While a few Elis on Thursday night prepared for their class discussion with Tony Blair, the comedian Jon Stewart had his chance to put the former British prime minister in the hot seat.
Blair warmed up for his professorial debut at Yale with an appearance on The Daily Show, where Stewart congratulated him on his Yale teaching appointment.
“You have picked, timing wise, I think the perfect time to come work in America,” he said to laughs. “May I ask you this, sir: Did you get your money up front?”
When Blair assured him he had —Yale officials haven’t said how much of the University’s precious endowment Blair will make off with — Stewart turned to Blair’s course. Riffing on the somewhat opaque title of the class, Stewart asked, “Faith and globalization: Which side is winning?”
Blair answered that globalization is pushing people together, but faith posed a danger of pushing them apart.
“Bits of religion are very extreme, and the other you can see in the work that faith groups do to alleviate poverty and disease and do great things in the world,” Blair said. “So the question is, in the 21st century, which predominates: the good part that brings them together, or the bad part that pulls them apart?”
The appearance was Blair’s first on the show. Asked Thursday in an interview with the News whether he thought it would be more frightening to debate Stewart or face off against a class of overachieving Elis, for which he admitted he was nervous, Blair laughed.
“I’ll tell you sometime Friday evening,” he said.
Indeed, Stewart did challenge the former prime minister, chiding him on his bond with U.S. President George W. Bush ’68.
“Your relationship with George Bush seems — what’s the word I’m looking for — inexplicable,” Stewart said.
“I like him,” Blair offered.
Resisting Stewart’s pointed questions, Blair said, “Look, I don’t want to get into your politics.” Slouching his shoulder casually over the back of his chair, he continued, “I think it’s important that my country and your country, whatever our little differences, stick together.”
But Stewart persisted.
“Did he convince you to go to war in Iraq?” he said. “How did he bring it up? Where did that come from?”
Blair said it came from a mutual belief that Saddam Hussein was a threat. But, he added, he never disrespected people who disagreed.
“You could never run this country, buddy,” Stewart quipped.
Stewart concluded by thanking Blair for his patience and for the opportunity to speak with him, which is more than his own president ever granted, he said.
“And,” he added, “can I sign up for your class?”