In the weeks leading up to his Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Jon Stewart was purposely vague about its lineup, promising just one thing: It would not be a political event. He was right — not a single Member of Congress or political operative was involved in the festivities Saturday.
Instead, politics took a backseat to music, comedy and a hearty amount of media criticism.
Celebrities from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Kid Rock to R2D2 took the stage to help satirical Comedy Central hosts Stewart and Stephen Colbert entertain a massive crowd that packed the National Mall and surrounding streets.
A politician’s name didn’t even come up until nearly two hours into the event, when Stewart, in introducing singers Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples, joked that they are from Chicago, “which means they were both probably cursed out by” fiery-tempered former White House Chief of Staff and ex-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D), who is running to be the Windy City’s next mayor.
Later in the event, Colbert showcased a video montage of hyperbolic television hosts and pundits making inflammatory statements, which included a clip of former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), now a regular Fox News guest, and another of freshman Rep. Alan Grayson saying in a September 2009 floor speech that “Republicans want you to die quickly.”
Grayson, a first-term Democrat, is locked in a competitive race to retain his 8th district seat in Florida. His outspoken style put him high on the GOP target list, and CQ Politics rates the race Leans Republican.
One of Stewart’s “Medals for Reasonableness” went to Velma Hart, a woman who asked President Barack Obama tough questions in a respectful way at a recent CNBC town hall.
Some rally attendees held signs supporting their preferred candidate, like Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who is in a neck-in-neck race in Wisconsin. Other signs mocked candidates, like one that said on one side, “We Came All the Way From Kentucky,” and on the other side read, “ To Escape Rand Paul,” the GOP’s Senate contender in that state.
But most signs reflected the tone of the rally itself: satire. “God Hates Snuggies,” “This Sign Probably Won’t Change Your Opinion,” and the Stewart-suggested “While I May Disagree With You, I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Hitler,” were a few.
And though most signs conveyed a liberal bent, Stewart himself touted no policy, hyped no ideology and plugged no candidates. He didn’t even tell people to vote.
But a message seeped through the satire as Colbert played his usual overstated fear-mongering pundit to Stewart’s levelheaded, intelligent comic foil. That message, as expected, was to be sensible.
“Everyone has the right to be patriotic,” Stewart said at one point, when Colbert accused him of being a copycat for wearing an American flag fleece. “Let’s not fight about who’s more American that someone else.”
Later, Stewart turned his indignation more generally to Washington, D.C.
“We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate,” he said. “The truth is, we work together to get things done, every damn day.”
“The only place we don’t is here,” he continued, pointing behind him to the Capitol, “or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here, or on cable TV.”
The bulk of Stewart’s ire fell on the media, or as he called it, the “Political Pundit Perpetual Panic Conflictinator,” which “did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.”
“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” he said.