My problem with the Rally to Restore Sanity

This post was written by Owen on October 27, 2010
Posted Under: US Politics

Image: flickr/Torley

I’m a massive fan of the Daily Show. In the dark days of Dubya, it was a welcome – and all-too-rare – voice of sanity from the other side of the Atlantic, and since Obama took power it’s never been anything but on-target in its skewering of the hysterical reporting of Fox News and the rest of the batshit-crazy American right.

One of the best things about the programme is that it’s non-partisan, but rarely strives for ‘balance’ for its own sake; Jon Stewart is perfectly willing to attack Democrats and liberal commentators on MSNBC, and his arguments with senior Republicans who appear on his show as guests probably constitute some of the most constructive political dialogue currently on TV in the US, but this hasn’t compromised either Stewart’s or the programme’s liberal-left slant.

But when it comes to Stewart’s upcoming Rally to Restore Sanity (now merged with Stephen Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive to form the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear), I can’t bring myself to feel the same enthusiasm, and not just because it’s happening several thousand miles away. ‘We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat’, the rally’s website states. So the march is aimed at opposing both the Tea Partiers and their cheerleaders on the right, who are convinced Obama is a Kenyan-born communist Muslim Nazi and are all but calling for armed revolt on one side, and those on the left who…think the Iraq War was illegal, that the 2000 election was at best dodgy, and that the Tea Party movement is at least partly motivated by racism?

The simple fact is that there is no leftwing or liberal counterpart to the Tea Party in the US of anything like the same size, and it’s disingenuous to suggest there is. There are certainly cranks and conspiracy theorists, as there are among people of practically any political persuasion, but they’re a fairly insignificant minority. Suggesting otherwise is to fall into the false equivalence trap. It’s the same mistake the BBC makes when it feels the need to invite a climate change denier on the air whenever there’s a story about global warming. Combined with the fact that the event is billed as a rally ‘against extremism’, this implies that the most vocal political voices are also the most extreme (when American political discourse is skewed so far to the right that ‘liberal’ and ‘socialist’ have become synonymous), and that the most sensible place to be politically is somewhere between the two.

Jon Stewart isn’t a ‘moderate’; by American standards he’s definitely a man of the left (he’s even on record as describing himself as a socialist), but by painting the Rally as the quiet, sensible compromise between two insane extremes, he’s taking a position only slightly less facile than the crap the Tea Partiers come out with. Restoring civility to American politics isn’t a bad aim by any means, but suggesting that the problem is simply one of ‘extremism’ is deeply problematic.

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Reader Comments

I think the left have been very sniffy about this rally, which is a shame because it’s an extremely important counter-point to the extremes of the tea party movement and is aimed at attracting moderate republicans as well as those on the left.

Demonstrations are always aimed to achieve a specific objective – support for strikers, opposing a war, whatever. This rally has a specific purpose too that means it has to go well beyond the simple rhetoric of the left – it’s trying to restore real political debate.

There’s plenty of 9/11 conspiracists in the US and people who think calling Bush a Nazi was some sort of political contribution – I’m happy for anyone to say out loud that this was not useful and it puts the left in a harder position when arguing against ‘deathpanels’ and other myths put out by the right.

We’re in a position where the teaparty movement is either going to shift the right to the right, or split it down the middle (in much the way Ross Perot did in the 90′s). Appealing to the sane Republican voters not to support the disgraceful behaviour of the teaparty movement is the perfect way of making sure that movement ends up leaving the right in disarray.

The bigger picture is a lot more important than some of the jokes Stewart has elected to tell during the build up to the march.

Written By jim jepps on October 27th, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

The Tea Party movement seems to have a decent chance of tearing the Republican part apart with or without Stewart’s intervention, so I’m not sure he’ll make that much difference to ‘the bigger picture’, as you put it. My problem is that it’s disingenuous to pretend that there’s anything remotely comparable to a Tea Party counterpart on the American left. 9/11 ‘truthers’ are not exclusively of the left by any means, and those who called Bush a Nazi never had candidates who they sponsored winning congressional and gubernatorial primaries – they had nothing close to the power, influence or popular support the Tea Party enjoys. (They also didn’t have billionaires bankrolling them, but that’s another story.)

Written By Owen on October 28th, 2010 @ 10:56 pm

I’m a big fan of the Daily Show but always get the feeling that Stewart sometimes cops out of political arguments by saying “I’m just a comedian, my job is just to be funny” or words to that effect. But would it be better if he did nothing?

Written By EDDM on October 29th, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

But, Owen, I don’t think there needs to be an equivalent on the left for them to be between. I don’t think it’s a ‘being in the middle’ thing, it was about restoring nuance – making political debate a bit quieter such than anybody could be heard. The point is that no matter whether the left or the right do something, the media amplifies it so much that it becomes one big cacophony rather than any kins of debate. I mean, yes it was in repsonse to the Glenn Beck/Tea Party people etc, but it was also in large part about the place all the media has to play, being such a potentially destructive force.

I also think that Jon Stewart would take objection to being accused of describing all of the Tea Party movement of being extremists – did you listen to the speech he made?

Written By Rachael on October 31st, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

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