|Colbert and Stewart endure a post-rally press conference. Asked what they planned to do next, they said go back to work.|
|JON STEWART BRINGS THE SANITY/INSANITY
by Carol Joynt
Even though the national mid-term referendum doesn’t happen until tomorrow there was a form of election over the weekend in Washington, where (mostly) liberals swarmed to the National Mall to adore and laugh with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. What was the agenda? Freedom to cope with frustration through laughter.
He and Colbert infused the rally with irony from the moment they first named it: “Rally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive,” which got revised to “Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear.” All of this a great send up of Glenn Beck and his August Washington rally with the theme, “Restore America.”
While the National Park Service doesn’t give official crowd numbers, estimates put the turnout at somewhere between the 60,000 who were expected and the 330,000 who actually traveled on the Metro system. The numbers are just numbers. It was a veritable “sea of humanity” that filled several blocks of the Mall. They arrived in hordes beginning early Saturday – a, warm, exuberant, activist and mostly white constituency.
The crowd heaped on Stewart and Colbert the kind of love they used to heap on Barack Obama, only two years ago, before he was elected President. Now, many of his ardent supporters have benched Obama and Stewart is the man, and as cycles go this could be a good thing for the President: he’s so far down he can only go up. It was telling of something that Obama appeared on Stewart’s show this week and let Stewart refer to him as “dude.”
It's not unprecedented for a president to have a bad mid-term followed by a good general election. It happened to Ronald Reagan in his first term. Conversely, a year or so out from his 1992 re-election bid, George Bush (’41), was at the height of his popularity, fresh off the success of Operation Desert Storm, and seemingly invincible, when he got into a photo op situation where it appeared he had no clue how to use a supermarket scanner. That awkward moment helped make way for Bill Clinton.
|Backstage limo line-up.|
|Ironic typecasting? A limousine, a gathering of liberals, in the shadow of the Capitol? We hope it's someone with a sense of humor.|
|A valuable VIP automobile accessory — every limo had one.|
|The view from backstage. On the other side of the flags were tens of thousands of people.|
|C-Span provided live wall-to-wall coverage of the rally.|
|Police closed numerous streets surrounding the rally site. This is Pennsylvania Avenue.|
|The Washington media need a hero and at the moment it is Stewart, who mocks them at every opportunity. I worry for him, though. Not that his humor will falter, but the media fan club are fickle, and he should watch his back. It’s at the very moment when they treat notable figure as the second coming of Christ that their moods darken and the process of tearing down begins. Stewart hinted at this at the outset: “I know there are boundaries for a comedian, talker, pundit guy and I’m sure I’ll find out tomorrow how I have violated them.”
Two of the more compelling moments of this political season were demonstrations on the Mall, which is the country’s great national fairground. Beck’s appeal to his conservative flock, though absent humor, tapped into the political turbulence that also drew Stewart’s swarm of followers: bring me your anger, your frustration, and your desire for change. Whether it’s “Restore America” or “Restore Sanity” it's the same emotions with different words. These are the prevailing winds that Obama and his team will have to harness and resolve in the next 18 months.
|A lone rally goer on the steps of the National Archives.|
|Dozens on the steps of the National Gallery of Art, adjacent to the main stage.|
|Thousands crowded on the mall itself.|
|This meditating group asked for "Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance."|
|The participants arrived at the rally in steady stream, beginning a few hours before the show.|
|The view of the main stage from the middle of the Mall.|
|“Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together,” Stewart said, closing the show. “And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land; sometimes it's just New Jersey.”
If we’re talking insanity I’ll give you a last dose of insanity. Consider this as Election Day dawns: If the Senate and House go the way the experts predict they will go, we’ll embark on two years of bickering, blocking and gridlock while the well-paid members of Congress posture for 2012. On the positive side, John Boehner will be less orange. There’s at least that.
|More from the rally ...|
|Since 2001 I've hosted a Washington-based long form interview program, The Q&A Cafe. More than 300 notable people have been interviewed by me, but none had quite the import as Theodore Sorensen, who died yesterday at the age of 82. Our interview was in June 2008.|
|CJ with Ted Sorensen.|
|Here are all five parts:|
|Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.
Visit her at: caroljoynt.com. Follow Carol on Twitter.