They came from far and near, some wielding signs and hoping to attract a little attention, others just to watch the show.
But what seemed to unite the tens of thousands who converged on the National Mall on a sunny Saturday in Washington for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was a genuine desire to push back against the strong rightward tilt of the 2010 midterm campaign.
“I feel so strongly against what Glenn Beck stands for – whatever that is,” she added, referring to the conservative Fox News showman who held his own mega-rally here two months ago called Restoring Honor. “I hope this will make a difference.”
Not everyone was a Democrat. Some had also attended the Beck rally. Others were intentionally nonpolitical.
Clare Rosenberg, a student adviser at American Public University from Vienna, Va., carried a sign that said, “I like cheese.” This rally was for people to “come together and not be extreme one way or another,” she said, describing herself as socially liberal, but not affiliated with a party.
One woman from Knoxville, Tenn., said she’s also not a fan of either party, but she’s already voted for Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, a Republican, for governor of Tennessee, because “he’s a good guy.”
So why buy a plane ticket to come all the way to Washington to stand with a big crowd on the Mall that leans to the left?
'One more body in the sanity column'
“I wanted to be one more body counted in the sanity column,” said the woman from Tennessee, a retired publisher. And what’s the definition of sanity? She thought a moment, then offered this: “It’s speaking truth as opposed to platitudes – platitudes like ‘cut taxes’.”
Mr. Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” has long pleaded for “reasonableness” in public discourse, and makes a tidy living skewering both parties, but clearly has a bigger following on the left.
So the essay question of the day was, is this event a political rally or just entertainment? Clearly, both. With the rise of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and the conservative tea party movement, the left has been aching for an opportunity to talk back, in unison.
“Sanity, not Hannity,” was one popular sign, referring to conservative Fox News talker Sean Hannity.
In the spirit of the Stewart-Colbert franchise, irony was also in plentiful supply. Like this sign: “Gay Nazi Mexicans are Raising our Taxes.” And this one: “This sign is spelled correctly,” a bow to the many tea party signs that could have used spellchecker.
Some rally-goers gave their Halloween costumes an early test-drive, such as the young woman dressed as a witch, with a sign pinned to her back that said “I am not a witch.” Wonder if she’ll owe royalties to Christine O’Donnell. Also sighted: Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Waldo, and Ronald MacDonald.
Democratic organizers would have preferred that all the energy expended in getting to Washington and rallying on the Mall three days before the election was going to the weekend door-knocking around the country aimed at getting Democrats to turn out on Tuesday. Thatcher Beck, a custom cabinet engineer in Lebanon, Pa, said he came because the rally is “more fun than campaign work.”
“It’s something we can do in a day," he said. "I'm a liberal Democrat, but I'm reasonable, too."
Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga got a “Medal for Reasonableness” for his calm reaction to the blown call that cost him a perfect game last season. He appeared at the rally via satellite from his home in Venezuela. Also honored was Velma Hart, the woman who stood up a recent town hall and calmly told President Obama she was tired of defending him.
Colbert, in his counter role as the spreader of fear, handed out “Fearys,” including one to Anderson Cooper’s “tight black T-shirt.” The CNN newsman himself was the real object of fear, since he has a habit of showing up at scary news events like earthquakes.
Stewart's serious homily
Stewart closed the show with a sermon that began with the question folks have been asking for weeks: What exactly is this rally supposed to be? It was, he said, an effort to bring the country together, in a spirit of civility. He then took on the bombastic cable TV pundits of both the left and the right.
“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” Stewart said.
Under a cool, blue sky, a crowd of roughly two to three thousand Angelenos gathered in a downtown park to commune with the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or fear.
The crowd emanated an aura of well-behaved reasonableness as it politely – and enthusiastically – laughed and applauded its way through the three hour show. Folks who had made the effort to navigate the downtown corridor to attend seemed satisfied with the production.
“We really need to help keep alive the fear of insanity,” said Max omega, an LA businessman, as he headed for the parking garage.
Writer and downtown resident, 23 year-old Colleen Mclellan felt a bit removed from the Washington event which the crowd experienced via a JumboTron screen mounted on a truck. But, she added, “It was a thoughtful and accessible way to provoke sanity, which is great.”