Dueling Colbert, Stewart rallies light a fire

It seems that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are onto something.

Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, is organizing the Rally to Restore Sanity, Oct. 30, in Washington, D.C. At the same time, The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert, or, more recently, Rev. Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A., is organizing a counter-demonstration, the Rally to Keep Fear Alive.

Both rallies started out as parodies; they would, while mocking our nation’s political discourse, make an important point about how polarized as a society we have become. But the intended substance of the rallies has been changed, at least for Stewart’s.

While Colbert’s Fear rally will draw attention and thousands of people, it will still be a lampoon. It will mock the extremist political discourse that has been taking over this country’s talking points and airwaves for years, at least since 2008, when President Obama was elected.

“There are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear,” reads the call to Colbert’s rally, striking an unfortunately familiar tone. “They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget – ‘Reason’ is just one letter away from ‘Treason.’ Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance.

Stewart’s rally, however, seems to have struck a chord among the American people, and it will likely draw thousands of people who will come not because they are simply amused by its message, but because they agree with it: it really is time to “restore sanity” and put an end to the type of fear-mongering, hate-filled speech that currently passes for discourse.

“We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat,” the website for Stewart’s rally states, “who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler.”

Even President Obama has endorsed the rally. (Technically, he said it was amusing, but that’s close enough to a ringing endorsement for the rally’s organizers.)

Besides, the president is scheduled to appear on The Daily Show Oct. 27, days before the rally takes place.

Aside from the rally itself, there are over 3,000 smaller events being planned, not by Stewart and Colbert, but by regular people. More than 211,000 people have, said, via Facebook RSVP, that they were planning to attend one of the two rallies.

It should come as no surprise that Stewart and Colbert’s events might draw tens of thousands of people. Politics has become downright scary in this country.

Over the summer, when President Obama, the Democrats and the labor movement were pushing for some new health care reforms, demonstrations outside of town hall meetings became ugly.

In one of the more horrific instances, a demonstrator was holding a gun and, in a disservice to the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, holding a sign that read, “Occasionally, the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The message couldn’t have been clearer.

Such suggestions became more commonplace. People, for example, were photographed at the first real tea party convention holding signs that bore the slogan, “I’m exercising my First Amendment rights this time; next time I’ll exercise the Second.”

The news has changed as well. Fox News is, obviously, the scariest. However, many of the major news channels have given credence to people like Sarah Palin, who talk of “death panels,” or who suggest that the president is not American, and that he and the state of Hawaii have colluded in some sort of fraud to trick the American people into believing that Obama was born in Hawaii.

Stewart’s and Colbert’s rally should be fun and this is a draw: most people don’t like denouncing each other angrily. Most people believe that the problems of this country, and the world, can be fixed rationally and peacefully, with a few jokes thrown in.

If the demonstrations are successful, there could be the beginning of a backlash against the sort of ugly extremism we’ve seen rising over the past few years.

Photo: The increasingly influential Stewart interviews Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Department of Defense)