Next month, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will trade the television studio for the National Mall, holding simultaneous political demonstrations in the nation’s capital. Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” invites people to “bring their indoor voice” and join a national “call to reasonableness.” Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek competition rally, the “March to Keep Fear Alive,” satirizes the ridiculousness of Tea-Party-style political discourse and parodies exactly that to which Stewart’s message provides a response.
I will be attending these rallies, and many other Yalies will be going with me. I believe that the Stewart-Colbert demonstration will prove to be one of the most important political events of the year, not just for its impact on the election that will occur the week after it, but — perhaps even more importantly — for its role in the continued development of the American political consciousness over the next decade.
In the era of the Tea Party, the ability of moderates and progressives to just discuss our ideas within the political discourse has been severely curtailed by the rise of fear-driven, scapegoating, extremist ideologies. Across the political spectrum, moderate or non-Tea-Party Republicans are also finding their public voices out-shouted by well-organized reactionary noise campaigns. No matter what perspective these rhetorical excesses come from, they are detrimental to the broader discourse. The political climate hits the left doubly hard, for many among us have been discouraged by the compromises of the Obama administration and the failures of the Democratic Congress to fully pursue the principles of its constituents. It is precisely for this reason that recent polling shows that liberals are less likely to vote in the coming election than conservatives.
We’re burnt out. We’re disillusioned. We’re sick of it.
That’s why the rally matters. Over the past year, Stewart and Colbert have blurred the line between entertainer and political figure. For better or for worse, they have thrown their hats into the ring — not the electoral ring proper but the broader national conversation that defines how issues are framed, what policies are even considered and how constituents relate to their representatives. In the ancient tradition of the court jester, the “comedians” have wielded the weapons of wit to great political effect.
In doing so, Stewart and Colbert have positioned themselves as leaders in an emerging national movement of reasonable people who wish that we could all disagree without drawing Hitler mustaches on each other or praying for the deaths of our political enemies. They are at the forefront of a new understanding of the relationship between media, entertainment and politics that will prove to be incredibly formative for the nature of American discourse and the process of how issues are discussed and policies enacted. And it is critical that Yalies be engaged in the development of this new American political consciousness, a consciousness that is emerging as a direct response to the flagrant excesses, which would be humorous were they not so dangerous, of the Tea Party and its methods.
Some have criticized the rally from distracting people from more “serious” electoral work, such as phonebanking, canvassing and other Get Out the Vote drives. While it’s true that those at the rally won’t be getting out the vote for a few hours, in the end, I believe that is likely to have only a positive effect on the issues that Yalies care about.
First, the Stewart-Colbert rally is perhaps the greatest hope, not just for presenting a creative national response to Tea-Party-style ridiculousness, but also for energizing tired and disillusioned progressives to vote in the November elections and reenter the political arena. As such, it is part and parcel of a broader national process that is inclusive of more traditional GOTV initiatives, and complements — rather than detracts from — those efforts. Charismatic figures like Stewart and Colbert have real potential to create grassroots energy at these critical last moments before the election.
In addition, on our campus, “Yalies for Sanity and Truthiness,” a group I co-founded around the rally, plans to channel their own political energy — ignited by Stewart and Colbert — into GOTV work. The vast majority of those who have contacted us to express interest in attending the rally are not people normally involved in local electoral work, and it is our hope that the occasion of the rally will provide us with the opportunity to bring new people into the exciting and well-organized GOTV efforts that are already being planned.
It is sad that American political discourse has degenerated to the point where this rally is so desperately needed. But it is fortunate indeed that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have taken up the call — the call to restore sanity, to bring reasonableness back into our national conversation and to preserve mutual respect despite deeply held disagreements. Nothing is more important for the future of the American people than a political environment in which voices do not have to be raised to be heard, and it is a privilege to be involved in connecting Yalies to the movement that will bring that about. I invite you to join me in Washington, D.C., as we (in Stewart’s words) “take it down a notch for America.” Just bring your indoor voice.