November 1st, 2010
11:50 AM ET

Did Stewart restore sanity? Or just have a comedic success?

When Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced their sanity rallies, politicians on both sides of the aisle took notice.

And with the event taking place so close to a crucial midterm election, many wondered what impact it might have on voters. Would a disillusioned citizen suddenly decide they needed to have their voice heard? Would the people in the middle find a way to silence the extreme views of the far right and far left?

With the rally over, and some time to reflect, we ask - was sanity restored or did a whole lot of people just show up to see their favorite comedians and work political satire into funny Halloween costumes that swamped the Metro trains of D.C.?

CNN Contributor John Avalon said the point of the rally was simple - people don't want to be divided.

"The rally's size and enthusiasm was evidence of a growing demand for something different - an alternative to predictable talking points and the partisan spin cycle, a desire for humor and honesty, independence and integrity. It is both an opportunity and an obligation."

In a Politico.com article James Hohmann, Marin Cogan and Byron Tau answered the question about whether the rally would galvanize an unexcited Democratic youth movement in their second paragraph bluntly, with two words. "It didn't."

"The event, with the Capitol as the backdrop, was a comedic success ...," they wrote. "But Stewart’s decision to avoid explicit partisan politicking denied the left a kind of galvanizing moment that might have driven to the polls his Democratic fans who weren’t already planning to vote or motivated previously apathetic liberals to grass-roots activities ...
"While Stewart may not have changed many minds, he also did nothing that might create a backlash to his brand as an entertainer or blow up on Democrats."

In a column for the Huffington Post, however, Russell Bishop argued there was plenty to learn from what Stewart and Colbert did.

"Perhaps it is time to supplant the Biblical statement that 'a child shall lead them' (Isaiah 11:6) with something more contemporary. How about 'two comedians shall lead them'? Here's a large dose of gratitude to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for their inspiring civility lessons this weekend in Washington, D.C. Perhaps tapes of the event should be required viewing in civics classes these days?"

Bishop argued that regardless of your political views, the message he found in the rally was about the nature of the political conversations we are having, and the ones we should be having.
"My constant message is that even if you can't change the world, at least you can change yourself. If you can't change your circumstance, at least you can change how you respond," he wrote. "So, you can imagine how inspiring I found this rally to be: two comedians and some rock stars reminding us that life can be lived devoid of the nasty rhetoric that has become all too commonplace in what passes for discourse these days."
If you ask Forbes' Zina Moukheiber, the pair might be on to something.
"The two comedians might be on to something, tapping into the feelings of the disaffected middle. There are moderates all over the world, yearning to express their 'moderation.'  They can start with the Middle East."
David Wiegel, who attended the rally, described it in an article on Slate.com as "a crush of humanity unlike anything I've seen liberals put together at the Capitol since the Obama inaugural."

"[Democrats]  had reverted, actually, from the confidence leading up to Barack Obama's election to the very familiar panic they felt during George W. Bush's presidency," he wrote.

But he also echoed what many others said - regarding the event as a sea of mocking, crazy signs - with no real impact.

"If looking for 'crazy' or smug protesters was less easy at this rally than at a Tea Party, or at the August Glenn Beck rally that inspired Stewart, that's cold comfort for liberals. Those rallies had important ideological thrusts. Beck's rally spent two hours informing conservatives that if they wanted to dismantle the welfare state - and they had to - they had a network of churches and charities that they could rely on to help the aged and care for the sick. The ideology of 'Restoring Sanity' was liberalism with a killing dose of helplessness."

But then again, perhaps the media might not be the right people to ask about how the rally went. At least that's likely what Stewart would say himself. After all, the rally began with a fiery criticism of the media for creating and nurturing of extreme political views.

Time magazine James Poniewozik even said as much: “don’t be surprised to see some defensive media responses to the critiques over the next few days.”

So we'll give you an alternative, the anti-media roundup from the always popular Auto-Tune the News.

Then tell us what you think. If you were at the rally, what did you take away from it, if anything? And what impact, if at all, do you think Stewart had on down-the-middle voters?

soundoff (349 Responses)
  1. Tyler

    I love how the media is doing exactly what Stewart talked about, amplifying everything into something that it is not. Had news corporations actually allowed their employees to attend the event, they would have seen that this rally was not for liberals or for conservatives, but for the people of America who have their differences in views, but all want the same thing, success and prosperity in our country. And their point was its hard to achieve that when we can't work together because we are turned against people because of they are conservatives or liberals or tea partiers and the media plays a huge part in that.

    November 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rockie01

    I don't believe this rally was a success, rather a comic disaster. As I stated in earlier blogs, in my opinion, a rendition of Wayne's World: "Build it... and they will come.... and; they did."

    November 4, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • KT

      In my opinion, then you obviously don't understand the clear (and successful) purpose of the rally... and it's quite clear, in my opinion, you consider yourself seperate from the "they" of which you speak.

      November 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Heather

    Perhaps the media wouldn't have such an easy time stirring it up if the people knew more about the rules of the game and the stories behind it all. But schools quit teaching meaningful civics a long time ago. We live in a country where the people are suppose to be responsible for their government, but are mostly not equiped for that responsibility and certainly not equiped well enough to sort through all the crap we're fed daily by every media outlet. We're not stupid, just far more ignorant than we should be. If we fixed that problem, I think we could have real rational sane discourse that would lead to better decisions regarding our leadership. And that might lead to better leaders leading better. But what am I saying...that could never happen in America. We would have all those "journalists" on welfare and the country would go bankrupt and then we'd have to find someone to blame.....

    November 4, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Thomas

    If he does this once a year it might help... It can't hurt. With the way the political atmosphere is now, we someone who isn't a total jerk to do something. I mean most everyone of these politicians are people I wouldn't trust to mow my lawn or wash my car... I certainly don't trust them to run this country. We need people like Jon Stewart who seems to have a real passion for what he makes fun of. He couldn't make it funny if he didn't care. So I think its a good first step to restoring sanity.

    November 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ben

    Civility, in North America, is in short supply these days. Its nice to see JS and SC calling out the fringe on either side for what it is; the squeaky wheel.

    I would ask "the american people"; when you were ten, did you think "I live in a country where I could one day be president if I work hard enough." or did you think "I live in a country where I could one day be a Democractic/Republican President if I raise enough money."

    Respect the office of the president, the government, and the will of the people equally and regardless of their flaws.

    November 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. billp

    I trust Stewart and Colbert more than any elected official or news media shill. The criticisms of the rally I have seen so far spring from one of 2 sources:

    1. News media members who bemoan their loss of credibility and influence, and resent that a comedian is more trusted than they are.
    2. Extremists on both sides who believe ramping up their level of hatred and hostility for the other side strengthens their chances of victory. They are more passionate about what they hate than they are over anything they love.

    November 4, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hudson

    Creating dialogue, and getting people thinking was a prime motivation behind this rally, and that was obviously successful. Jon said from the start that he didn't want it to be political, and tried to keep the whole thing light-hearted, which is what I believe made it great. Maybe it hasn't restored sanity, but at least by asking 'Did Stewart restore Sanity?" CNN is admiting that something is wrong.

    November 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. descarado

    Seems like most of the adults didn't bother to tune in to this boob tube spectacular, but the bong-headed, looneytoon fruit loops are still talking as though something happened. Something DID happen. It was the largest concentration of stoners since Woodstock.

    November 4, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rockie01

      Yup!

      November 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. susan

    The rally restored sanity to me. While I found the election disturbing and disappointing, I am holding on to what Jon Stewart said in his keynote address, as the live feed of traffic merging from about 12 lanes to 2 anes to enter the tunnel under DC: we are a nation that knows how to compromise. We instinctively know to say (silently) "You go, then I'll go."
    While the candidates I was stumping for lost, I can tell myself, it wasn't their turn. Without the traffic metaphor, I'd be gnashing my teeth.

    November 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. V Saxena

    Partly. Partly not. It's only human to get upset and act a bit insane at times. I appreciated the refresher on sanity, but at the end of the day, I'm still a moody Liberal. 😉

    November 4, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
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