Deconstructing Jon Stewart’s ‘Rally For Sanity’

Mark Ames at The eXiled spends a few thousand words tearing apart Jon Stewart’s “Rally for Sanity”–basically accusing Stewart and the likeminded hundreds of thousands who rallied with him putting on an extended version of the SNL skit “Really!?!” As usual from Ames, a compelling essay brimming with rhetorical arsenic.

Sure there are a lot of problems out there, a lot of pressing needs—but the main thing is, the Liberals don’t look nearly as stupid as the other guys do. And if you don’t know how important that is to this generation, then you won’t understand what’s so wrong and so deeply depressing about the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity.

That’s what makes this rally so depressing and grotesque: It’s an anti-rally, a kind of mass concession speech without the speech–some kind of sick funeral party  for Liberalism, in which Liberals are led, at last, by a clown. Not a figurative clown, but by a clown–and Liberals are sure that this somehow makes them smarter and less lame–and indeed, they are less lame, because they are not taking themselves too seriously, which is something they’re very, very proud of. All great political struggles and ideological advances, all great human rights achievements were won by clown-led crowds of people who don’t take themselves too seriously, duh! That’s why they’re following a clown like Stewart, whose entire political program comes down to this: not being stupid, the way the other guys are stupid–or when being stupid, only stupid in a self-consciously stupid way, which is to say, not stupid. That’s it, that’s all this is about: Not to protest wars or oligarchical theft or declining health care or crushing debt or a corrupt political system or imperial decay—nope, the only thing that motivates Liberals to gather in the their thousands is the chance to celebrate their own lack of stupidity! Woo-hoo!

It’s the final humiliating undoing of Enlightenment Idealism that made Liberalism possible–imagine if Jefferson, Diderot, Montesquieu, Madison et al reduced the entire Enlightenment’s struggle against the old feudal order to “I’m against the monarchy because the monarchy’s stupid…but then again, Rousseau makes a fool of himself with his Romanticism, and Tom Paine is so serious with his ‘Rights of Man’, the Revolutionaries are just as crazy as the Monarchists, so rather than join either side and risk opening myself to mockery, I’m just going to stand back and laugh at them all and say, ‘Really? Independence? Everyone is created equal and has the right to pursue happiness? Really, TJ? You sure you want to say that about Bluebeard? Really?” [LAUGH TRACK]…

Can’t say we disagree. Stewart is right in his critiques of the cable news cycle. But beyond that, we did find the serious portion of his rally unsatisfying. It was basically a more comedic version of NYT columnist David Brook’s oft-repeated refrain that all this is missing from American politics and public discourse is civility. But civility, quite frankly, is bullshit. Our government is bought and sold by corporate interests through the campaign finance system. Since unions have been stigmatized and disbanded, there is no populist financial counterbalance to the donations of the moneyed class. Laughing at the system will do nothing. Civility will do nothing. Being smart accounts for nothing.

You might argue Stewart is an entertainer–he holds no duty to advocate for a larger political cause. And that’s true. Stewart’s cache comes from the fact that he’s above politics. But he did take advantage of the emasculated frustration and actual problems of the American Left to hold a rally for hundreds of thousands of people. That mass frustration could have been put to use for more meaningful goals than audience stroking and telling people to ‘enjoy themselves, they’re doing just fine.’