Bill O’Reilly debates Jon Stewart: Five takeaways

October 6, 2012

President Obama and Mitt Romney aren't the only ones debating this election season. Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” squared off Saturday night in Washington over many of the same issues confronting the presidential candidates.


(Peter Kramer/AP)

Dubbed "The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium," the 90-minute debate on the campus of George Washington University weaved in and out of various topics, ranging from the serious to the silly. From entitlements to George W. Bush, from rapper Lil Wayne to former president Martin Van Buren (for the record, O’Reilly made the first Lil Wayne reference), the debate covered lots of ground. 

In addition the audience attending the event, viewers across the country tuned in by paying $4.95 to watch the event live-streamed, with half the debate's profit going to charity. (There were some technical glitches with the live-streaming.)

Without further ado, here is our list of five biggest takeaways from the “Rumble”:

* The theatrics and one-liners

O’Reilly came prepared with illustrated cards. The 5-foot 6-inch Stewart was equipped with a lift allowing him to met his 6-foot 4-inch opponent at eye level. The outsize personalities of the popular hosts shone thorough in a session that pooled sarcasm and wit with policy-heavy jousting. 

In his opening statement, Stewart said part of what is preventing the nation from addressing its problems is an "alternate universe" he called "Bull**t Mountain," with among other things, a focus on social issues and a belief that Obama changed the relationship between government and the American people. And then he implied O'Reilly was the mayor of the mountain.

The debate began at podiums before moving to an informal seated session, where the two fielded pre-screened questions from the audience, including this: If the U.S. were burning, what famous person would each save and why?

“I would save Oprah. She’s worth about $100 billion,” O’Reilly quipped, before asking Stewart.

“Uh, my family,” replied the "Daily Show" host. “Hey listen – Oprah’s a great answer too.”

* Bush, Bush, and more Bush

"Bush is gone. Adios. Sayonara,” declared one of O’Reilly’s cards. He added: “It may have been Bush's fault for the first year, maybe two -- but not 3 and a half.”

Stewart took a different view of the extent to which Bush is relevant in the current political dialogue. “Here’s why it matters about our debt and deficit under Bush: What he created was a society of entitlement that we could have two wars that cost $800 billion and cut taxes at the same time,” he said.

* “We are an entitlement nation.”

Stewart opened the entitlement discussion with the above line. He then moved to a discussion of the relationship between the private sector and the country’s dependence on the government.

“Obama hasn’t increased and expanded your ability to get welfare and food stamps by broadening the pool. More people have fallen into the social safety net that exists there, because, as we talked about, 2.5 trillion dollars of money went out of our economy in the bank crisis in two weeks,” he said

“Nobody begrudges people who need a safety net, but right now, we have this mindset that, ‘You know what, times are tough, I am going to take what I can take,’” responded O’Reilly.

* Foreign policy, under the spotlight

Iran is “not scared of us,” argued O’Reilly. “And the reason is not anything that the president has done overtly. … But the signal he sends to the world is, 'Hey let’s have a conversation.' And his voice goes up five octaves.”

The "O'Reilly Factor" host suggested that if Obama went on a “double date” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that would catch Iran’s attention. “But when you say, ‘Gee Netanyahu, I really can’t meet with you because of I have to go on ‘The View,’ that doesn’t send a big message.”

When the discussion turned to Obama’s posture toward terror, Stewart asked: “So the guy with the drone army, that drops missiles into these towns is the one that is soft on terror?”

* What about that other debate?

O’Reilly set high stakes for the next presidential debate, saying it will be “very big,” and added that he thinks the election will be “very close.”

And as to Stewart’s assessment of the job Obama has done as president? Some good, some not so good.

“There have been areas he’s done a very effective job in stabilizing things,” Stewart said, adding that “there are areas [where] he’s disappointed people. I don’t know of a president that hasn’t."

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · October 5, 2012