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 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 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. Peace (I mean it.)

    I liked the 'train' songs. Especially Yusef Islam (Cat Stevens). He sounded great. - Favorite part: Stewart: " . . . I would like to move on to a more traditional start to a rally." Colbert: "Oooooh. A book burning!"

    November 1, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jimbob mcgee

    Why is it that the "liberal elites" are so attacked by some when those very liberal elites actually fully embrace capitalism and technology and innovation? The east and west coast "elites" regions of the US have been the least effected by this downturn b/c they are innovative and embrace capitalism and the technologies of tomorrow today. MIT, Stanford, Silicone Valley, Portland, Seattle, Boston, NY. New England :hot bed of liberalism" has the lowest unemployment as a region in the country AND the most Ivy league schools. Coincidence? I doubt it. Just because these same successful innovative researchers, product developers, scientists, etc also choose to use their tax money to help raise up those who are less advantaged instead of using same tax dollars to send those less advantaged to war as cannon fodder does not make them elitist, it makes them smart, thoughtful, compassionate, giving, and, hey, literally more christian in spirit than some other folks who are all me me me.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paqrat137

      Wondering where you were going with this...but it is very reasonable. I do not think that there aren't any conservatives in those areas, but as one poster yesterday proved, real conservatives are more in agreement with the liberal colleagues on many issues and on one in particular: we are all in this together and it will take all of us together to get us out of it. That is not Republican or Democrat, Liberal or is just common sense that the media does not seem to tell us we have and the politicians seem to sorely lack. Politician should lead: not bicker.

      November 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy

      jimbob, 'LIKE'!

      November 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kilgore Trout

    Nothing wrong with Comedians as a source of sanity within politics... cue Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Walt Kelly ... to name just a few...

    November 1, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Smc

    Not to worry, the newly elected Tea Partiers will have the economy totally fixed up within 22 months (because that's how much time Obama got and they thought he had plenty of time to do it, so they've set the bar very high for themselves).

    Starting Wednesday, I heard that Republican corporate execs will stop shipping jobs overseas so that every American can be employed once again (they don't mind sacrificing huge profits and their own giant bonuses–they're very patriotic–they wear flag pins).

    I thought the rally was great. Nobody got their head stomped. Wish I could've been there.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. EdShaw

    I was at the Los Angeles sattellite rally and was deeply impressed with the exuberant and friendly tone of the crowd
    (about 2000+) The overall tone was that the Extremists on both side of the spectrum need to back off, and that the Media needs to quit fomenting civil war in quest of higher ratings. As Americans we need to be able to civily disagree and compromise on the issues at hand. There are forces at work behind the scenes who want to castrate the government and civil society in general in order to unleash the wolves of the "Free Market" amongst the people of this nation. (The Koch Brothers as an example)

    November 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jimbob mcgee

    Take America forward, not back. From what I gather what people fear the most is change, the future. It's always been the case and always will. You either embrace the further expansiveness and inclusiveness of each new generation or you become stagnant and part of the past, fixed in amber. Take America forward to a more perfect union.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brian

    Well CNN, if you're smart what the rally told you is while there are plenty of extremists in this country who love to be pandered to, there is an equally large if not larger number of moderates in this country who would also like to be pandered to, and they are almost completely without a voice on any 24hr news network. However, clearly none of you are very smart because all you've been talking about is whether or not it rallied the liberal base. It wasn't meant to. The point was very clearly articulated several times leading up to the rally and it was further demonstrated at the rally. A 5 year old could've gotten the idea after all that, but you people clearly weren't even listening. You were just sitting there thinking how you could make this rally as controversial as possible, so as to attract the extremist viewers to pay attention to your analysis.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. yoOrwell

    I think you are all a bunch of arm chair pundits. "That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the bulk of mankind, happiness was better." Panis et circensis.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Luv My Country

    The Rally for Sanity was a roaring success! De facto, it succeeded in restoring sanity. I attended. I rode the metro with my face smash-stuck to the door window. I am 'old,' so I don't fit the profile of other attendees. I was heartened by the bright and hopeful young people I observed there. The fact is that the crowd was calm, respectful, reasonable, polite and sophisticated...all the things we like to think about ourselves as Americans. I did not see one AK47 strapped to anyone, just because. I did not see one misspelled sign. I did not hear one cross word or any bullying language in the crowd. So, yes, in my opinion, the rally was an overwhelming success. Those of us out here who are too busy for the shenanigans, and who don't wish to see our nation regress, were heard loud and clear. We agree that there are diverse opinions everywhere we turn. But we also agree that every day we work side by side with those whose opinions differ from our own, and we GET THINGS DONE! Why can't our elected government and our media honor this and act accordingly. Last note...a lot of the signs at the rally were outstanding! To quote just one...FORWARD NOT BECKWARD! And that's not a spelling error!

    November 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cazart

    You know where the WORST POSSIBLE PLACE to talk about "sanity" is? A CNN comments thread.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tweety

      HAHA. Aaaaaaaaaand we're done!

      November 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy


      November 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bmwhite

    First of all... I was not there. But I watched the event on TV.

    My impression is that Colbert is a genius. Lately, he has used his comedy routine to show us how our politicians have failed us. (that was the purpose of his speech before Congress a few months ago).

    Now, he used the event that he cohosted with John Stewart to show that a lot of Americans are afraid of where we are headed. "Fear Awards" anyone?)

    This format was a success because it attracted a younger crowd who might not have gone to a rally with Sarah Palin or Joe Biden. And ultimately, my favorite part was when Stewart equated his idea of politics to drivers merging at a tunnel entrance, the message: we should work together, not be one of those jerks who cuts the shoulder in self centered indifference like most politicians do now. Well done guys.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Deacon Gray

    Colbert and Stewart are funny, but the very fact that the libs are turning to Comedy central for political leadership says enough for me. Frankin, Stewart, and Colbert…Michael Moore…Of them all only Colbert is worth much in my book, the rest arrogant, elitist and annoying.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • B Parker

      I couldn't agree more... What a disappointing trend in American culture, that we have begun looking to fictional characters for leadership. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

      November 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy

      "Elitist" do know that Colbert's conservative persona is an act?? 🙂

      November 3, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. msemon

    This is more positive than Glen Beck and the Tea Party people restoring insanity to the political process. They are like anti-matter. Everything positive they come in contact with they have to destroy.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Midwestmatt

    No matter what comes of this, this rally is a wake up call to the right wing extremists who think because they're getting tons of media coverage that they are the only voices in America.

    That would be one more thing they're getting wrong on a long list of very wrong things they're doing to America.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Matt

    I attended both rallies (Beck's and Stewart's) with my immediate (children) and extended families (siblings). Collectively, we agreed on the following. People attending the Beck rally were aware of what the rally was about in advance, bought into it for the collective message, heard a structured message, and left with a keener sense of what they could do as individuals to improve our country. People attending the Stewart rally were not aware of what the rally was about in advance, saw it as another venue to express individualism, had no clue what the message was about because there was none, and left with the same unkeen sense of what they could do as individuals to improve the country. At Beck, the attendees payed attention to the venue , do not perceive themselves as the center of attetion, and it was evident they were loyal and patriotic. At Stewart, the attendees see themselves as the center and paid little or no quarter to the venue (there was no reason to pay attention). Loyalty and patriotism was absent. Both rallies had more attendees than expected, and the attendees were well mannered, and predominately caucasion. Neither rally represented a moderate political view as such does not exist in our Country.

    Most rational people that attended both rallies as my family did would have notice and concluded the same, as well as easily determine which rally demographic is holding up our society for the benefit of all, despite the other.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • B Parker

      Nice to have the compare/contrast from someone who attended both events... Interestingly, you could've drawn the same conclusion by looking at photos from each.

      November 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • I was there

      I also attended both rallies (seeing as it is an easy 8 block walk for myself) and I tend to disagree with your assessment of the rallies. I cannot say so matter-of-factly (as you did) that there was a well-defined purpose to Beck's rally, at least in comparison to Stewart's. I did not really know what to expect from either of the rallies going into them. However, I can say with a great amount of certainty that while both crowds may have been predominantly caucasian (no surprise considering the fact that the United States is a majority caucasian), the crowd at Stewart's rally was leaps and bounds more heterogenous than Beck's was in terms of ideals, beliefs, and viewpoints, and yet I felt coming out of Stewart's rally that there was so much more unity amongst those who had attended and that I could do so much more to help this country than I felt coming out of Beck's. As well, I could not disagree more with you regarding your statement: "Loyalty and patriotism was absent" at the Stewart rally. First I question to what was the Beck crowd more loyal to than the Stewart crowd? And secondly, when the four soldiers came out to sing the National Anthem and at the end of it, one of the soldiers exclaimed that this rally and the people there were the reasons why they fought, I was almost brought to tears. I felt so proud to live in this country, and talking to everyone throughout the event, I think the very same notion was shared by all. You just blanketly pronouncing that there was no loyalty or patriotism does not make that statement close to being accurate. And finally, to address your idea that there is no moderate ideology in this country- I would wager every cent I have ever earned in my life that if we created a multi-party system here in America and you put the Center-Left and the Center-Right parties up against the Christian Conservative Party (i.e. far-right party) and the Socialist Party (i.e. far-right party), the two Center parties would come away with an overwhelming majority. Being a moderate or a centrist does not mean that every stance you have on every issue is an in-between and passive one. Being a moderate or a centrist is having strong and well-developed stances on every issue that, when combined, cannot be neatly placed into one of our only two parties.

      November 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      To I Was There:
      We will have to respectively disagree on the racial mix at both rallies. Neither rally had close to 10% representation of Blacks, nor the same for Hispanics. The point being, neither rally appeared to resonate with american minorities.

      From a patriotism standpoint, though the Stewart rally did have elements of patriotism and collectivism in the presentation as you noted, it was not a underlying theme embraced by the attendees. Stewart and Colbert may have been the only ones dressed in the stars and stripes in the 200K+ that attended, and few attendees were even wearing colors intentionally to express patriotism. As you know, at Becks rally, the patriotism was a central message, and many attendees expressed that in their attire.

      Let me share two distinct ecperiences of my children from each rally that have left an impression on them, which also clearly distinguish the atmosphere and culture of the each rally. Beck dwelled upon a concpet of each individual being capable of things much bigger than themselves. He tied that in with the 'man with a stick' metaphor originating with the story of Moses. My 8 year old son repurposed a discarded wood dowel from an American flag he found in a waste can as a 'stick'. As we were leaving the rally, an elderly man saw my son carrying the stick as a staff and mentioned to my Son. "now there is a man with a stick". My son's eyes lit up and he smiled. He brought the stick home. Conversely, at the Stewart rally, many came with 'sticks' in hand carrying their individual message (their hand held signs). Many were beyond his comprehension due to his own innocence; however, far too many were inappropriate The one sign he pointed out to me and asked for an explanation was one that said 'I am here for the Gang Bang".

      Two Rallies, same place, and only two months apart.

      November 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsFizzy

      Oh, brother. What I get is that Matt doesn't seem to like that he wasn't told what to think or feel at the Sanity rally, or that it wasn't like taking his kids to Disneyland! And then you pick out one offensive sign out of thousands of ADULT's signs, not designed exclusively for the entertainment of your children, and typify all the attendees by it ...of course. I don't think you got the message. You saw what you wanted to see in both of them.

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