Yesterday's “Restoring Sanity” rally sponsored by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report attracted young fans of the shows, self-professed moderates looking for a toned down debate, and great deal of partisan liberal Democrats.
The rally seemed to be a goof on many of the Tea Party rallies and particularly of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in August. On his program, Stewart has poked fun at some of the antics and activities of the Tea Party, but yesterday’s rally, held the day before Halloween, had its own share of goofy get-ups and arguably less-than-sane protest signs, as you can see in this video.
At the end of the rally, Stewart offered a genuine moment of sincerity, in which he urged Americans to distinguish between real extremists and those of reasonable differing viewpoints. "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," Stewart said. "There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats. But those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers and real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult not only to those people, but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate.”
"Sanity will always be in the eye of the beholder," Stewart said at the end. Indeed it is. And for the vast majority of people in the crowd who were liberal Democrats, the only "insanity" they see in American politics comes from the right. Laura Bergdoll of Lithonia, Georgia said Sarah Palin comes to mind as someone who is “insane.” “She scares me,” Bergdoll said. “I love Nancy Pelosi, I’m a huge fan of Pelosi.”
Bergdoll's husband Jon held a sign that read “All things considered, I pay a reasonable (if not low) amount of taxes.” A graduate student at Georgia Tech, Bergdoll said he paid about 33 percent in income taxes at his last job. So what would be an unreasonable tax rate? “For the rich, I don’t think you get high enough until about sixty, sixty-five-ish,” he said.
A woman from Oakton, Virginia said she came as a fan of the Daily Show, but for other reasons as well. “I’m sick of the Republicans and the Tea Party whining about everything,” she said. “They’re fear mongers.”
Among these liberal rally-goers, anti-corporate sentiments were palpable. Alan Brady of Columbia, Maryland says he’s voting for Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings and that jobs and the economy are the most important issue for him. “The corporations have to start hiring. They’ve got the money, they ought to start hiring,” Brady said. “Unfortunately, with a Democratic president, I don’t think they want to. They’re trying to make a statement.”
Sam Willis of Daytona Beach, Florida criticized Republicans for the party’s ties to corporations. “Everything they seem to be for is for big business, not for the people. I cannot stand my country being run by corporations,” Willis said. “That’s the most ridiculous thing in the world, to say that a corporation is a person.” Another man described Republicans as “being bound to their corporate overlords.”
Another theme was that Barack Obama’s now unpopular policies just need more time to produce an economic recovery, and the negative reaction is a result of the increasing irrationality of politics.
“Everything is instantaneous,” said one woman. “Everyone expects an instant text message, Facebook post, whatever it is, and it’s permeating the whole culture. So people expect results for something right away, or they think people are doing something wrong.”
“I think people are frustrated with the speed at which things are moving,” said Angela McClung of Harrisonburg, Virginia. “But everybody has to remember, it takes time to clean up after an elephant.”
“[Barack Obama’s] made some progress, but the dude’s got to dig out of a big hole,” said an Obama voter from Maryland. “We need him to do what he asked us to make him do what he said he was going to do in the campaign.”
Of course, other attendees came with a less explicitly political bent. Many were like Drew Trister, a 19-year-old student at St. John’s College in Maryland: youthful Stewart and Colbert fanboys. Trister, who says he came to Washington with some friends, held a sign that read “Everything Will Probably Be Okay.”
“I think they have the best grip on things,” Trister said of Stewart and Colbert. “There’s a humorous side to everything. I think when you bring that out, it’s the best way to get people to just relax.”
Asked what sanity means to her, one attendee said it means “being able to engage in some kind of rational discourse without reference to something that is more complicated than it needs to be." Signs with messages like “All Things in Moderation,” “Raging Moderate,” and “Passionately Moderate, Moderately Passionate” peppered the crowd. “I think it’s important that all these people turn out to show that there are a number of people who are interested in moderate debate and not pushing the debate to the extremes,” said another attendee.