Serving up a hot cup of sanity

SERVING UP A HOT CUP OF SANITY…. Towards the very end of yesterday’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the D.C. Mall, Jon Stewart thanked the massive crowd for showing up, though he acknowledged “none of us are quite sure why” they were there.

It was one of the oddities of the entire event, and arguably the only thing the Stewart/Colbert rally had in common with the Tea Partiers’ and Glen Beck gatherings in D.C. — it wasn’t altogether clear what the point was, exactly.

But that’s not to say it wasn’t worthwhile. I didn’t get a chance to watch all of yesterday’s rally, but from what I could tell, the Stewart/Colbert event had very little to do with politics, literally nothing to do with the elections (none of the speakers even mentioned voting), and everything to do with the sense that the basics of our civil discourse are badly off track.

Indeed, when Stewart talked — not just yesterday, but in the weeks leading up to the event — about restoring “sanity,” I’m fairly sure he wasn’t talking about policy at any level. I just get the sense he’s driven a little crazy by what’s shown on broadcast media, and wants Americans to be able to talk to each other again.

The host had a closing statement of sorts, speaking at the very end for about 12 minutes, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching — not just for the humor or the poignancy, but because it helped summarize the point of the gathering. Stewart didn’t seem especially disappointed with partisans, ideologues, or activists; he reserved his discontent for the “tool” we’re supposed to rely on for “delineating” between sanity and insanity — i.e., the American media — which Stewart believes “broke.”

The 24-hour news media, Stewart said, “did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder…. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we eventually get sicker.”

I don’t know Stewart personally, so I’m not going to pretend to know what motivates him. But watching him yesterday, I kept thinking about his appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire” several years ago, when he told the hosts their show is “hurting America.” The program soon after disappeared from the CNN lineup, but I get the sense Stewart believes the qualities that made “Crossfire” horrible have spread throughout American media, making “sanity” harder to come by.

And if that is what he’s thinking, I happen to believe Stewart is right.

The Washington Monthly had a correspondent on hand for the event, and I’ll publish his piece a little later. But in the meantime, I’ll note that sanity is not without supporters, though Tuesday’s election results are likely to suggest otherwise. CBS News did an analysis of the crowd and estimated that 215,000 people were on hand. The network relied on the same company to estimate the crowd size at Glenn Beck’s event in August, and found 87,000 people.

If, in America, sanity can continue to outnumber insanity by better than two-to-one, our future might not be so bleak after all.