The Liberal Ironist is just-about the last person to report on the Rally to Restrore Sanity or the March to Keep Fear Alive; the reason for this, simply-put, is because he was so close to it. The Rally was fun and interesting; it was also utterly exhausting. My primary impression: Man, there were seriously a lot of people there. My secondary impression: Most Rally attendees really rose to the occasion, generally expressing themselves with good humor, humility and courtesy.
Through 3 hours of wave experiments led by the Mythbusters, wrestlers threatening homophobes, and Stephen Colbert’s ominous command “Release the media!”, an ongoing message that we don’t have to accept the word of professional alarmists prevailed. Like all events crafted to celebrate comity, it required an adversary–in this case, the 24-hour TV news networks.
This is both an easy and an attractive target for criticism; it is also a deserving target to what extent it can be regarded as an entity. A 24-7 circuit of televised news favors dramatic issues over gradually-emergent ones (such as the Federal debt, decaying or undersized infrastructure, the balance of our diet, global warming, the isolation of the elderly and growing restrictions on the freedoms of children in our schools). 24-7 TV news simultaneously highlights the conflictual and perverse in life as though it were somehow-representative, yet solicits unqualified and unrepresentative opinion as a means of gratifying its audience. 24-7 TV news networks will manufacture or vamp on a dramatic event with no substantive issue as a way to keep ratings up, but in seeming contradiction its journalists will ask our public officials easy questions out of a fear of loss of future access. Granted, these are structural problems of TV news–but for me to say so makes Stewart’s criticism of TV news more-forgiving because he is insistent that the medium can become a hub of illuminating reporting and reasoned debate. One doesn’t have to be jaded to think such an expectation very optimistic.
Jon Stewart’s keynote speech contained an emphatic attack on the way the TV news networks comport themselves, but it also likened the way Americans with very-different backgrounds and goals and each in their own little worlds are able to work together to keep things moving–like when stuck in traffic. People forebear much quietly, and it’s a few individuals who play dangerous games and disregard both courtesy and traffic laws who lead them to believe, wrongly, that others don’t generally do the same.
Mostly-devoid of political content (with the noteworthy exception of several responses to the bigotry which several Republican candidates have indulged), the Rally to Restore Sanity nonetheless wasn’t wishy-washy. While idealistic, the Rally wasn’t naive, nor did it have trouble finding concrete problems in targeting bitter activists and the lack of fiber among mainstream TV news organizations. With an audience that was almost certainly overwhelmingly-Democratic, the the sign-wielders among an assembled crowd of at least 215,000 mainly addressed a desire for modesty and coherence in political debate. Stewart made no insinuations about the strong probability that, 3 days after the Rally, midterm election voters would almost certainly return a very-conservative Republican majority to Congress.
Having made comedic hash of the sensationalism and lack of profundity of our national political conversation for years, on Saturday Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallied people to protest it. Some Conservatives and Liberals expressed skepticism that anything positive could come out of an apparent rally for nothing led by comedians. But this wasn’t a rally about nothing; this was an expression of a desire for a political culture not distinguished by patronizing hyperbole or zero-sum political thinking. It was patriotic, it was timely, and it suggested that the way forward starts with the reformation of personal habits; contrary to the thinking of those hung up on the novelty, the only “unfortunate” thing about the Rally to Restore Sanity was that more people couldn’t see it for the moment it was.
That, and the poor quality of the sound system projecting across the Mall.