A good deal of e-ink has been posted on the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear this past Saturday, much of it impressed by its size yet unsure what it was for. How it might (not) sway voters leading up to tomorrow’s midterms also has been a running theme in today’s 24-hour news cycle. Our posting today is a brief and small compendium of the conversation about the event. What we hope to see is long-term involvement with issues, any issues.
The numerologists who study images and public-transport use and anecdotal police reports to get a handle on how many people attend such events put the rally’s attendance at around 215,000 (give or take 10%). As rally proponents wanted to point out, many would-be attendees likely retreated to local bars and restaurants near the mall, and attended in spirit. As I attended’ in spirit’ the two Texas Rangers home games over the weekend (Yes, I predicted the Rangers in 6…). So, leaving aside the Halloween-inspired ghost attendance, what are reporters saying about the effects of the rally?
David Weigelon Slate.com back in late September that many Democratic operatives, appreciative of what they knew was a rally of progressive and progressive-esque types, were nervous that the rally on the weekend before the midterms might derail last-ditch ‘serious’ efforts to get the vote out in the critical swing districts. Weigel argued, though, that the committed voter is not likely to be at the rally, and the uncommitted voter won’t be attending to be convinced of anything politically substantive:
The Democratic panic is out of whack. Stewart’s rally will attract two kinds of people: The liberals who weren’t going to GOTV [Get Out The Vote] anyway, and the liberals who needed this final jolt to reconnect with their elitism. The people who were going to turn votes for the Democrats won’t be there.
Mediaite.com columnists Frances Martel stressed the evenhanded humor and moments of sincerity for a raised level of political discourse (at least from Jon Stewart). Interestingly, she compared Stewart with his bete noir, Glenn Beck:
Contrary to much speculation on the right, he kept his critiques balanced. He addressed Americans of all stripes, specifically noted that his intention to heckle those with which he has openly disagreed– in fact, his only intention was to dissuade those with the power of mass communication from doing so, constantly, on a daily basis. Those who paid attention to Glenn Beck’s speech at “Restoring Honor” will be hard-pressed to find much of a difference at the core of both their speeches, that core being that Americans are truly good and care for one another, and that the only way to get through these difficult times is working together.
She, like many others, noted that Jon Stewart is walking the thinnest line of all the pundits, as he could talk himself out of a punditry job if we took all his words as face value.
Even the British press got involved, and British political satire is of a much more stinging quality than what we tend to get here, even on cable. Paul Harris of The Guardian UK was struck by the scale of the event, and was willing to give Stewart and Colbert the benefit of the doubt about the apolitical nature of the proceedings:
The whole mood echoed Stewart’s decidedly apolitical behaviour in the runup to the event. He has rarely, if ever, been an advocate for any sort of concrete agenda or liberal politics. There was no real talk, for example, of the intricacies of putting healthcare reform into practice, withdrawing from Afghanistan or job creation. Instead, the atmosphere was one of irony and humour; of mocking those in power, not seeking to replace them. That fits the role that Stewart and Colbert play the best. They are the court jesters at the palace of the real power players in America. Their job is to point out the hypocrisies of the great and the good, not to oust them.
Finally, a trio from TheAtlantic.com, Chris Good, Jushua Green, and Clive Crook, all were rather taken aback by the vagueness of the rally. Indeed, Jon Stewart’s rally and recent interview with President Obama might be further signs of the problems, not the support, the left-of-center face, according to Mr. Crook.
For our nickle, one of the keenest insights (yet troublesome conclusions) comes fromat BusinessInsider.com, who notes the recent explosion of ‘Personality Media’ in recent weeks (think: Glenn Beck’s rally, the attack ads concerning the midterm elections, and the fallout over Juan Williams’s firing from NPR). Personality Media means that the characters involved take precedent over the topics at hand:
Williams is a classic example of media-opportunity lost. He expressed what a lot of America thinks when America sees Muslims on planes–and he got canned for it.
It’s a sentiment some might call crude or offensive. But it could have been a chance to start a conversation. … The remark could have been turned into an investigation of the nature of bias, and Williams could have hosted his own program on bias or the limits of political correctness. One can imagine the legions of commenters both supportive and apoplectic who might suddenly listen to or engage with NPR in a new and unexpected way.
After all, isn’t it kind-of interesting that Williams, a member of the press, is willing to publicly admit his fear and talk about it? Couldn’t that have spurred some real discussion? Instead, NPR fired Williams. And now Fox reporters are attacking NPR.
Penell sees the development of ‘Personality Media’ as something that that can be profitable, if handled well: “traditional media ought to be paying close attention — it can mean big money for media companies if handled properly.” But perhaps personality media is the problem, not the commodity? To have a peace-out on the mall on the weekend before an election surely is a fine thing about this country (Anyone worried about being shot at or have their daughters threatened if they go vote tomorrow?). But have we taken any time at all to discuss (not ‘debate,’ but discuss) the issues at play in the election? More than a rally, or even an election, will be required for that kind of change. But surely it is one we can believe in.