I don’t care how silly this sounds: Jon Stewart really could be president. Or, maybe not quite president, but he could at least be some kind of politician. Or maybe a diplomat; that’s more his style anyway.

People have been throwing around similar statements about Stewart for years now, but it really hit me hard when Bolivian President Evo Morales gave his first American television interview to Stewart on “The Daily Show” late last month. Despite the humor inherent in a “Daily Show” interview, I was distraught on the inside.

The fact that a cable television show hosted by a comedian hosts two world leaders our own government can’t seem to get a handle on – the other was Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf – is alarming. It begs the question: Who is a foreign dignitary more likely to open up to, Jon Stewart or President Bush? Bush has ruined America’s image in the world to the point where no one but the British take our nation seriously. Stewart and his show represent a different image of America, one that it should be projecting to the world instead of fear.

The image of this country that Bush has presented to the world is one of color-coded threat levels and hooded terror suspects, all wrapped around the word “freedom.” The image Stewart is presenting to the world with his interviews is, “We know our government is incompetent, we don’t like it and we like to have foreign leaders come on TV and say it.” I would much rather have Bill Clinton on Stewart’s stage telling us to change the world instead of Bush asking us to stay the course. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman emphasized this point more bluntly, arguing that he won’t, and neither should anyone else, vote for any candidate who pushes Sept. 11. Rather, he will only vote for those who push Sept. 12.

A study by the Pew Research Center showed that 21 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 watch Stewart’s show more than any other network news. I don’t blame them: the list of guests on his show looks more like the guest list of a White House State dinner than any other show on TV.

Morales is just another feather in the show’s cap that proves people are tired of seeing America’s destroyed image on CNN. America just doesn’t look too respectable on the real news. All it shows is how America is destroying the Middle East (partially true) and its own nation (see the 2008 presidential race coverage). What happened to America being the land of the free? It is now the land of the feared.

The rest of the world is laughing at Americans because we can’t leave Iraq, we can’t build good cars and we can’t look past political party agendas. America isn’t the best at anything anymore, and that won’t come back until we start listening to the people talking to Stewart instead of those who talk to the White House Press Corps.

President Morales’s appearance on “The Daily Show” was eye-opening to me, because the Bush Administration wants Americans to believe that this man is a danger to our country, because he interacts with people like Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Yet, all I saw sitting in a chair across from Stewart was a neatly-dressed Bolivian farmer-turned-president who has done amazing things for his country. And it’s the perfect symbol of how our government has made us look like the stuck-up bully that doesn’t have any friends yet is still trying to keep everyone in line. Stewart commented that in his first eight months in office, Morales nationalized Bolivia’s oil and natural gas, enacted a constitution and started agrarian reform – to which the audience applauded feverishly. If I recall correctly, Bush’s first eight months in office were spent at a farm in Texas.

I’m crossing my fingers that during his final year in office, Bush really will morph into The Decider – the comic book hero version of Bush that Stewart immortalized – and improve his legacy by changing the way America looks to the world. It’s his fault that the world’s perception of this country is so bad, so it’s he should fix it.

Kevin Bunkley can be reached at kevrbunk@umich.edu.

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