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. Rick in L.A.

    Will the last Tea Party moron and Right Wing nutcase please hit the lights on their way out?
    Stephen Colbert is a true one-of-a-kind genius. Even the people he ridicules don't realize it. Sanity? Maybe. Truthiness? Undoubtedly.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mark

    I wonder who John Stewart uses for his wealth management?

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

    For the record: Ozzy was w/Black Sabbath.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mark

    I wonder who Stephen Colbert uses for his wealth management?

    November 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      I don't know. Who do you think Glen Beck or Bill O'Reily use for their wealth management?

      November 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. randy

    While I didn't watch Beck because I think he is a crazy person...I loved Jon Stewarts rally. It's easy to understand why the media focuses on the extremes ...because the extremes are not the boring middle. We'll see what the majority thinks tomorrow...Even though the repubs have no respect for the majority, maybe this will be the beginning of the end for the establisnment on both sides. One can only hope...and vote.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mslexie

    I don't think that Jon and Steven lean to the left, I think the right has more to make fun of and are more corrupt. Everyone in the country should watch the show. They are so good at research. Had some great clips of McCain going back DECADES saying how screwed up our government was. It was hysterical. Guess he hasn't done much to help it.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bpwilldo

    I'm older than most of you, I suspect. I've had time to reflect. There has always been the cake. Some of the legislation from 4 and 5 decades ago changed the cake quite a bit. Nowadays, our elections don't even change the flavor of the icing. Even if they did, the cake would remain unchanged. You guys argue about what is essentially an illusion. Take a look at the bigger picture and compare to your everyday lives. You probably won't see any difference no matter who is in charge.

    I haven't read all the comments. However, I do find it quite comical about what folks are arguing about.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JACK RUSSELL TERRIER

    Stewart, Colbert, Ozzie Osborne, have DEEP BANK ACCOUNTS, HEALTH INSURANCE, BIG HOMES TO LIVE AND STEADY INCOMES. I would love to see how they would handle their sanity in the REAL WORLD where people like myself and members of my family have lost jobs, are on cobra insurance or none at all and are on unemployment hoping that we have enough money to cover our mortgage. It’s easy to say stay sane when you're looking out from a mansion eating Almas Iranian caviar, and drinking Cristal Brut 1990 “Methuselah".

    November 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • bpwilldo

      Watch Winter's Bone and you see what happens.

      November 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      What do you think Glen Beck and Sarah Pailin live in, Hoovervilles? It would seem to me that when times are the hardest keeping your sanity becomes all the more important. How are you supposed to get out of a bad situation if you can't think rationally?

      November 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katryn

      ALL the politicians and pundits make far more money than you or I will ever see. But just think how much worse off you and the rest of us would be without progressive, liberal safety nets like unemployment insurance, social security, and Medicare/Medicaid.

      When I was unemployed for a year, I used my savings and cashed out my 401k to survive - no government benefits. If you really think Glenn Beck and his ilk have it right, stop accepting unemployment payments and pull yourself up by your bootstraps!

      November 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dan

    I was at the rally and two things:
    1. It wasn't about a partisan message – there were Democrats, Republicans and everyone in between. For Politico to come out and say it was a missed opportunity is completely misrepresenting what Stewart has said all along was the point of the rally. It wasn't about galvanizing a political base, but galvanizing people to stop listening to the 24-hour political pundits who portray themselves as news. It was about how 215,000 people (plus however-many watched from homes or where ever) just wanted to work together to fix what is wrong with this country. The traffic metaphor at the end of his speech described the intent and the achievement of the rally perfectly.
    2. For a town with a reputation of "me first" and screw the little guy, the vibe was completely different. We had a small blanket to sit down on during the rally. Once things got underway and people started filing in, there was no way we could remain seated. So, with no where else to stand, we stood on the blanket. As people started moving about the crowd at particular points, no one would walk on our blanket – despite the fact there were four people with their dirty shoes standing on it. We practically had to beg people to walk across our blanket instead of attempting some weird limbo thing in the 3 inches of solid ground between the people in front of us and the blanket on the ground. To have people say, "We don't want to get your blanket dirty," instead of taking a path of least resistance, shows that the greed and divisiveness that is plaguing our county isn't inside everyone everywhere. If it lasts, that's fantastic, but at least for one day in October 2010, nearly a quarter-million people in one of the most self-centered cities in the country came together and were incredibly courteous to each other.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mslexie

    Btw, watched the rally on tv. It was very patriotic. When the "4 Troops" sang the Star Spangled Banner, it was amazing. I think even Jon Stewart got choked up. I don't get swayed either way watching "The Daily Show." I watch it because it is a great emmy winning show and funnier then heck. I don't need to watch any idiot on telling me what to think. I have a mind of my own. Don't need some big fat white men telling me what to think. I'm not that stupid. I hope O'Reilly is eating his words,although he is not one of the big fat white men more tall and thin. He told Jon Stewart that noone was going to show up at the rally. Like Eddie Bunker said "Make you eat your words, lick your fingers, too."

    November 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Suz

    I wish I could have gone, but I'm glad to see that the rally is creating dialogue about the screwed-up mechanics of the way politics work nowadays. I think that's a great start!

    November 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry rules

      It's working. China is backing down on their rhetoric, because they fear a united America, whereas before they were emboldened by our divisions. Even intent on manipulating them for their own gain. This is the start of the new American century where China will have to earn its place and not be handed it by luck of having millions of low wage earners.

      November 1, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Truthwillsetyoufree

    Bringing back sanity is out of the question. This world is broken and the cool thing is , its real obvious now where the mindsets are. I just hope someone is paying attention.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David Fields

    I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear). How could anyone find anything radical about it?–Tony Bennett is too extreme for people? How could anyone find it anything but Patriotic? Thousands and thousands of people came from across the country–Amtrack was jammed, as were the subways. It was spectacular. Stunning. Intriguing–love the Myth-Buster guys and the wave (people working together–in case the symbolism was missed). If they do it again in 2012, I think they will need a place which can hold a million people–so many of my friends are now disppointed they did not go.

    November 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      I was there as well. It was so much fun! Everyone was so nice to eachother and just had a good time. Most of the signs were just satire, poking fun at some of the ridiculousness of today's politics. There was absolutely nothing extreme about it. No one was screaming and yelling their political opinions. Nobody was bashing anyone. Nobody was campaigning for any politician.

      November 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue Laflamme

      We were there and are so glad that we went, it was great.

      November 1, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • BJC

      I went too. It just as you described. It was a plea to be reasonable. At the time, I thought it was a little too mild for my tastes, but in retrospect I found myself thinking about it a lot and appreciating its intelligent common-sense message. Very glad I went.

      November 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. stevie68a

    The message from the right will destroy this country. Let them stock up on food and weapons and lock them in their
    bunkers.
    Notice how it took comedians to show a middle ground that is not angry or weak.
    Republicans are most responsible for the mess we're in, and it will serve people right if they're voted back in, without
    giving Obama enough time to do much good. There was no tea party in 8 years of George Bush.

    November 1, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Becky

      I completely agree with you. So many people are quick to point the blame at the Obama administration, but they forget that the Bush administration is what lead us down the path where we are now.

      November 2, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. barbara carter

    My favorite part was when he addressed racisim as it relates to Sanchez...oh, how I miss him! Does CNN know racism when they see it? Firing Sanchez was not sane...especially after hiring Spitzer...OMG, doesn't it matter that you are a good guy? This Spitzer cheats on his wife and gets his own show? Time for me to change the channel...permanently!

    November 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
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