Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thoughts on Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

It was a great cause, even though Stewart couldn’t define the reason everyone showed up. It was just an attempt at an antidote at all the ridiculous BS that has been out there, but I really do think that Stewart did take Glenn Beck’s rally as a bit of the last straw.

The comedy was mostly tame or not all that funny. I found the “benediction” by Father Guido Sarducci pretty amusing, where he was asking God for a sign when, during a bit of a “roll call” of religions, he happened upon the right one. The music wasn’t much to my taste, I guess, but that was to be expected. At 55 years old, my tastes are not quite mainstream these days. I didn’t much care for the interruption of Yousef’s/Cat Steven’s song, Peace Train, by a Colbert running joke and bringing in Ozzie Osbourne. I mean, the concept was funny, but I would have rather heard the song. Colbert’s poem, read by Sam Waterston, was pretty damn funny.

But all of that isn’t what I was going to comment on. Stewart, when he was getting to the point of the rally, to “restore sanity” used video clips of people saying some pretty extreme things on both sides of the political spectrum, with a generous helping of mainstream media stupidity (e.g., CNN) to illustrate how out of whack our national discourse has become. I agree with all that. I am not pleased when someone on the left goes and says something that I actually might agree with, but they do it in a way that is bound to be incendiary. Joy Behar really had no reason to say that Christine O’Donnell was going to Hell. Jeez. Walking off the set of The View is fine when you are protesting something that Bill O’Reilly said, but then don’t go on and stay something incredibly stupid yourself! That’s just dumb. Keith Olbermann, even though I agree with most of what he talks about, can be just as bad. If you don’t want to look as bad as the people you are criticizing, don’t say inflammatory things. You can phrase things in a different way and make the same point. When you take the flamethrower approach, all you are going to do is make the other side accuse you of the same tactics that you are accusing them of.

So, I get Stewart’s point. Everyone needs to take it down several notches. Only Hitler was Hitler. No matter how much you disagree with the other guy on specifics, they are not “actively trying to destroy the United States.” So, fine. I got that point, and mostly agree.

But when conservatives and Republicans have constantly been accusing liberals and Democrats of everything from supporting terrorism to socialism to treason, with a huge dose of personal insult as they can dreg up, then after about 25 years, it gets to be too much to take. When conservatives have an entire “news” organization including a 24 hour, 7 day a week television channel devoted exclusively to tearing down anyone that doesn’t totally agree with them, then human nature starts to take over. As I have said at this blog before, eventually Ralphie fights back against the bully that has been terrorizing him all these years. (That’s a Christmas Story reference, if you didn’t get it.)

I thought some of the clips from MSNBC that Stewart used yesterday were taken a bit out of context and were not on the same level as the ones that he used from Fox News. I am really glad he didn’t use any clips from Rachael Maddow, as I see her as a genuine sane voice in the wilderness. Yes, MSNBC’s, The Ed Show is very much over the top and should be toned down. But for everyone of those examples you find on the left of the political spectrum, you can probably find 10 to 20 examples on the right.

So, sure. Let’s tone it down, people. Take a deep breath before you say something you know can be used as ammunition against you. But disarmament takes participation by both sides. If one side isn’t going to put down their weapons (not talking about real guns, just following along with the disarmament analogy), then you really can’t expect the other side to say, O.K., keep hitting us with your best shot. We are going to continue to sit here and take it. That’s a very unreasonable expectation.

So, thanks, Jon Stewart. That was a very good effort and may ultimately have some effect. But truly, I doubt it. The country is too far gone. The only thing that I believe will restore some sanity to our political discourse is if something very big happens to cause that correction. We can’t expect people to just agree to be more reasonable on their own. Humans don’t work like that and there is too much money and political force being exerted behind the scenes to allow that to happen.

I think some sort of blow up is going to happen. Or maybe, blow out is a more appropriate comparison. The worn out old tire has been pumped up with too much air pressure and there are danger signs all over. A blow out, at this point, may be inevitable. Hopefully, it is a small one that relieves the pressure. At that point, perhaps we can repair the blow out and then pump things carefully up back to the point of good, sustainable pressure without going overboard.

That’s about my only hope at this point. But Jon, if I may call you by your first name, I certainly applaud you and all the people who were on the National Mall yesterday for trying. Great job.

Photos from Huffington Post. I'm sure they won't mind.

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