Is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity Apolitical? Why Is Jon Stewart Pretending the Rally to Restore Sanity Is Apolitical? Is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity Apolitical? Why Is Jon Stewart Pretending the Rally to Restore Sanity Is Apolitical?
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Is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity Apolitical? Why Is Jon Stewart Pretending the Rally to Restore Sanity Is Apolitical?

by Emily Badger

October 31, 2010

Jon Stewart’s been working hard for the last month to keep things apolitical with his Million Moderate March on the National Mall tomorrow. He put a conservative Miss Georgia contestant on the Sanity Bus. He made fun of the Code Pink ladies, who are heroes among the anti-war left. He even went out of his way to uninvite not just the Obama’s-a-secret-Muslim-socialist assault-rifle toters, but the 9/11-was-an-inside-job lefty loons as well.

Because, you know, this isn’t a rally for the extreme screamers! (Wait, tone down that explanation point.) It’s a rally for people who don’t have time for rallies. For the “70-80-percenters.” For the people who want their “inside voices” to be heard. Never mind “left” and “right.”

But, of course, Glenn Beck said something awfully similar about a big Washington rally that also really (supposedly) had nothing to do with politics. And if Stewart himself didn’t buy Beck’s line, why would anyone believe his?

He’s got us hooked going into Saturday on this puzzler: Is it even possible to hold an apolitical event celebrating moderates of all political stripes on the National Mall? And is Jon Stewart really the guy to lead it? These days, absolutely everything is politicized—especially events that make a great self-conscious effort of insisting they're not political—so perhaps the type of rally Stewart has in mind just isn’t possible.

Or, for many people planning to attend, is this really a celebration of the idea that the only truly sane people in America are, after all, the liberals?

Progressives who have co-opted the event are certainly acting that way. Fresh out of ideas for the midterm elections on Tuesday, they’ve embraced the event as their own. Arianna Huffington is bussing people into town. Oprah Winfrey is fronting an army as well. None of which really aids Stewart’s case that mild-mannered conservatives are welcome too, and that they have more in common with busy left-of-center moderates than they do Tea Party folks who share their same party registration.

Then there is the simple fact that, despite Stewart’s occasional potshots at the president, he’s an undeniably left-leaning guy himself (albeit one more capable of spying hypocrisy in his own ranks than the average progressive activist). And it doesn’t really count as a counterbalancing force when the lone conservative on stage Saturday—Stephen Colbert—will be a fake one.

In another mixed message, The Daily Show gave the president a 30-minute platform this week to make closing arguments before next Tuesday's election. It was hard to escape the impression that Obama was not speaking to the nation as a whole—as he might do behind his Oval Office desk, on a network TV simulcast—but was rather stumping for Democrats to a Democratic audience. If he spoke to his critics at all, it was to those, like Stewart himself, who viewed the health care bill as "too timid."

As Stewart put it to the president: Are we the people we’ve been waiting for after all? The “we,” of course, includes Stewart himself. So is it possible for him to give Obama a “mug force one” on Wednesday, then turn around a few days later to emcee the nation’s largest apolitical gathering of moderates from all sides who really just want to be sane and respectful together?

Fox News followers are suspicious. A friend told me his parents, who are Beck viewers, were in town this week, and his plans to attend the rally came up over dinner.

“I heard about that!” his mother said. “That’s making fun of Glenn Beck’s rally?”

He scrambled for a minute. “It’s really making fun of all political rallies.”

Hard to say if his parents were convinced. “They are very sweet,” he insists, trying to explain why he comes from people who watch Fox News in the first place.

Folks in Washington are also clearly suspicious, because NPR won’t let its employees go. The Washington Post issued a terse warning as well. They’re skittish about the appearance of bias, although it’s not entirely clear what bias anyone might be exposing by showing up.

GOOD, meanwhile, is happy for me to admit that while I don’t get whether this is a political event or not, I’ll be showing up unconcerned with what it says about me—and I’m even having a little sign-making party tonight. ’Cause that’ll be fun, too.

We’re thinking of one that says: “My parents are Republicans, but I still think they’re sweet.”  
 

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Is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity Apolitical? Why Is Jon Stewart Pretending the Rally to Restore Sanity Is Apolitical?