a nod to NBC's live broadcast of The Sound of Music, but Thursday night's Daily Show was a compendium of Jon Stewart's favorite things: Standing up for the working class, panning Fox News and financial journalists, and using Pope Francis as a moral cudgel. He pulled it off with aplomb.
Stewart started with Thursday's nationwide strike by fast-food workers demanding a raise in the minimum wage. That proposal sounded fair to Stewart, but he ran through some of the arguments against it, as presented by Larry Kudlow, Stuart Varney, and other business journalists at Fox Business Network. Not surprisingly, he found the arguments either unpersuasive or morally repugnant.
Stewart had particular fun with Varney, who made a small splash by disagreeing with Pope Francis' robust criticism of unfettered free markets. (The Week's John Aziz offers his own critique of the pope here.) Varney moved from Scrooge 2.0 to heretic when he decided to make a "moral judgment" about whether unskilled fast-food workers "deserve" $15 an hour.
Pope Francis made a strong moral case for why companies should treat employees like human beings, including paying them a living wage, so when Varney disagreed on moral grounds, Stewart was incredulous: "You're going up against the pope on how to help the poor?!?!"
Kudlow — a self-described devoted "church-going Catholic convert" — went further, saying that the pope is wrong and "free-market capitalism is on the right side of the Lord." So Stewart turned to a higher authority — Jesus (as relayed by Matthew): "You cannot serve both God and money."
Now, Stewart could have broadened his salvo to encompass the broader crusade against Pope Francis that seems to be building among Fox News' stable of pundits, but he didn't (yet). He more narrowly sided with the pope's argument that the worship of money hurts believers' relationship with both God and man. The Fox Business commentators are arguing that capitalism and free markets ultimately help the poor by raising everyone's standard of living.
This is a long-fought battle, and it won't be settled on The Daily Show. Or Fox Business. A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine the scuffle even making it over to Jon Stewart's desk. What a difference a pope makes.
In the second part of the show, Stewart switches from righteous populism to populist humor, with a huge assist from John Hodgman, reprising his "deranged millionaire" role. The frame for Hodgman's farewell address to New York City is the imminent departure of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and inauguration of "6-foot-5, liberal, fair housing–loving, Sandinista yeti" Bill de Blasio. If the first part of the show was meat and potatoes, this is your dessert. Watch: