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. lance corporal

    I had a beautiful day, took the day off(I needed it) smoked some good ganja with my wife, had a nice brunch and watched the rally all day, a rare day of TV, kicked back on the couch (I felt so in tune w/ heartland america..) it was fun, funny and at times inspiring, the music was good, the roots where great (kickin bass player) I didn't learn anything but I already agree with their POV on this so I wasn't expecting to, the deflating the puppet imagery at the end didn't go off all that well but the point was pretty obvious and kudos to colbert for playing the loser as it should be, this was jons day and I thought he did it in his usual low key but powerful wonderful way .....oh and having the O jays and mavis staples was amazing!!!

    November 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • B Parker

      Of course... It's all clear now! I just needed to wait for the "ganja" smoke to clear!
      That last post paints a picture of who you are without any further explanation needed.

      I understand why you're so confused.

      November 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • lance corporal

      of course you are, that is what you do, go for any side issue or any way you can dismiss what you can't argue, whatever, progress is happening, you and yours slow it down a bit, that's all, enjoy your self satisfaction as your country is stolen from you

      November 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Seth

    The number one goal of the rally was achieved, I think. Punditry the world around has no idea what to make of the rally. The spin doctors have been staying up for the last two days desperate to find a soundbite to take out of context or an ulterior motive to try and create drama where no drama really exists or needs to exist. In that way the rally has shown that televised news media has, for all intents and purposes, become entertainment to an even greater extent than the Daily Show has become a news program. The lack of a strong political message IS the message; idealism tempered with pragmatism, not idealism at all costs.

    November 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Wil

    All Stewart and Colbert can do is make a point. It is up to the American people to decide if they want sanity.

    November 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kiel

    The tone of these comments are sad. So many of the people posting are pointing fingers and name calling because other people viewed the rally differently. "We can have animus without being enemies."

    Just because someone didn't appreciate the rally, doesn't mean they don't have a GED, and just because someone else did doesn't make them radical/leftist/liberals. No one person has the all the answers. We should celebrate and explore our ideological differences instead of demonize each other for them.

    November 1, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LLS in Highland MI

    it was a comedy show outside and abit of a concert if you care for those musicians...... that's it.

    November 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lindsey

    I agree with Russell Bishop- in fact, I am a civics teacher and I gave the students the text of the speech to read for homework tonight!

    November 1, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JR

    I too attended the rally. I attended with four of my best pals. We had a marvelous time. I left DC believing that we can bring civility back to the center. The sun was shining, folks were polite, the music terrific and the crowd was engaged and civil. Mr. Madison believed the nation would undergo revolution on a regular basis – strong debate is the life blood of the republic. I am not Hitler, I am not a Communist, I am not a member of a fringe group – I do however want well-funded safe schools, reasonable access to health care and pharmaceuticals and Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in office. We need to embrace difference.

    November 1, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      I agree....I just want people in office who can actually solve problems. If they don't have a solution to the problems we have then they shouldn't be running for office. If you want a certain set of problems solved then people should try to elect people with the skill sets to do them. An artist may be a better public speaker and more liked then other people, but would you ever hire one to fix your car?

      If your state or local area is having financial problems like so many other places, try voting for someone who actually has a background in finances or with money. You might actually get some results that way.

      November 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lucy2

    If Politico and others thought this was supposed to be some Democrat youth rally, they completely missed the point. Shocker.
    I wasn't able to go but watched on TV and had a few friends who attended – it looked like a fun time, and a chance for the vast majority people who aren't the extremists or the fringe to have a bit of a voice, and show that it's possible to get along and respect each other, even if we disagree – something the ratings hungry (and ego driven) pundits on all sides don't want to show.
    Stewart's speech was great – I'm glad we have people like him willing to point out the ridiculousness of the 24/7 news cycle, even if it's done through humor and satire.

    November 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chicago Jim

    Didn't watch because asking John Steward to bring together both sides is like asking O'Rielly to do it, it just doesn't work. They should have used someone who isn't as identified with a political party, like conan or vince vaughn.

    November 1, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • B Parker

      That is a good observation.

      November 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • lance corporal

      connan and vaugnn are dems. comparing stewart to O reilly is ridiculous

      November 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • KT

      I'm glad I'm grounded enough to know you say this only because you're threatened by moderates, and you can't and aren't willing to TRY to understand them. Nobody asked Jon Stewart to hold the rally. Is it hard for you to believe that an American would want to hold an event to entertain and give voices to the rather large group of his fellow citizns, who are under-represented and whose voices go unheard? Yeah, I guess to be facetious I could agree with you that Jon had such awful intentions and really just wanted to ruin your day. Get a life. I'm going to go get back to mine.

      November 4, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bettina

    I braved the crowds and attended the rally on Saturday. The great majority of people were exactly the moderates John Stewart was trying to attract. At most about 5% of the people were either dressed up in costumes or carrying more controversial political signs. Not surprisingly, these were the people that most of the media photographed and interviewed. Most people were normally dressed, friendly, un-confrontational people who came to enjoy the show and the company of like-minded moderates.

    It was certainly not an event that changes a generation or inspires masses of people to vote that otherwise wouldn't. However, it was very nice to attend an event that wasn't based on exaggerated rhetoric and over-the-top sound bites. It reminded us of the fact that the silent majority of most generations and on either side of the political spectrum are moderates and that ones voice doesn't have to be shrill to be heard.

    The only complaint I have about the event is that it was not well organized for such a large crowd. People farther back had trouble hearing or seeing anything that was going on and crowd control was minimal since a large fraction of people spend nearly an hour milling around the crowd to eventually find some place to stand. Well, what do you expect for a rally organized by a couple of comedians...

    November 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tyler

      As a reply to your complaint, that is true. But when Stewart applied for the permit he estimated 60,000 people would attend, not 250,000. That is why there was a minimal number of jumbotrons and speakers because it was for 60,000 people. Had they known they'd be hosting a huge event that many people could connect to and learn from, they would have been better prepared.

      November 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tim

    I found it a nice break in all the hateful ads that have been going on. And I agree that most people are doing their best to get through a tough time. People aren't scared of every little thing that the media usually drastically portrays in the news. My only hope is that as many people get out and vote as possible. And that they vote not because they are angry, not because some specific program isn't working for them or helping them directly. But they cast their vote because they believe it is the best choice for America as a whole. "Don't ask what your country can do for you, Ask what you can do for your country." And right now sending the right people to solve the problems we have is more important then ever.

    November 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. babs

    they are loosers and jokes. the people will speak in this election

    November 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. the_dude

    Well since jon stewert is a card carrying member of the obama socialist party i'm sure cnn will declare this a win for the democrats and other anti-americans.

    November 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terry

      Last time I checked you could be an American and belong to whatever party you wished....Democrat, republinazi, socialist, communist, green, etc etc

      November 1, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • lance corporal

      thanks for the comment that proves the point

      November 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hudson

      First of all, I want to say shame on you for calling yourself the Dude, the Big Lobowski would be ashamed. Also, you've shown your true Teabagger color by not even bothering to learn how to spell the last name 'Stewart' in an article about him. Third, Teabaggers leave a bad taste in my mouth

      November 4, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. nirlagn

    Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are going to play the political arena in a way never seen before. This is going to be their own party, one that talks sanity and fear with music greats and respected talent. Sarah Palin has the Tea Party whereby Jon and Stephen have That 70's Party. These guys crack me up!

    November 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • nirlagn

      I am going to copywrite that last comment.

      November 1, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JimT

    So, from the comments I've learned this. The right and left, repubs and dems, are both right and wrong all the time. Both sides seem to be able to twist facts to fit their needs, right? So, if this is the case then lets keep them all in office forever since it isn't going to matter. They are all good and all bad all at the same time.

    November 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • lance corporal

      THAT'S what you got??? wow, cynicism is tempting I know but....

      November 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
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