Sunday, September 30, 2012

Examining the "Rally to Restore Sanity"

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has always toed the line between wise-cracking faux news and biting social criticism. In interviews, Stewart has always maintained that his place is in the peanut gallery, but in October of 2010, he took an unprecedented step out of the audience and into the political playing field. Jon Stewart (in conjunction with Stephen Colbert) held the Rally to Restore Sanity in the National Mall of Washington D.C. The event's motto? "Take it down a notch, America."
The Rally's website explained, "We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler." The idea of the Rally was to attract no specific demographic or political party, instead to   bring notice the Americans who are alarmed by the dramatically polarizing tactics of both sides. Was this event an embodiment of an American moderation movement?

Unsurprisingly, the answer depends on who you ask. Stewart identified the problem behavior on both sides, calling out Tea Partiers who compared President Obama to Hitler, as well as liberals who claim that President George W. Bush should be deemed a war criminal. To put this in James Klumpp's terms, Stewart's event intended to achieve moderation through transcendence, (as opposed to compromise) by encouraging Americans of all parts of the political spectrum to rise about hate rhetoric and embrace their commonalities. Stewart's intention, however, was distorted by the various filters of the media dialogue.

Fellow pundit Bill Maher criticized Stewart's lack of a partisan stance, saying "It was all nonpartisan and urged cooperation with the moderates on the other side forgetting that Obama tried that and found out...there are no moderates on the other side." Many viewed the rally, which was a likely response to Glenn Beck's "Restore Honor Rally" earlier in the year, in the same location, as a liberal foil Beck's conservative moment. Stewart acknowledges his own left leanings, and his audience base for the Daily Show is primarily liberal, thus there was also a disproportionate turnout of Democratic and liberal citizens. Still another group saw the Rally as little more than a ratings ploy, that had nothing to do changing American politics or rhetoric.

When the day of the Rally came, an estimated 215,000 people turned out to advocate for a change in tone for the political conversation. The event itself consisted of musical artists, appearances by Daily Show correspondents. As well as speeches by Stephen Colbert and Stewart himself. The theme of Stewart's speech, is that that polarization in rhetoric and in government, does not really reflect the divisions with the populace. "If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?" This goal appeals do the definitions of extremist rhetoric offered by Guttman and Klumpp, because it strives for the absence of divisiveness and the demonization of individuals. 

The validity of Stewart's intent, or the actual success of the resulting Rally is still contested, but seems the Stewart could be an advocate of moderation in our midst. Do you see this effort as a move to moderation (successful or failed), or a clearly partisan movement? Or even a financial ploy?

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