The humorist Will Rogers ran a mock campaign for the presidency in 1928 that got so much attention, and was so favorably received, that some Democrats proposed him as a serious contender in 1932. Rogers politely pulled himself out of the running—with an observation that “Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with.”

On a more personal and professional note, Rogers warned that “A comedian can only last till he either takes himself serious or his audience takes him serious.”

That is the only argument I can think of for not asking Jon Stewart to moderate at least one of the 2016 presidential debates. And this argument fails because both comedy and politics have changed sufficiently over the past 80-plus years to justify the risk to the reputation of the recently retired Daily Show host.

So it should come as no surprise that so many Americans have signed on to a new petition drive at, which declares that: “Over the last 16 years, Jon Stewart has played an influential and iconic role in covering US politics and media. We believe he should continue that tradition as a moderator at one of the 2016 Presidential Debates.”

The online petition had gathered close to 300,000 signatures by Monday morning. And the numbers will continue to rise. As petition initiator Muriel Waters notes, a lot of Americans believe “Jon Stewart is more than qualified to tackle the moderating job. Mr. Stewart has interviewed 15 heads of state, 22 members of the United States Cabinet, 32 members of the United States Senate, 7 members of the United States House of Representatives, and scores of other political leaders from this country and around the world while establishing himself as the most trusted person in (satirical) news.”

Democratic presidential contender Martin O’Malley put his trust in Stewart, signing the petition and sending supporters tweeting that: “Jon Stewart moderating or not, #WeNeedDebate.”

O’Malley is right, we need more and better debates—not just in November 2016, but in November 2015. And we need a new class of moderators that will push the discussion in unexpected and important directions. The Fox News hosts who moderated the first Republican debate this month did a credible job of stirring things up—especially when it came to poking and prodding Donald Trump. But their policy questions tended to color within the lines of conservative orthodoxy, rather than pressing the candidates to address the wide range of fundamental issues that concern all Americans.

As another Democratic contender, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, noted after the Republican debate, in what became the most retweeted tweet by any of the presidential contenders: “Not one word about economic inequality, climate change, Citizens United or student debt. That’s why the Rs are so out of touch.”

That’s not just on the candidates. That’s on the moderators.

This gets to a point that the Stewart petition, which is focused on the fall 2016 schedule organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, does not address.

The mess that the commission has made of the fall debates could surely be improved by making Stewart a moderator. He would ask more worldly and provocative questions. But there is an immediate need for those worldly and provocative questions in the upcoming Republican and Democratic debates.

It would be great if Stewart would do a spin moderating debates for each party. And if he won’t, it would be great if the parties would open up their thinking with regard to moderators. There are plenty of prospects—Tavis Smiley, Ralph Nader, Gloria Steinem, Melissa Harris-Perry, S.E. Cupp, Matt Welch, to name but a few—who could take the Democratic and Republican contenders through a round of questioning that gets to the heart of the matter.

In fact, if Stewart is not ready to become America’s most-trusted name in moderating, why not Larry Wilmore?

The point is to open things up, raise more issues, get more Americans engaged. Instead of limiting the number of debates and narrowing the range of options when it comes to moderators, the parties should be opening the process up.

Asked in 1928 if there should be more presidential debates, he reportedly replied in the affirmative, calling for “joint debate—in any joint you name.” That’s the spirit: more debates in more states, more moderators, and more issues.