Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly went head-to-head in a debate about issues facing the country Saturday night, and to say the affair was more lively than the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney would be an understatement.
The Daily Show host set the tone for the evening — a mix of confrontational and comedic — in his opening statement, when he referred to Fox News' O'Reilly as "the Mayor of Bull---- Mountain."
"On Bull---- Mountain, our problems are amplified and our solutions simplified," Stewart told O'Reilly. "I believe tonight, we'll take you down from the mountain."
While he didn't exactly accomplish that feat, Stewart and O'Reilly engaged in eloquent, informed and (mostly) good-natured banter for the next few minutes, covering topics ranging from the national debt to U.S. involvement in the Middle East. The debate, dubbed O'Reilly vs. Stewart 2012: The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium, was streamed online and consisted of an hour of questions from the moderator, CNN's E.D. Hill, followed by a lightning round of audience questions taken both from those in attendance at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, as well as viewers watching online. The liberal Stewart and conservative O'Reilly mostly stuck to their party lines, with Stewart arguing that Obama had inherited a nearly unmanageable economic crisis from George W. Bush, and O'Reilly saying that Obama hasn't done enough in his nearly four years in office to get the country back on track.
While the topics covered were serious, the debate was punctuated by moments of levity — namely Stewart, who is seven inches shorter than O'Reilly, using a remote control to raise and lower his podium at various points.
Big Bird — who is quickly becoming the "Joe the Plumber" of this year's election — predictably made an appearance as the two discussed the Republican proposal to cut funding from PBS, NPR and other publicly funded arts and education outlets. O'Reilly came prepared with illustrated placards, including one which read "Why is NPR getting our money?" Stewart's response? "Welcome to the f--ing club," he said, before referencing the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hill also brought up the subject of entitlements, with O'Reilly arguing that Obama's presidency has made it easier for people to take advantage of government programs. "The mindset is, if I can get in the system, I'll do it, because it's easy," O'Reilly said, pointing to the fact that the number of disability claims has jumped in the past four years. (Stewart pointed out that O'Reilly's father filed for disability when he retired, but O'Reilly countered that the claim was filed with his father's company, not the government, and was because his father suffered from colitis.)
"As a society, we have already decided to take care of people who need help," Stewart retorted. "Nobody is arguing that people with fraudulent claims should get them."
Stewart reserved most of his criticism for what he argued was Fox News' hypocritical way of presenting issues, particularly relating to government programs. "If you take advantage of a tax cut, you're a smart businessman," he said. "But if you take advantage of something that keeps you from being hungry, you're a moocher."
The two did have points on which they agreed: Both said the war in Iraq was a mistake and criticized Obama's use of drone missiles in the Middle East.
For the lightning round, they moved from the podiums into armchairs alongside Hill, answering questions that ranged from "who is your political hero?" (Robert Kennedy for Stewart; Abraham Lincoln for O'Reilly) to "what's the most valuable thing you've learned from hearing the other point of view?"
In response to the latter, O'Reilly told Hill, "Now I know I'm right."
Stewart said: "I have learned that Bull---- Mountain is tall, Bull---- Mountain is wide ... and it's deep."
Did you watch Saturday's debate? What did you think? Who "won"?