Bonilla was part of the Republicans’ “rapid response” team during the Democratic convention; he comes off as the nicest, most decent-seeming guy you’d ever meet. It isn’t shown on the clip, but when the interview began he congratulated Stewart on the recent birth of his son, and gave him a present of a pair of baby-sized cowboy boots with “G.O.P. ROCKS” on the soles. It was really pretty cute; not as sappy as it sounds. Bonilla was positively Clinton-esque in his ability to exude charm; if that had been me up there interviewing him, there would have been no way I could have gone after him for his role in foisting lies upon the public without myself coming off as the world’s biggest asshole.
But not Stewart. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work, matching charm for charm, quip for quip. When the clip begins they’re talking about the oft-repeated Republican charge that Kerry and Edwards are the “first and fourth-most liberal senators.” Kerry tries to get Bonilla to acknowledge where the ranking came from. Bonilla fights him every step of the way, creatively misconstruing Stewart’s questions, talking over him, clouding the issues with a verbal fog machine of reasonable-sounding misdirection, but Stewart stays on-target.
By the end of the clip Stewart has managed to expose Bonilla’s spin-peddling, and worked in his own heartfelt plea for honesty in public debate, all without seeming like a jerk.
It’s really quite amazing. In my personal reality, this clip ranks up there with the Onion’s God angrily clarifies ‘don’t kill’ rule (since walled off behind a for-pay requirement at the Onion’s site, but available several other places via that damn irrepressible Internet) as an example of the kind of humor-as-therapy that keeps me sane in the face of an insane world.
Update: And now, because I was inspired, I’ve transcribed the part of the interview included in the clip, so you can enjoy it even without Real Player. Scroll down, or follow the link below, for that.
Stewart: …like when they come out, they say ‘he’s a liberal’…
Bonilla: Voted for bigger government…
Bonilla: …350 tax cuts, against a lot of the trade bills…
Stewart: Right. But he’s the number one ranked liberal in the, uh…
Bonilla: He’s to the left of Ted Kennedy. Now that’s fine, be proud of that.
Stewart: Now, where do they come up with those rankings?
Bonilla: We’re all ranked every year.
Stewart: By who?
Bonilla: You have conservative groups on our side, there are business groups, there are people who track tax bills, and spending bills and things like that. Trial lawyers track us, unions. And all of these groups are kind of the understood authorities.
Stewart: You know who seems to be the only people not tracking you? American public.
[audience applause, cheers]
Bonilla: [laughing] No, they track us. They track us.
Stewart: We’re the only ones.
Bonilla: They track us.
Stewart: Tell me, because here’s what I hear. I turn on the TV, and I see the response teams…
Bonilla: Because we can’t be here unless they vote for us.
Stewart: That’s a, yeah, it’s sneakier than that, but allright.
Stewart: So, I turn on the TV, and they say, “He’s the first most liberal senator, John Kerry, uh, and John Edwards is the fourth most liberal senator.” So, the only thing, because I watch that at home and I’m… stupid.
Stewart: How is that, how do they figure that?
Bonilla: I hadn’t even seen your show.
Stewart: I know… How do they figure that?
Bonilla: We have votes. And bills that we sponsor, and they track…
Stewart: I’m not retarded. [audience laughs] I mean, how do they compile. Who…
Bonilla: They list them, they take a list…
Stewart: Who’s they?
Bonilla: These groups that I told you about.
Stewart: But which one is the one that said they’re the first and the fourth?
Bonilla: The, well, you take the trial lawyers, or the people that follow the union votes, and the people that follow the small business votes, or the corporate votes, and they all go, you’re either with us 100% of the time, or none, 0% of the time, and they kind of average them all together.
Bonilla: These groups do.
Stewart: But which one, how do you, when you say “first most liberal and fourth most liberal,” what is the group, and how is it… Because I’m not…
Bonilla: No; I hope I’m explaining it clearly…
Stewart: I don’t think so.
Bonilla: [laughs] We’ll try again.
Stewart: It’s coming, it’s starting to come…
Bonilla: All of these groups, these groups have lists of votes that we…
Stewart: But which group says that it’s the most liberal? Which… you , know because that is a point that you guys make, the first and the fourth.
Bonilla: The liberal groups do, and the conservative groups do.
Stewart: No, no, no, I know that. But you know when you go on the show and you say this is the first most liberal and the fourth most liberal, which group is that.
Bonilla: It’s a group that does it. It’s a group on each side. It’s not one individual… it’s not just the trial lawyers, it’s not just the small business group, it’s not just the corporate people.
Stewart: You’re making this up.
Bonilla: [laughs] No.
Stewart: I’ll tell you who it is. It’s actually called the National Journal.
Bonilla: But that’s a magazine…
Stewart: But they’re the ones that put it together.
Bonilla: They compile it.
Stewart: But is that over their career, or…
Bonilla: Over their career.
Stewart: But see, no.
Bonilla: They do it…
Stewart: But you know that…
Bonilla: Yearly, and over their career.
Stewart: But you know that Edwards over his career is more to the right than the median Democrat. And actually Kerry is more to the right of Kennedy. So I just, you know, like you say, you just want, you just want people to have an honest discussion. That’s all that I want. I’m not Democrat or Republican, but I’m… my head, with the spinning and responses and the things, is… I’m a sad little man.
Stewart: I just needed to get more…
Bonilla: What can we do to make you happy?
Stewart: Not… No more of the rapid response with the… just to twist the thing.
[audience applause, cheers]
Stewart: …just come out and say…
Stewart: I’m sorry… like the ‘350 tax cut’ thing, is so out of context. It’s… some of that was when he voted not to, uh, uh, lower taxes, and keep them the same, so it wasn’t… so in other words, I just want that the people who are to earn the people’s trust, to just say… in a way that we can understand, because we are…
Bonilla: I wish both candidates would just come out and say it themselves, “I stand here…
Bonilla: …and I stand here.” What’s wrong with that?
Stewart: I think they do.
Bonilla: No they don’t! That’s why we had the rapid response team.
Stewart: [shaking his head] No, that’s not why you had the rapid response team. [laughs, slaps table]
[audience laughs, cheers]