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. SkinnerMan

    It is easy to take jabs at our government.... as colbert/stewart do. Problem is, they think government is the solution! They maintain the faith that somehow, our government is going to "get smart" (or moderate or sane or whatever) and start solving problems! That is crazy! They notice that our government is populated by clowns (that's fair), but then they are statist leftists who are of the belief that this will change! strange behavior

    November 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      It wasn't government that they were taking jabs at, it was the media's portrayal of the American people as either being extreme liberals or extreme conservatives. They were trying to give a voice to the majority of us who live in the middle. If politicians would stop focusing on pandering to extremists and start speaking up for the centrists they'd all be able to get a lot more done. There's a lot more common ground in the middle than there is on the far right or the far left. So long as the media continues to focus only on the extremists, politicians will too because it's what gets them the most attention (which is what they need to votes).

      November 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. HV

    I think that saying that the rally was only a "comedic" success but did not "galvanize an unexcited Democratic youth movement" is beside the point. From what I understood (as a spectator), the intention of the rally was to incite people to start having a level-headed, informed, rational conversation about issues. As such, it would have been inappropriate to attempt to use liberal rhetoric to sway the crowd to one side or another. I left the rally thirsty for a media that embraces intelligent debates, multiple perspectives, and the willingness to explain statistics rather than simply provide them.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. player2099

    It was a great rally. Stewart did what was expected a with a little added extra.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jason

    "I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived. And that is the most important topic on earth: peace. What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children - not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time."

    -President John F. Kennedy

    November 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ben

    Please stop acting like this was anything other than a partisan rally with better entertainment and drugs.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • GenericCereal

      ...and grammatically correct signage.

      November 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • MMcC1013

      ...and fewer references to deities, tenets, sins, commandments, absolution, guilt, jihad, worship, crusades, wickedness and evil.

      November 1, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katryn

      Wait, there were drugs? Why didn't I get any?

      November 1, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chris

    It made the angry people mad, so mission accomplished!

    November 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bes

    At least the show was better than Beck's!

    November 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. josh

    What needs to happen is that one newschannel (CNN?) breaks the cycle of the 24 hours newsstream and gets rid of all analysts. That news channel should do a 30 minute newscast every 2-3 hours where the news is presented as it is without any noise creating opinions of the analysts/reporters. It works in Europe, why not in the US? So people could actually just tune in for the news and create an opinion on the news by themselves.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lee

    I loved watching the Rally. It was well put together, funny and made people happy. I'm guessing some of the politicians are worried just a little bit.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dinae

    For me this rally reminded me that the opposing party is not my enemy, but fellow Americans with a different viewpoint. I think that was the point of the rally, and for me it hit home.

    November 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. conoclast

    '...extreme views of the far right and far left?' We all know the extremist views of the far right - but what about the left? Just where are all these extreme lefties? They don't have a tea-party nor a FoxNews to regurgitate mindlessly; are they all secretly worshipping Karl Marx on their coffee breaks? Somehow I don't sense a threat here - not anything even resembling the threat the fascist right-wing poses!

    November 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • ss

      Have you ever watched Olbermann, Maddow and Matthews? Wouldn't you consider THEM to be hateful and extreme? Oh, by the way, that is MSNBC.

      November 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • B Parker

      You must've missed the 10.02.10 Rally hosted by the Left last month... The American Communist Party and Unions were very clear about what they intend to bring to our political system. If you don't think that's "extreme" you need to look again... Our current Administration has passed a number of policies that cause GREAT HARM to the American people – how'd you miss that one?

      November 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. B Parker

    Wow – mention Glenn Beck and watch the dogs attack! Just goes to show which segment of the population still considers CNN a reliable news source. Too bad all these same people don't read any other political articles or you'd probably realize just how dire our situation is right now...

    Tomorrow the smart people will be out vote – and we'll put a stop to all this nonsense in Washington.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • SGT J

      "The Country is in hard times, not end times" ~Jon Stewart.

      Thats the problem with you conservatives. You preach fire and brimstone and make everyone think were on the edge of collapse, and you don't even acknowledge that it was your leaders that put us in the situation we're in. Obama, while not perfect, has been working to get us out of the trouble that conservatives put us in. Give sanity a chance.

      November 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • B Parker

      That's the funny part about the Left... Selective memory. I keep hearing that the Repubs drove the country into an economic disaster – let's look at that a little closer, shall we?

      Since JFK took office 49yrs ago, the Democrats have held the majority in Congress for 37yrs (75.5% of the time).
      Since FDR took office 78yrs ago, the Democrats have held the majority in Congress for 61yrs (78% of the time).

      History proves your assessment wrong – besides, both parties acknowledge who is responsible for passing the piles of welfare programs that are slowly bankrupting the country... FDR, JFK, Carter, Clinton and our newest favorite – Obama.

      November 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jimbob mcgee

    i just killed a cat with a hammer.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ryan

    "I don't agree with you, but I don't think you are Hitler" or "Obama isn't a Nazi."

    Those are pretty good statements I believe. The rhetoric on both sides is way too extreme. I don't believe Pelosi bathes in babys blood though I may disagree with her and I do not believe that Obama wants death panels to terminate my grandparents anymore than I believe someone like Joe Sestak who I served under, is against freedom. I don't think that John Boehner wants to hand wal-street the keys to the kingdom and not see that Americans best interests are met (he does need to ease off the tan though), I do not believe 9-11 was an inside job by the Bush administration, nor do I believe that the republican who won the former Kennedy seat in Mass. likes women to be abused as Olberman would have told you.

    This is the pull of the media, to fill a 24 hour news cycle and entertain, Stewart is a bit liberal for me in some respects but he has honest and genuine discourse and does it with humor, things that people take way to seriously, tend to be things that need some fun poked at them. I applaud these two for the message they send and the way they sent it, I think that we need to tone things down and work together, it is absolutely critical for this nation to do that, we have real problems and need pragmatic and realistic answers. The news agencies are becoming Orwellian propaganda in some respects.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. doc fallin

    I believe the "rally" served its promote an open discussion about our politics, with out condemning the opposing veiws held by other's. The shouting from the edges have drowned out the majority. who will all ways support "the american way of life"....WE are still here,if you'll quiet down a bit, and listen.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
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