Voters can work on restoring sanity, too

VOTERS CAN WORK ON RESTORING SANITY, TOO…. I couldn’t make it to the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” over the weekend, but journalist James Maguire covered the event for the Washington Monthly, and has an online exclusive we published this afternoon.

It’s well worth checking out — James helps capture the atmosphere nicely for those of us who weren’t there — but the piece also notes one of the messages the audience didn’t hear on Saturday.

Near the end, Stewart drops comedy (mostly) and addressees us sincerely. The crowd grows fully silent as we sense his intensity. “We live in hard times, not end times,” he says, to robust applause. Still, we can disagree and not be enemies. The real bogeyman, he suggests, is the media. “The 24-hour politico-pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.” This broken media machine over-amplifies and distorts issues. The funhouse mirror of media coverage encourages division, hampers our efforts to work together. We must rise above its polarizing effect to work together for the common good.

His speech feels heartfelt, but to my ears it has a stark omission. Oddly, he does not exhort us to vote, now on the eve of the midterms. Why not? Is a call for reasoned discourse somehow mutually exclusive with a call for actual involvement?

Certainly the recent Beck/Rally rally here on the Mall didn’t discourage fierce partisanship. The conservatives are teeth-and-fang one-sided, showing no interest in meeting in the middle. The youthful idealists standing in this field today were foot soldiers that helped elect Obama in 2008. With the midterms just 72 hours away, must they be told that moderation is the greatest virtue? Conservatives are working phone banks night and day. And not a single peep this afternoon about the critical importance of voting?

I can appreciate why Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were determined to make the gathering non-political, non-partisan, and non-ideological. And if their goal was to entertain, lament what’s become of the media, and encourage a more constructive public discourse, I think it’s fair to say they did what they set out to do.

But it’s not unreasonable to think it will be even harder to restore sanity if candidates who aren’t sane fare well tomorrow, and voters who are sane don’t bother showing up.

In any case, there’s a lot more to James’ piece, and readers should take a look.