A More Complete Transcript
Woman: Hello. Welcome to this live recording of the Axe files with Jon Stewart. I have the privelege of introducing this event to you today, a task which necessarily entails introducing you to someone you already know. You know Jon Stewart. You know that as a political satirist and comedian, Stewart has affected macro-level shifts in our political culture... [to save myself some work, I'm not transcribing the rest of this two-minute speech.]
[2:50] Axelrod: now you can say...
Stewart: this is how Jews meet all the time. When people aren't paying attention. We sneak into churches and just chat.
Axelrod: Definitely. [audience laughs] That theme song by the way was actually the original John D. Rockefeller theme music, so -
Stewart: Yeah, you gotta be a rich motherfocker to have your own theme music.
[3:09] Axelrod: so Jon I have to ask you, where have you been man?
Axelrod: yeah, there's a lot going on over here.
Stewart: I've been in line. [audience laughs] out front. It was a -
[3:19] Axelrod: do you wake up ever and say to yourself that this was some kind of big celestial joke on you, that you announce your retirement from the Daily Show and - I see when you did you said, it didn't appear that there was gonna be anything wildly different about this election year, you had done four others, how's that working for you now?
Stewart: Well, I mean, I think we talk about as though it's something incredibly different, but we truly think, how different is it, really? The media is, as usual, focused on the wrong things and abdicating responsibility for the general filtration of toxicity; you have enormous amounts of money flowing into crazy people who are chaneling populists of years past, so I don't, you know. If you took Sarah Palin's head and jammed it on Donald Trump's body would it make any more sense? Probably not.
[4:20] Axelrod: would look a little weird, though.
Stewart: I don't know that it would look any weirder. [audience and Axelrod laugh]
[4:27] Axelrod: on that point you once said, "I assume there are bad actors in society, it's inherent in politicians to be disengenuous, I assume monkeys are gonna throw shit, I get angrier at people who don't go 'bad monkey' or [who] create a distraction that allows it to be continued unabated"
Stewart: Wait I said that?
[4:44] Axelrod: How responsible is the media for Donald Trump?
Stewart: Oh I don't - listen... I don't necessarily believe that a full court press on his, uh... untruthiveness would necessarily change it. I mean, he's not, he was voted for, but I do think he is generally the conclusion of years of - he makes sense if you view it through the prism of talk radio. I like to drive, and so I listen to talk radio, and it is 24/7 of "your country's being taken away from you". As far as I can tell, the conservative side or on the right side, they feel an ownership over America, they are the stewards of America, they are its forebearers...
Stewart: Exactly. Republicans, conservatives, love America. They just hate like, 50% of the people living there. So... in general -
Axelrod: Isn't part of their concern that 50% (or whatever percent) is becoming a greater, we're becoming a much more diverse country.
Stewart: Sure. So yeah, no, nativism... look. It's not as though this is inherent only to this country as well. Globalization has created this strange pushback throughout the entire world. You see a lot of countries retreating into nativism, into that type of really, uh...
[6:15] Axelrod: in fact there are Trump-like characters all over Europe,
Stewart: Yes, yes. He is, it's ery similar, I don't know if you ever saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers, very similar. But no, it's... in some ways it's a natural reaction to fear. Now, if you have that fear stoked on a daily basis at an incredibly high pitch - and this is not "we really need to do something about this country, we're facing some difficult problems," this is "you are run by a tyrant, he is going to take away our rights, we are falling, there are rapists and murderers at the border coming to kill you". If that's what you've been fed and that's what you're buying into, Donald Trump makes more sense than anybody else out there because he's going "great, let's build a... the visigoths are at the gate, let's build a fuckin' wall, and not let it--" it makes total sense. What wouldn't make sense are the general Republican leadership going "there are visigoths at the wall, they are here to kill you... let's try and not pass a new budget resolution. You know, that's, their rhetoric has never matched their action. Donald Trump is saying "oh that's your rhetoric? Then yeah, let's buil a wall."
[7:36] Axelrod: there's a weird paradox in both his message and their attacks which is, on the one hand they say "well the dictator is encroaching and threatening", on the other hand their critique of the president is that he's feckless, and it's hard to be a feckless dictator [crosstalk, inaudible] Groucho Marx and -
Stewart: Are you suggesting sir, that there may be slight cognitive dissonance? [audience laughs] Is that what you're suggesting? Because I will not sit here and be told [grins] - look, I don't even know that Donald Trump is eligible to be president, and that's not a birther thing, that's... look, I'm not a constitutional scholar so I can't necessarily say but, can you, are you eligible to run if you are a man-baby? [audience laughs] or a baby-man? [audience applause] Look, I don't know - and again I'm not here to be politically incorrect - if they're referred to as manbaby-Americans, but he is a man-baby. He has the physical countenance of a man, and a baby's temperment and hands, so... [audience claps] so to have that together...
I mean for God's sakes, I should sp - so I do have a history with the man, and so, in an effort of full disclosure, uh, we made fun of him, and uh... I think we referred to him as, you know, a boiled ham in a wig or something, who knows, uh, and so he tweeted at me - because as you know, great leaders tweet late at night, in fact I remember Lincoln's Gettysburg tweet after he delivered...
Axelrod: that's why the address was so short, he had to do it in 140 characters.
Stewart: After the Gettysburd Address he tweeted out, "Emancipate this, motherfucker!"
So Donald Trump tweeted "Jon Leibowitz" - he thought, he's gonna use my birth name, it's Leibowitz, Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz is my full name - he was gonna tweet that, and then he tweeted out, "be proud of your heritage, don't run away from who you are. By the way he's overrated," or something, it was something along those lines.
Stewart: It was very incisive. And so, we... thought... geez, let's answer. [David laughs] So we tweeted back to him Donald Trump's real name, which it, I don't know if you even know this, is "Fuckface von Clownstick"
[10:27] Axelrod: the research you guys must do on that show is unbelieveable.
Stewart: Yeah. We have people. Lexus-nexus, I'll tell you that. And so we wanted to know why he was running away from the von clownstick heritage, and we got into this huge fight.
[10:45] Axelrod: did he sue you? I mean he tends to sue people for things like that.
Stewart: Yeah, I mean, I'm just, I don't know that a man-baby can be president, he's, he's - character is destiny, and he is, the most thin-skinned individual, and look, you've been around politicians, you know they're thin-skinned, you know president Obama for all his qualities that you love, gets angry, and certainly I've borne the brunt of that at times, um
[11:12] Axelrod: Yes, I've heard.
Stewart: Yes. And uh, I just don't know that he has - and they keep saying which I think is the most wonderful thing "don't worry, when he becomes president he'd gonna be totally mature", and uh...
[11:28] Axelrod: but he says being presidential is easy, and he'll do it at the appropriate time.
Stewart: But what does that say about your constituency if what you're saying to them is "look, the only way that I can win this part of the race is by being an unrepentant, narcissistic asshole, 'cause that's what my voters like, but once I have to appeal to everybody, I'll be cool."
[11:50] Axelrod: Yeah. But the fact is that, you look at all these exit polls from primary after primary and the big number that he commands is, he tells it like it is. He says stuff that other politicians aren't willing to say, and you know you spoke earlier about people who are frightened about these changes in the economy that have left them without the kind of, uh, future that they thought that they would have, and they are eating that up.
Stewart: Right but again, and this gets to the point of -
Axelrod: Authenticity is what they said
Stewart: This gets to the point though of the press versus the campaign, and what we see in the press is, they're covering the campaign, but they're not covering veracity, or, you know... so the exit poll says this is what people think, then, someone in the press has to come out and go "wow. People must be assholes, because, that's not okay to think," you know, it's not okay to have nostalgia for the Mad Men society, and think that that is, that that ignorance is virtue, and they have twisted this around so that his ignorant pronouncements are somehow, uh, a sign of great character. It's like where I grew up, when people'd go like "hey look no disrespect, I'm not saying your mother's a whore, I'm saying..." and you're like "I think that's what you're saying".
[13:13] Axelrod: the difference is he would just say "your mother's a whore".
Stewart: Right. But when he says [Trump impression] "people are so nervous".... see, here's what's so amazing about this, so, the whole idea of political correctness is, everybody's so sensitive, just get over it. You know, why should African Americans be so sensitive about police shootings? Why do they have to be so sensitive about, uh, years of sensitive racism creating economic disparity, come on, I'm not a slave owner! Donald Trump couldn't handle us making a joke about him. Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter did a joke about Donald Trump's hands 25 years ago, he's still not fuckin' over it.
[13:59] Axelrod: and his hands aren't any bigger
Stewart: [audience laughs] So Muslims - not true by the way. He actually did a deal -
Axelrod: finger extensions?
Stewart: Trump International, and if you see them now [points at the back of his hand] they say Trump in gold letters. [Axelrod laughs]
But, the idea being that, Muslims - "hey man, all he's saying is, they're evil and they shouldn't be allowed in this country, he's just telling it like it is." But God forbid you say "Happy Holidays" in December, it's fuckin' war, so who is it who's exactly sensitive here? We're only talking about, what are the trigger points? And the trigger points seem to me to be, on one side, grounded in a certain reality of life that only those with no experience or empathy toward what those people are going through are having, and the other seems to be a clinging to a society paradigm that just doesn't exist anymore and probably never did. When was America great? What is this time that he speaks of? [shrugs] '81 to '82?
Like, what are we talking about, who took your country away from you? Whose country? Whose is it? Take up the argument with the founders. Take it up with the age of reason. That's the, you know, "all men are created equal" - that's fucked the whole thing up.
[15:19] Axelrod: Yeah. You know, the thing that they, I think the people who are rallying to him would say, I mean - some of it is just I think grounded in pure racism and nativism and all of that, but there also is the fact that the economy, you mentioned globalism, technology, has made a lot of jobs obsolete, that you didn't need a college education. These kids [motions to audience] are gonna do great.
Stewart: No, I don't know about that.
Axelrod: well, there are three or four that aren't gonna do great and you know who they are.
Stewart: They might do great and they might not, but -
[15:54] Axelrod: but I mean my point is this. They're - we haven't paid enough attention as a country to how we shepherd this change and make opportunity more broadly available, I think education is a piece of it. He's not speaking to that, but that's really the debate we should be having in this country, is, what are we gonna do with this big revolutionary change that has left a lot of people behind?
[16:17] Right, but you have a situation in government that makes that very difficult, if government is - the fallacy of this whole thing, and maybe it's a leftover from the Marshall plan, and everything else and, the nostalgia for the WWII era is that America can actually control things in a matter that is tidy. This idea somehow that we can control - we live in a postcolonial world. We no longer have a western frontier, like, that's just reality. Globalization is not a question of - American policy cannot - that box has been opened, and, the problem with globalization is not that America doesn't handle it, it's that corporate America would prefer that - money travels, people don't. So if they can send money to places where they can hire a hundred people that'll work for 12 hours a day versus 10 people that only work 8 hours a day for 15 dollars an hour, what are they gonna do? So this has nothing to do --
[17:16] Axelrod: not an argument Trump's been making.
Stewart: But here's the real political incorrectness, if they really wanna be truthful. The problems in this country are not because of Mexicans and Muslims, and if they want to in any way confront what's really going on, the problem in this country is, you have one party in America whose sole purpose is to freeze the government, and to not fix any of the problems that are associated with it. They have a great game going, which is "government sucks and can't get the job done." And then they can sit as an impediment to that government and point to their destruction as evidence of their thesis. It's a great tautology and it's - for what everyone would say for the democrats, maybe they're feckless, maybe they focus too much on identity politics, or they're not fiscally responsible, at least they're fucking trying.
[18:13] Axelrod: Yeah. Well, I'm not going to debate you on that.
Stewart: You know what? You're not the same without the mustache!
[18:21] Axelrod: [laughs] I know but thank God you took up the facial hair so you can still carry the torch out there.... I wanna talk a little bit about Hillary Clinton but -
[18:32] Axelrod: but before we do, before we do, obviously you're uh, you haven't lost your edge, you haven't lost your passion, have you been restless watching this whole thing, not having the platform you had? Obviously you can... create a new one, and I want to ask you about whether you're about to create a new one.
Stewart: No, I'm not - you know - I'm not restless, because, uh, what I gain from leaving the show in perspective, of, when you are in that suit, it is very hard not to begin to think that the world functions on that currency. There's only two cities that I know of that are that arrogant, and that's D.C. and Los Angeles, and they truly believe - and we saw it again with Larry Wilmore at the White House Press -
[19:24] Axelrod: and I want to ask you about your reaction
Stewart: Larry Wilmore did the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and everybody went nuts. "My God! He's done!" With what? "He's finished!" He's not running for anything, he's not finished. "He'll never get asked back." I don't think he gives a shit. [audience laughs] You know, and when you watched the post-show analysis, it was all based on, whether or not he had helped himself, how some of the room had read it, and not in any way -
[19:53] Axelrod: little narcissistic there.
Stewart: But not only narcissistic, but in no way an examination of the foundation of what he was saying, which was, "you are an incredibly corrupt and blinded symbiotic terrarium."
Axelrod: yeah I don't understand why that message wasn't well-received. [audience laughs]
Stewart: Here's the thing, "not well-received"? Not received. Not noticed. They did not notice it. What they noticed was, "he didn't get that many laughs. He really bombed."
[20:21] Axelrod: yeah. Well, that's the weird thing about the White House Correspondents Dinner. There's this sort of stange, symbiosis between hollywood and washington and they're similar communities, so the actors come to Washington and love to mix with the politicians, the politicians love to mix with the actors and there is a narcisism about those two communities that is uh, that is very much the same. You did the dinner once, in '97?
Stewart: Mm-hmm. I did it right after Imus. And Imus famouly, you know, made a joke I guess about Clinton's proclivities, and again they said -
Axelrod: for diplomacy?
Stewart: Yes. For reading, those things... um. I have to watch, obviously we're in a church, there's only so far we can go.... Or actually you know what, I'm out of His jurisdiction so I can probably say whatever I want. Um... He'd be ready to strike me down with lightning and be like "eh, it's not his house anyway." [audience laughs]
[21:25] I think that the problem is that the system is incentivized in all the wrong directions, and right now the system is incentivized in the way that a crack dealer is incentivized, which is, it can do tremendous damage, but as long as people are buying crack, everything is good on his block. And I really believe it's that... corrosive, and corrupt. When you have the presidents of networks saying "Trump is good for business", when you have the lead anchor of Fox News having to go to Trump's hotel to make him stop being mean to her, and now he says she's terrific 'cause they've had a detante. That's fucked.
[22:13] Axelrod: yeah.
Stewart: You know, I don't know how you describe, you know, there are heads of networks who have said "Trump is great for business." Well, why would you kill the thing that's great for business? Why would you even say what it was?
[22:26] Axelrod: I asked you at the beginning and you were sort of dismissive about what the role of the media has been, but what you're suggesting is that there is, they have a pecuniary interest in the Trump story.
Correct. I think what I was responding to about the role of the media is, can they solve it on their own? But, look, television journalism was ahead of the game at the Nixon-Kennedy debate. That's when the television media -
Axelrod: that was awhile ago.
Stewart: Came into - right. I was there, you were there.
Axelrod: We were pages.
Came into effect. Basically, Kennedy understood it a little bit, rudimentary, he thought "I should probably wear makeup" and Nixon was like [Nixon impression] "I look great" [audience & Axelrod laugh], you know, so, he went out there and you know, everybody thought he had hepititis and that was the end of his campaign [audience & Axelrod laughs].
Since then, an entire industry has risen up, as to how to manipulate and skew that medium to the advantage of the politicians and the powerful, and the industry, rather than in some ways creating a counterweight to that, have been subsumed by it, and so now it's a symbiosis. The media is no longer predator and pray - which I think should be the relationship - but a remora, that's just attached underneath, hoping for crumbs to fall off of the shark.
[23:57] Axelrod: though they do - I mean I watched Trump with George Stephanopolous yesterday, who tried to probe, I don't know if you saw the show but he was probing him on his various proposals, and Trump said, he said you know your tax plan would be a windfall for the wealthy, and Trump said "well it is now, but once we negociate it, it won't be anymore", and just basically shedding all of his positions, so, same challenge he's just -
[24:24] Stewart: But it's, you're talking about singular anecdotal moments, you're talking about floating logs in a torrent, you know, the relentlessness of the cycle requires an equal counterweight. It can't - a counterweight does not mean that occasionally, you know, you push back to a small extent as the waters rush by you everywhere else. That's I think where Fox has an advantage is that they understood that to take over the cycle you have to be relentless. You have to be perpetuating your point of view and your propaganda in the same way people consume it, which is, constantly, self-reinforcingly, and over an over and over again, and unless you have something pushing back with that same force, you're not gonna have any balance.
[25:20] Axelrod: well the interesting thing about this election though, you say it's not much different, Trump has basically embraced that tactic, I mean he is relentless, he is ubiquitous, he is out there all the time...
[25:31] Stewart: He's just learned how to, he'd just doing Judo against them. What works for 24-hour networks? What is it incentivized for? Here's what you would want it to be incentivized for: clarity. It is incentivized for what? Conflict. The voices that are amplified are the ones that are the most conflict-oriented, that are the most extreme. Those are the guys that get the airtime.
So if they're incentivized for conflict, Trump is not playing this like a - everybody keeps talking about "he's amazing". He's not - this is the first season of Survivor. This is, it's Reality Show 101: I'm gonna be an enormous dick at the beginning of the show to get all this attention, and then once I make it to final counsel, then I'm going to reveal - he's, what's the guy's name, Johnny Fairplay. He's Johnny Fairplay. He's the guy who said "oh my grandmother died, and don't vote me out", and then finally when he got to the final tribal counsel - that's what he's playing.
[26:30] Axelrod: what, uh, talk to me about Hillary Clinton as an opponent to him and -
Stewart: I'll never run against her so ...
[26:38] Axelrod: What would you be saying about her if you were doing your show right now?
Stewart: What I think about Hillary Clinton is, I imagine to be a very bright woman without the courage of her convictions, 'cause I'm not even sure what they are, so I would suggest that, when I watch her campaign, when I watch her campaign it reminds me of - and again I'm throwing out references that mean absolutely nothing to anybody so, I will continue to do that - she reminds me of Magic Johnson's talk show. And I won't say any -
Axelrod: You had that thought too huh?
Stewart: If you ever watched Magic Johnson's talk show, Magic Johnson was a charming individual, but he wasn't a talk show host, and when you watched his show, you could almost see Arsenio's advice to him in realtime rendering. So he would sit and he would go "uh, my first guest tonight (oh, Arsenio said enthusiasm is something that I should...) my first guest tonight is [sudden enthusiasm] CHER, EVERYBODY!" But it never seemed authentic and real to his personality, it seemed like he was wearing an outfit designed by someone else, for someone else, to be someone else, and that is not to say that she is not preferable to Donald Trump, because at this point I would vote for Mr. T to Donald Trump, but I think she will be in big trouble if she can't find a way - and maybe I'm wrong, maybe a real person doesn't exist underneath there, I don't know.
[28:18] Axelrod: you dabbled on the government side when you were advocating for the Zedroga Act for 9/11 survivors. Did you work with her when she was senator of New York on that?
Stewart: No. I worked with Kirsten Gillibrand.
Axelrod: I see, so she was out of the Senate by then...
Stewart: She's terriffic. Kirsten Gillibrand is terrific.
[28:37] Axelrod: So she was out of the Senate by then. You must have had her on your show?
Axelrod: And what was that like?
Stewart: [slowly] Really cool. [audience laughter] It's uh... look. Heh. There are politicians who are either rendering their inauthenticity in real-enough-time to appear authentic, and then there are politicians who render their inauthenticity through, it's like when your computer, if you have a Mac and you wanna play a Microsoft game on it?
Stewart: And there's that weird lag.
[29:17] Axelrod: Yes. No, I meam that's a big problem, there's like a seven-second delay and all the words come out in a perfectly politically calibrated sentence.
Stewart: Right. Now, what gives me hope in that, is that there's a delay, which means, she's somehow fighting something. I've seen politicians who don't have that delay, and render their inauthenticity in real time, and that's when you go, "that's a sociopath". [audience laughs]
[29:45] Axelrod: The uh - that's an uplifting message there. The uh -
Stewart: By the way: as far as uplifting messages, I have never in my life experienced what I experienced in my one day of lobbying down in Washington D.C., and let me just say, for however I painted it on the show, it's so much worse than you could possibly imagine. It is a cesspool. There are some good people trying to survive within the lava but it's a fucking horror show - [looks at David Axelrod] no disrespect. [audience laughs]
[30:21] Axelrod: No. Just the fact that you're at the Institute of Politics where we're trying to encourage young people to get into the public arena -
Stewart: Let me say this, get into it, and don't get it on you. [audience laughs] I've never - I was down there with firefighters who had spent a year on the smouldering remains of the World Trade Center. The guy that I was with, Ray Pfifer, had a titanium rod in his leg that was breaking because of the metastasized cancer that was roiling through it, that he got from being on the pile. We had the scientific evidence with us. You cannot imagine the disrespect, the lack of compassion, that was exhibited towards this man and this cause, by individuals in higher office. It was, I will never recover from it.
[31:27] Axelrod: so here's my, heres' my theory, cause I can't sit in front of a a thousand young peole and not say this. You know, you have to, if you turn away and you walk away from this and you just cede all of that to the people you're talking about, you're gonna get what you get, and it seems to me that there's some obligation to go in there and try and change it. You say "go in there and don't get it on you," but we need that.
Stewart: No. No, when I say "don't get it on you," I don't mean "don't engage." I mean, "take appropriate precautions, wear a hazmat suit, wear [audience laughs] - bring your ideals. I have... Whenever I speak to - and we used to do this thing every year where we'd bring the press secretaries for all the senate and all the house people that wanted to come in, and they would say to me, "so what can my candidate to to have a successful appearance on your show?" and I would say "he could, or she could say what she thinks about the issues concerning America?"
[32:36] Axelrod: and they said "is there any other way to do it?"
Stewart: Right. But they would say, "But what should I tell them? What works best?" [hesitantly] "When people say what they believe." [Nods.] "What's that?" [audience laughs] And honestly like, I know you think that I'm being hyperbolic, I recognize that you don't understand this. I am not. They are as unaware of their own machinations as you could possibly imagine. It's - and I'm [not] even saying it's malevolence.
Axelrod: it's the way the game is played.
Stewart: I assume that it's survival. It's -
[33:14] Axelrod: But you must admit that people over the course of, from '99 to last year doing this show, you must have run across people who did, who were disarming.
Stewart: No sure, I must have. [light laughter]
[33:29] Axelrod: do you want a few seconds to think about that?
Stewart: Yeah, hold on...
Um, there are people that were, what I would get there is the same thing I would get in the news industry, which is, people would pull you aside and they would say "yeah, man, it sucks, it's so, you're absolutely right, it's terrible down here". And you would just go [nods] "mm."
Axelrod: yeah. But, you know again, I don't want to sit here as the defender of a system that is badly broken, but there are people who do make a difference.
Stewart: Every day.
[34:05] Axelrod: and as you mentioned Kirsten Gillibrand, there are others actually who go there and - [crosstalk]
Stewart: Sure... The amount of energy that you have to expend, I'll just go with the 9/11 vote, this is as no-brainer as you can possibly get. This is, a horde of zombies would stop their brain-eating rampage to go "yeah those guys should get some health care, that makes sense."
[34:05] Axelrod: so, run out and find a horde of zombies?
Stewart: So these guys, for nine years, had to travel, with cancer, with mezaphilioma, with low lung function, with heart failure. Nine years of incessant lobbying to move this body, and it only, through their lobbying efforts and some measure of public shaming, they relented in the most condescending of ways, to finally give in to it. If it takes that effort to do something that easy, it is a system that must be, it is self-perpetuating in a way that is dangerous at this point.
[35:24] Axelrod: Yeah. But I saw, you know I saw, and you were there, doing your thing, I saw people cast votes for the Affordable Care Act who lost their positions, people who voted for Cap & Trade to try and do something about climate change, who lost their positions, and we should - and there are some who didn't - but we should at least ackowledge that there are those people who are willing to do that. I always say [inaudible] courage was a thin volume for a reason, you know it's not the norm, but it's something that we should -
Stewart: I guess my point is, why in God's name should that be courage? In what world is taking a political stand and trying to affect legislation that should be...
And by the way, what's incumbent on those who should believe that government can make a difference in people's lives is to try and make it more efficient, and I think that's where the democrats fail in an enormous way, is that in their world, if you believe that government can make a difference in people's lives, well then make the bureaucracy work more efficiently, make the regulations that are strangling, you know, small businesses. Don't just open the Fed Window at 0% corporations, force them at some level to at least give a percentage of that to small business loans, I mean, and I understand that they are trying but, and you and your boss and I had a big argument about this with the VA - if you can do an executive order to kill an American citizen from above with a missle, how can you not do an executive order to re-evaluate the DOD and the VA system so that you don't spend a billion dollars trying to get two computer programs to talk to each other when probably 3 of these idiots [points at audience] could probably do it for five hundred dollars. [audience laughs and claps] It doesn't wash. And at some level - and I'll lay the blame then with the democrats - the door is open to an asshole like Donald Trump, because the democrats haven't done enough to show the people that government that can be effective for people can be efficient for people, and if you can't do that, then you've lost the right to make that change and someone's gonna come in and demagogue you, and that's what happens.
[37:52] Axelrod: Yeah. I don't know Jon that it's, that the people who are following Trump are following him because of efficiency, I think there are other elements, I don't disagree with you, I've always said this, that we ought to be committed to Ends and not Means, and if the Means don't work then change 'em, you know, I think that's challenging government is something that democrats should do, but on the other hand...
Stewart: Let me ask you something, is government too big to manage?
[38:19] Axelrod: It's a, that's a very good question. [audience and Stewart laugh; Stewart covers face with hands, then stares skyward] What I think happens is, we've got a country of 330 million so government's gonna be large. What I think happens is, bureaucracy builds on bureaucracy and it gets encrusted on top of itself, and we especially, in an age of technology there is an opportunity to do things better and more creatively, and I think that government [Jon starts to talk] - let me just say this, let me just say a word on this because - I think before we're too cynical about this -
Stewart: This is not cynicism, don't mistake this for cynicism.
[38:59] Axelrod: if you talk to one of the 20 million people that have health care today that didn't have health care, they have a pretty positive view of government. You know, if you talk to people that have a PEL grant or if you talk to people who were finally after all these centuries enjoying their full rights, gay and lesbian Americans and so on, they feel positively that governemnt has been on their side at least in recent years, so I think that it is a little bit too broad brush to say that there's nothing, no progress has been made.
Stewart: Right. I would definitely agree with you if that's what I had said. [pauses] But that's not what I said [audience cheers and claps]. What I said was - and to throw it back the other way, let me say this, can you imagine how disconcerting it is for someone who's talking about efficiency of government, to talk to the man who basically helped Barack Obama get elected, and you're a powerful guy, who has basically been part of the group that's been in charge of government for eight years to say "yeah you know, bureaucracy is bureaucracy, what are you gonna do?" And you're like "I don't know."
[40:12] Axelrod: and here's the thing Jon. Government, the system we have, and you wrote the definitive book on the US constitution [Jon laughs] so I know you know this, the government we have is hard to move, we moved a lot in the first two years when Obama was president, 2010 came along and there was a huge tidal wave, and then, and we've had a situation where you have a gridlock, not a gridlock but a very divided Congress, and the system is devised in such a way that it makes it very difficult to get things done under that...
Stewart: No question.
[40:52] Axelrod: So that's, you know, yes, I would have liked if we had some to office and we didn't have massive economic crisis and some of the other things, I would have liked to have concentrated on this project, which is how do you rationaalize government for the 21st century, there are these projects going on within government, but it's very hard to turn it around.
Stewart: Right. All I'm saying is, if people can see your re-election effort being incredibly agile, and I honestly am still getting emails from the re-elect Barack Obama, sometimes through like the television, like I don't know how you guys figured it out, but if you're that agile for campaigning, why are we so good at campaigns and so bad at governance? [audience cheers and claps]
[41:44] Axelrod: Because campaigns are not as complicated and not as challenging as government because you have full control over your campaigns. Let me tell you something, when we made a decision in my capmpaign, I didn't have to go and have congress affirm it, we could just move, so government is not, the campaigns are not government.
Stewart: You can't do, in the way you use executive action, you can't use that against the bureaucracy?
[42:12] Axelrod: No, you can, and it has been done, and there's been a series of different ways
Stewart: Are you happy with the amount that you guys did in that regard?
Axelrod: I am... I am convinced that had there not been the resistence we had in congress, we could have done more, there's no question about that.
Stewart: Well we agree?
Axelrod: Yes. [Jon laughs] We agree except for this one point which is
Stewart: Yeah. By the way this is how Jews make love. [audience laughs] Just so you know, like, he and I when we're done with this, this is like eating Latkas on top of a Dreydel, the only thing that's missing is an uncle who's to the right of Ghengis Kahn, who can just walk in and go "Israel has the right to defend itself!" [audience laughs] So I'm just pointing out for those who are getting nervous: this is how we communicate. [audience laughs]
[43:10] Axelrod: we had a guy like that standing right here a few months ago but uh [audience "oh"s], no I, I have to say
Stewart: I don't go to school here so I don't know what that means.
[43:28] Axelrod: the, it is too facile to compare campaigns to government.
Stewart: The reason I don't think it's facile is this. So, and again, I think it's a part of, it's very easy to say, well it's two different systems, well, we're at the point in our government where, if you can take extraordinary measures to fix a crisis like the bank bailout then you can take extraordniary measures to fix a crisis like crumbling infrastructure and bureaucratic nightmares. I, you know....
Axelrod: Jon, you can't by executive order fix crumbling infrastructure, you need money to fix crumbling infrastructure, you need a congress that's willing to work with you to fix crumbling infrastructure.
Stewart: Right but you can fix some of the problems in contracting, you can fix that.
[44:10] Axelrod: Yes, you can do that, and some of that's been done, but the point is you can't fix through contracting massive underfunding of infastructure [inaudible] that's been going on for years. But listen we just got a couple minutes left, I just want to ask, I know that you hate -
[44:23] Axelrod: You deflect - no, this was the if-you-were-a-tree thing. You deflect questins about yourself. I have two, and one is, when you were growing up in Jersey, you could not have imagined -
Stewart: Wait, hold on a second. Thank you for that. That was the appropriate amount of applause for New Jersey. You said "when you're growing up in New Jersey" and literally I just heard this [makes slow silent claps with his hands] like in the way you would if, at the masters, somebody sank a putt.
[44:59] Axelrod: you could not have imagined that you would be opining and you'd have the world hanging on your words on politics, on the social scene, I mean this wasn't, you couldn't, this was not your life goal, it's important 'cause I think some kids are taught to believe that they have a life planned. You didn't have a life planned to become what you are now.
[45:26] Stewart: Uh.... I did.
Axelrod: Well, kind of a circuitous route to get there.
Stewart: I was raised in a laboratory, a comedic laboratory. Um, I mean I think I understand your point about protecting their innocence and their enthusiasm. Please don't misunderstand, criticism is out of love and desperation, not cynicism -
[45:52] Axelrod: No, I totally get that, and no I -
Stewart: In fact I'm not pessimistic, in any way, because this country has proven resilient based on the fact that its foundation is the age of reason and the age of enlightenment, and that is going to be what carries us through. you know, we have faced darker times than these
Axelrod: No, we have, much darker. These guys are gonna make a difference. I think one of the things that's changing in this country is that young people are more tolerant, they're more aware, they feel more rooted in the world and not just in their own lives. I think that these guys are gonna change things, but you're deflecting again because you won't talk about yourself, so I'm gonna give up, I'm not gonna give up the whole Jon Stewart story because we don't have time for it, but it'll be in a bookstore near your soon, but I have to ask you about moving forward because there've been, HBO suggested maybe you'd be engaging in this -
Stewart: I'm not gonna be on television any more, the whole point of growing old -
Axelrod: Are you going to engage at all in this next six months or are we gonna see Jon Stewart any more -
Stewart: I feel like I'm engaged now, I mean, you know - the one thing I also want to make clear to people is that, when you're not on television, you're still alive, and you're still engaged in the world, and I feel maybe more engaged with the world in a real way now than I ever did sitting on television interviewing politicians and convincing them, you know, I -
[47:18] Axelrod: Do you have any creative projects planned between now and November, that have to do with the election, whether it's on the internet -
Stewart: Uh, I, you know, we're working on technology and animation to do interesting little small bits, and if we can figure out
Axelrod: and it will go viral.
Stewart: I don't, again, like, [looks at audience] do what you think is good, and if you get 50 likes great, if you 500, like, your life exists outside of television and likes and instagram, like, engage the world. The reason why I was talking about bureaucracy, so, my wife - who's so much nicer than me, you'd love her - she's, we're starting this sanctuary for farm animals, so we had to go before a local Momoth County agriculture board. The epitome of real America, civic engagement, civic society... the work that these individuals - they were all farmers, the board is ten farmers - the work that they put into preserving and keeping the farm life and what they do, was inspiring. If you want to talk about inspiration, you put it right on them. The questions that they raised with us were thought-provoking, they helped shaped this project in a way that improved it massively, and they dealt with a tremendous amount of paperwork that made no sense to anybody, and they did it with humor and a certain resignation, but they did it
[48:58] Axelrod: this must have confounded your lobbyist.
[49:03] Axelrod: but the point is, between now and November do you expect to surface some projects relative to the election.
Stewart: Oh, uh... it may. I wish I had a better answer, I just don't know. You know, we're working on it, I'd love to have it ready by September or something like that, but not necessarily for the election as though that's the D-day, like, again.
Axelrod: But it's an important time for the country.
Stewart: As I said, I'll still, like, I'll still vote. [audience laughs] I don't [audience claps], in other words, let me put it this way, the October surprise in this election is not a two-minute cartoon that I'm going to release, like, the powers-that-be are working very dilligently, there's - television has never been more rife with beautiful satire. There are people from John Oliver to Sam Bee to Stephen Colbert to, uh, Seth Myers, to Trevor to Larry to... I am so impressed and amazed at the level of insight and with that is displayed on television every day, it just, you know, there is no dearth.
[50:19] Axelrod: All great, but I will say, and we'll wrap it up here, there's also one Jon Stewart and if you move around, people are asking, why isn't he here commenting on this, but we're so lucky that you're here to -
[50:35] Stewart: I'm delighted, you know, I've always wanted to... be confirmed. This counts right?
Axelrod: yes. As soon as you put something in the collection...
Stewart: All right, I'll do that.
Axelrod: All right, we're gonna take some...
Stewart: Yeah, let's take some questions.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to the Axe Files, part of the CNN podcast network. For more episodes of the Axe Files, visit cnn.com/podcast ... [I'm stopping transcription here 'cause I don't have time.]