John McCain joined The Daily Show last night, rounding out its run of hosting one presidential contender in each of the past three months. It was a flimsy ordeal of dodged questions and easy answers, and while the interview marked the Arizona senator’s 13th visit on the show, familiarity wasn’t the only reason for Stewart’s slow pitches — the other candidates got the same treatment. When Barack Obama came on the show in April, he similarly used it as a platform for talking points, while Stewart salvaged the interview with some apolitical zingers (including one about Obama enslaving the white race). And like Obama’s, Hillary Clinton’s visit in March was also plagued by a lagging satellite feed, which meant Stewart again had to yield to the candidate’s sound bites.
Granted, you can’t expect any presidential hopeful to pull a surprise this late in the game, when gaffe coverage has overtaken policy. And a TV professional might make the argument that staying germane to high-profile visitors will keep the guestbook full. But philosophy aside, Stewart and the show’s producers should ratchet up the pressure on political guests, if only for the education of its audience. The Daily Show is comedy first — as Stewart noted in 2006 during his brilliant plea on Crossfire — but it’s hard to make people laugh when you leave the joke-writing up to senators.