I present an analysis of the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” seeing the controversies around it as being about the status of fact and fiction in our politics, and making a call to action to DC readers.
I was enchanted by the idea of the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.” I have enjoyed Stewart’s and Colbert’s shows. Especially during the worst years of the Iraq war, I watched them to maintain my own sanity. In their rally, they accurately highlighted the strength of their satire, looking for sanity in insane times, using the form of the day, the great Washington Rally organized by cable television. I have principled problems with this new form of “Media Events,” but such is the world we now live in. Stewart and Colbert claimed that theirs wasn’t a response to the Glenn Beck organized event, but it clearly was. There is irony in their satire, which challenges political clarity but for good cultural reasons.
I was pleased by the turn out. It seems that more people attended the Stewart Colbert satirical event, than attended Beck’s earnest rally to restore honor. I appreciated that “we” saw ourselves as outnumbering “them,” and it felt good. But was there any more to it than that?
There indeed was concern in this regard. The ambiguity of the event’s meaning led to significant criticism after the fact, most vividly expressed in Bill Maher’s response.
The left and the right are not equally insane, the critics point out. The problem is not in the media portrayal of our politics, something that Colbert and especially Stewart seem to focus on, but the politics itself. The event energized a part of the public, but didn’t lead to specific political action. This, of course, just before the midterm elections which promised to lead to broad Democratic losses and Tea Party gains, and which proved to be the case. The only person to even allude to the elections was Tony Bennett in his closing performance, calling out to people “Vote!” after singing “America the Beautiful.” It was a political event about nothing according to Maher, echoes of Seinfeld here.
Stewart in his nightly show defended himself in amusing ways last night. His main point: the rally was about something, just not about what his critics wanted. He is mostly concerned not with the partisan disagreements, but that we have lost our ability to disagree civilly and constructively. His critics in turn wonder whether it is possible to constructively disagree when one side of the disagreement is acting in a fundamentally dishonest way. Assertions about death panels, the illegitimacy of the Obama Presidency because of his non – citizenship, wild claims about the dangers of Sharia law in Oklahoma, and the crime wave and voting fraud being perpetuated by illegal aliens, all coming from Republicans in engaging important debates of the day, do not have Democratic equivalents. How then can Stewart claim to be non-partisan? But we have to watch their tongues as they go into their cheeks.
The correlation between fact and party
This debate on the left, and the ambiguity of the event, I think, underscores a fundamental problem in our political culture. There is too clear a correlation between commitments to facts and party identification. One party is associated with facts, while the other seems to be more committed to its own fictions. Indeed, more disturbing than the disagreements about how to address the problems of climate change is that the scientific finding of global warming has somehow become a partisan issue. More unsettling than the disagreements about the details of TARP is the fact that there are those who seem to deny that there really were dangers of the collapse of the financial system and a global depression on the order of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and that government action was imperative. And though I have to accept that some are not as thrilled as I am by the fact that America has matured to the point that it has elected an extremely intelligent African American President, bi-racial, with Muslims in his family tree, it is deeply unsettling that there are those who live with the myths that he is somehow not really American, and that elected representatives of the Republican Party actually perpetrate these myths or do little to criticize them. One party has become the party of facts, the other of fictions. Truth shouldn’t be a partisan issue but it has become one, in many different instances.
Stewart and Colbert and their critics disagree about how to voice objection to this situation, and about their perceived roles. But they are responding to the same political cultural dilemma. How to fight against the fictions that Republican partisans are using to mobilize their constituencies so effectively? And the “fictoids” keep coming , the latest from Fox News – President Obama’s Asian trip is costing $200 million dollars a day, $2 billion for the whole trip, with 3,000 in his entourage, and 34 war ships providing protection, as Stewart was quick to ridicule, following his defense against his liberal critics in his program last night.
A modest suggestion
The Rally was of those who oppose such politics and such media, which lightly substitute such fictions for facts. The participants and their supporters, and their liberal critics, became visible in large numbers. And as I tried to argue in my last post, they, we, are going to have to organize ourselves to act not only against policies we disagree with, but also against the lies. As the Republicans obstruct responsible governance, I hope to see an alternative cast against the Tea Party mobilization. A key to this will be a commitment to truth, something to which the Rally, its participants and organizers contributed. And I have a suggestion for how we might start contributing to this cause at Deliberately Considered, by collecting and analyzing fictoids. The floor, or at least the blog, is open for contributions.