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Tilting at Windmills

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October 31, 2010

SERVING UP A HOT CUP OF SANITY.... Towards the very end of yesterday's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the D.C. Mall, Jon Stewart thanked the massive crowd for showing up, though he acknowledged "none of us are quite sure why" they were there.

It was one of the oddities of the entire event, and arguably the only thing the Stewart/Colbert rally had in common with the Tea Partiers' and Glen Beck gatherings in D.C. -- it wasn't altogether clear what the point was, exactly.

But that's not to say it wasn't worthwhile. I didn't get a chance to watch all of yesterday's rally, but from what I could tell, the Stewart/Colbert event had very little to do with politics, literally nothing to do with the elections (none of the speakers even mentioned voting), and everything to do with the sense that the basics of our civil discourse are badly off track.

Indeed, when Stewart talked -- not just yesterday, but in the weeks leading up to the event -- about restoring "sanity," I'm fairly sure he wasn't talking about policy at any level. I just get the sense he's driven a little crazy by what's shown on broadcast media, and wants Americans to be able to talk to each other again.

The host had a closing statement of sorts, speaking at the very end for about 12 minutes, and if you haven't seen it, it's worth watching -- not just for the humor or the poignancy, but because it helped summarize the point of the gathering. Stewart didn't seem especially disappointed with partisans, ideologues, or activists; he reserved his discontent for the "tool" we're supposed to rely on for "delineating" between sanity and insanity -- i.e., the American media -- which Stewart believes "broke."

The 24-hour news media, Stewart said, "did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder.... If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we eventually get sicker."

I don't know Stewart personally, so I'm not going to pretend to know what motivates him. But watching him yesterday, I kept thinking about his appearance on CNN's "Crossfire" several years ago, when he told the hosts their show is "hurting America." The program soon after disappeared from the CNN lineup, but I get the sense Stewart believes the qualities that made "Crossfire" horrible have spread throughout American media, making "sanity" harder to come by.

And if that is what he's thinking, I happen to believe Stewart is right.

The Washington Monthly had a correspondent on hand for the event, and I'll publish his piece a little later. But in the meantime, I'll note that sanity is not without supporters, though Tuesday's election results are likely to suggest otherwise. CBS News did an analysis of the crowd and estimated that 215,000 people were on hand. The network relied on the same company to estimate the crowd size at Glenn Beck's event in August, and found 87,000 people.

If, in America, sanity can continue to outnumber insanity by better than two-to-one, our future might not be so bleak after all.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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I went just for body count. I'm tired of the whack jobs thinking they're in the majority, that they are IT; the be all, end all to everything. I'm eagerly awaiting the attendance numbers. My tour driver said this was the largest crowd since the inauguration, and a Metro driver said they are putting Metro rider numbers over 400k. We were at the second to the last stop and our train was already packed. Some people wedged in (including us) and the next stop, maybe three people squashed in. This was at 9:00 am. The mall was packed from the Capitol to the G.W. Monument AND all up and down the roads at both sides in front of the Smithsonian buildings.

Posted by: MsJoanne on October 31, 2010 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

Let us not forget that "The Media" is a for-profit business, and will do whatever they can towards those ends, legal and often otherwise.

And, while we are focussing Stewart's magnifying glass not upon ants, but on the media itself, let us also remember who OWNS the presses and the networks and the radio airwaves.

Posted by: DAY on October 31, 2010 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

It's beyond my ability to comprehend - for years now I have been following an insightful comedy show that gives me a better handle on the USA than any established US institution, including the media.

It is worrying. When an entire nation chooses to make truth a variable, it stops being grounded.

Posted by: SteinL on October 31, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

It's too late for sanity in what amounts to a low-grade but chronic civil war. Stewart is probably on our side here but inoffensive chuckling at extremists really misses the point. Yes, it would be nice if civil discourse somehow returned and dominated politics. It won't until one side is decisively defeated. When Paul Krugman tells us to be afraid for our nation, he was being more than shrill. He was being rational and perceptive. The center no longer holds anywhere.

Posted by: walt on October 31, 2010 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

The metro was packed headed towards the rally even an hour and a half into the schedule.

The side streets were jammed, virtually impossible to walk through.

This with many people leaving the area as there weren't enough screens to see or speakers to hear if you weren't close enough.

Posted by: BlueMan on October 31, 2010 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Head counts are always open to interpretation. The rally itself said 150,000. MSNBC said 200,000. And, as I awoke this morning my radio said "tens of thousands".

MsJoanne and Blue Man, who ya gonna believe- the media, or your lying eyes?

(My son went down yesterday, has yet to return. Probably still waiting for a seat on the Metro. . .)

Posted by: DAY on October 31, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

I attended the rally. The crowds ran from 3rd Street near the Capitol to the Washington Monument -- over half the Mall. The rally REALLY was not political. However, it was WONDERFUL to be around thousands of like-minded people. I talked with the people around me on the Metro and at the Mall, and we all longed for a news media that would do its job and a tone-down in the discourse. As far as I could tell, most of the rally-goers were in their 30's and beyond, but there was a good helping of young people as well. I was surprised that, from where I sat, most attendees were Caucasian.

Regarding the Metro -- We went to the L'Enfant Station to get back on the subway to go home. The line extended out of the Metro station, up the very high escalator, around the corner, down a block, around another corner, and down another block. My daughter and I gave up and went to tour the Hirschorn Museum. When we returned 1 1/2 hours later, there was no line outside, but 3 trains came before there was enough room for us to board.

Posted by: pol on October 31, 2010 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, don’t be fooled, as I am quite positive many, if not all, of the talking village idiots will be, this was indeed a political rally. Jon has assiduously tried to avoid calling himself a journalist and had said in his recent Larry King interview that the rally wasn't political. I understand since he views himself solely as a comedian his reasons for making both of those claims. With that said, he is an excellent interviewer and doesn't let any of his guest engage in subterfuge or spin, thus making him a better "journalist" than 99% of the alleged journalists out there today. Despite his trying to say that this wasn’t a political rally and the fact he may not have spoken about any specific policy the reason that so many people showed up on the national mall was indeed political.

I was there and spoke with many people in the crowd, viewed many of the signs. We were all there for the same reason, we are tired of the failed policies on the right, we are tired of all the media attention the Tea Party gets, we are tired of FOX propaganda, we are tired of the failed and backward policies of the Republican Party. Compare us to the silent majority if you like. But this was political; it was a group of people tired of the out of touch rhetoric endorsed by the right, the mainstreaming of extremism by the press. We were all there to say loud and clear, WE ARE PATRIOTIC AMERICANS, we want America to be better, we are tired of the insanity and we were all there to be heard.

Will the networks report that? No, it doesn't fit in with the narrative. But don’t be fooled, despite the lack of obvious political rhetoric, it was indeed a political rally. Every individual there was making a political statement.

Posted by: Ron on October 31, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Ron, perhaps in an unspoken way, that rally was political, but it was done in such a subtle way as to be genius. The crowd was respectful, there was no anger -- it was just fun to show up and be counted. I really wish Jon Stewart had said, just once, "Vote on Tuesday."

Posted by: pol on October 31, 2010 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

So, for the people that were there...did y'all clean up after yourselves? What I mean is...did you pick up all your trash and stuff you brought in with you, or did you trash the place like the idiots at the One Nation rally, expecting someone else to clean up your mess? Just curious.

Posted by: Mike on October 31, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

There is plenty of sane and rational media available to those who look for it. Benen is but one example.

As long as we believe in the rights given under the First Amendment, it makes no sense to "blame the media."

Better to fight against those who corrupt the media with their money, and for better schools that teach people to recognize truth.

Vote against corporate republicans. Vote for school referendums and liberal school board candidates. Vote Tuesday.

Posted by: gene on October 31, 2010 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Jon Stewart disappointed with one of his statements (well, trumpeted by the con-enabling Gregory crew this morning): Jon made IMHO a boo boo, when he implied everyone gets together everywhere else but DC and the Media to get things done. No, all over the business world there are plenty conniving to bring short term profit and ruin the long-term economy for most people.

Posted by: Neil B on October 31, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Ron is right, I was there too and I'm canvasing for Gerry Connelly in Va.'s 8th district today. The Rally was so large that friends and I heard very little and saw nothing, but it didn't matter, the message was more important. My unscientific poll would indicate that the mild but progressive group outnumbers the Tea Party by a long shot and we will vote. Jon speaks for many, more than pundits know. The number of ralliers who came from California, Ohio, Colorado was impressive. Who knows if this will translate into less losses than predicted relentlessly by pundits but right now, I personally feel hopeful. And yes Mike, we cleaned up our mess.

Posted by: Kathryn on October 31, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

SteinL " When an entire nation chooses to make truth a variable, it stops being grounded."

Thank You - The whole situation in one line

Posted by: John R on October 31, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Great. Today I am in CO ... and the signal here seems to be that the effort to restore sanity is well established with Hickenlooper's lead in polls here. But then ..... Why is Ken Buck even in the mix???

Posted by: bigtuna on October 31, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Stewart's speech was exceptional.

However, I continue to resent the implication that, on the contemporary political scene, there are equally influential crackpots on the Left and Right who shape our civic discourse. There are no Democrats up for election in two days who have called for "2nd Amendment remedies" to the electoral process; no progressive activists who have recently stomped on conservative heads or accused John Boehner of being a secret Nazi who is working to bring fascism to America's shores.

Moreover, I refute Stewart's suggestion that every strongly held belief or principle should be given the same amount of respect. Thinking that gay people are less worthy of equal rights or that Muslims or Mexicans are less than human should not be considered just as respectable as believing that people should have affordable health care or that we shouldn't just bomb whoever the fuck we want to bomb.

I understand why he had to take a non-partisan tone, but the false equivalence of his main message actually hurts liberalism, I think, more than helps "restore sanity" to our discourse. In fact, after Tuesday, sanity will be in much shorter supply, and there's no sign clever enough to change that.

Posted by: Outlander on October 31, 2010 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

How crowded the Metro was?

Got there and the employee was answering questions.

How long to walk to the rally?

50 minutes.

Followed by people either deciding to walk or at least debating it.

Posted by: BlueMan on October 31, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

"The press is our immune system ... eczema".

Oops. He meant "psoriasis"

Posted by: TJ Parker on October 31, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Kathryn, I'm Gerry Connolly's constituent, and I'm pretty sure he's from the 11th District. I was there was well, and I cleaned up my mess, too. Everyone around me was doing the same. However, the escalator at L'Enfant was a mess.

Posted by: pol on October 31, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmmm, the time for sanity has come and gone?

If elections are to be our saving grace, our display of sanity, then I would have to say that sanity is not a wave of the future.

Posted by: Dredd on October 31, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

210K at the Stewart/Colbert rally: really good. But, if those same 210K don't vote + convince their friends + family to do the same, then the rally was nothing more than sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Posted by: Zorro on October 31, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Mr StewartHe didnt even suspect that in the end he would giving such a convincing proof that there just aint no sanity clause!

Posted by: Thingumbobesquire on October 31, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

My friends and I had a fantastic time at the rally, and I'm quite certain the count actually underestimated the number of attendees. The entire park and streets on either side were packed sardine-like from 3rd St., NW, just in front of the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument - 8 blocks away. Several Mexican waves spanning the entire length and width of the crowd orchestrated by The Mythbusters were televised and proved this.

Democrats desperately needed an opportunity to show solidarity with each other and demonstrate our belief in peaceful coexistence - this rally provided that. Our sincere thanks to Stewart and Colbert for giving us that chance.

Posted by: Kiweagle on October 31, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Color me unimpressed. 250,000 too-cool-for-school Nader voters who just know that it’s all a shuck, and acting as though any of this actually matters is not fashion-forward. A third of them still won't vote -- it's tragically unhip --, and the remaining two-thirds will cancel each other out. The prosperous will go with whomever dangles the largest tax cut in front of them -- that'll be the Republicans. The last third aren't numerous enough to save the nation.

Irony, not tyranny, is what will finish off this Republic.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on October 31, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

It is up to those of us who want sanity to make sure the party of sanity, the Democrats, continue to have congressional majorities on November 2. Help get out the vote!


Posted by: Winning Progressive on October 31, 2010 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

"250,000 too-cool-for-school Nader voters who just know that it’s all a shuck"

My ballot offers me a Tea Party candidate, a Libertarian, a Republican, and an Austerity Democrat. What variety! Oh wait, here's one other guy who thinks that full-color glossy campaign ads are franked mail. I am spoiled for choice.

Posted by: Forrest on October 31, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Let us not forget that "The Media" is a for-profit business, and will do whatever they can towards those ends, legal and often otherwise.

posted by DAY

Now i get it. Now I see the light. It was "THE MEDIA" that killed Vince Foster, and then blamed the Clintons. It was a set-up job to boost circulation and ratings and to takeover the White House! Brilliant!

You ever consider who owns Comedy Central and who distributes it to TV sets all over the world? Why, it's THE MEDIA! So really, what is Jon Stewart's agenda when he blames THE MEDIA for our uncivil discourse? I'm sure it's got to be nefarious.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on October 31, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

One takeaway from the event was 18-34 year olds are now the new grown-ups in America.

Posted by: Bob on October 31, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

CBS News did an analysis of the crowd and estimated that 215,000 people were on hand. The network relied on the same company to estimate the crowd size at Glenn Beck's event in August, and found 87,000 people.

Blaspheme !

Posted by: Joe Friday on October 31, 2010 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

My 22 year old daughter, who is not usually very 'political' and her friend who also never seemed very political either, decided to travel to attend because it appeared to be a fun way to express their pov. I am encouraged by that act. Apparently their were 250,000 others- more young than old- who did the same. I am cheered by that fact.

Posted by: robert on October 31, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, I see that many have extrapolated from the rally the ridiculous opinions that “Congress should work together” and “the parties should compromise and find a middle-ground”.

Whenever I hear somebody say these things, I want to SMACK them like Cher did Nicolas Cage in ‘Moonstruck’, and tell them to “Snap out of it”.

* The Republicans want to scrap Social Security and give it to Wall Street. The Democrats want to shore up Social Security for the future.

* The Republicans want to scrap Medicare and give it completely to Corporate America who will dole out inadequate vouchers. The Democrats want to modernize Medicare.

* The Republicans want to eliminate the Federal Minimum Wage. The Democrats want to continue to increase it.

The list goes on.

There is no middle-ground on these issues. There is no compromise to be had. You must make your choice and take your stand. When are these people going to grow up ?

Posted by: Joe Friday on October 31, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Friday, I think you may be missing the point. WHO is supposed to be doing the compromising, Republicans or Democrats?
The programs you mentioned all have support above 60% in poll after poll. Even the ACA gets such support when people are informed about what is actually IN it! I don't really think those speaking about "compromise" are referring to it being automatically only on the Democratic side, although I fully realize that's what the "Villagers" mean.
Should the Republicans gain control of the House on Tuesday, they are in for a rude shock. Either THEY compromise for the next two years or they go down to flaming defeat, at ALL levels, in 2012.
I don't think the nut-jobs, the ones the present-day Republican Party consists of, realize that. They exist in a self-made ghetto of like-minded people; small-minded and frightened of change. They're bullies who mistakenly believe that "compromise" means "weak". They idolize a document, the Constitution, that is nothing but compromises, completely failing to note the irony.
If the Democrats retain the majority, we will certainly have to compromise on some things, just not those on your list.

Posted by: Doug on October 31, 2010 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

@Doug - Unfortunately, the Republicans know full well that doing nothing but obstructing legislation the Dems want and insisting on nothing but extreme measures desired by the GOP works for them while Obama is still President.

Dems will compromise, the GOP will just say No, just like they have over the last two years - with great success thanks to the Media.

Posted by: Kiweagle on October 31, 2010 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

I just got back to the West Coast from the rally. Took my 19-year-old daughter because she more than anyone needed to be part of this. It's her generation that's going to bear the brunt of what happens over the next few years.

The designated area for the rally was completely packed: less than standing room only. They could have easily doubled the area and wide screens in the mall and still had a full house. We hung out for awhile, but I had to leave as it was getting way too tight for my comfort.

So we hung out on the sides and just walked around enjoyed the company of hundreds if thousands of others who share the same beliefs as we do. I talked to people from New York, Alaska, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Florida (just to name a few). I'm sure every state was represented and the experience gives me heart to carry on.

No, I didn't get a front row seat and I'm going to watch the broadcast to catch everything I missed. But it was totally worth flying out there just to share the same space with a lot of sane people.

Posted by: bdop4 on October 31, 2010 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

Just one question- what the hell was Yusuf Islam aka Cat Stevens, doing on the stage? The man who called for the murder of Salman Rushdie? For which he has never so much as apologized?
Note, he's tried to cover himself by denying he said what he plainly did, but he's never said 'I'm sorry' for calling for the execution of Salman Rushdie for the crime of blasphemy.

Good one, Jon.

Posted by: MikeN on October 31, 2010 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

I listened to NPR's "coverage" while driving home both days. What a bunch of arrogant fools.

Posted by: Eric on November 1, 2010 at 6:18 AM | PERMALINK

I've been to the Million Mom March, the March for Women's Lives, a couple of anti-Iraq War rallies, the Obama Inauguration and other than the inauguration, this was easily the most jammed I've seen it.

The Metro and the National Park Service both deserve Fs for crowd management and control. The crowd deserves an A for showing good humor. I'm really surprised no one got trampled on 7th St. Once it was that crowded, NPS should have loosened the barricades. They were causing a dangerous situation.

Posted by: lou on November 1, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Metro ride figures broke record. Figure approx half a million rides, two rides per person. Of course, this doesn't count the gazillion people who walked, taxied, drove, etc. Only two of the seven of us who planned to go were able to actually get there--we left the house at 8:45 AM--the others got stuck in the 'burbs because Metro was overtaxed. We Metro'd in, walked home.

Posted by: kay1352 on November 1, 2010 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK



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