The “Restore Sanity” rally hosted by Jon Stewart and (to a lesser extent) Stephen Colbert Saturday drew over 200,000 people, easily doubling the rally Glenn Beck hosted in August, which he vowed would “change the world.” Yet while both claimed their rally was not political, Beck’s was — having speakers like Sarah Palin and others with a clearly partisan tilt. The Stewart-Colbert rally actually remained above politics. The message was simple: most Americans know how to compromise and figure out how to deal with problems when people disagree. Thanks to the 24 hour sensationalized cable media and politicians living on emotional sound bits, the government lacks that ability. Unfortunately, the government has lots of power.
This is certainly a clear shot at folk like Beck and his ilk who want to paint those with a different world view than his (non-Christian, secular, liberal, etc.) as evil, destroying the country, and perhaps even disloyal. That kind of emotion-driven “paint the other as strange and evil” attitude has a long sordid history in politics, and it usually leads to very dark places. Ironically, Stewart’s message reminded me of a conversation I had Thursday with Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican here in Maine.
I told her that I used her as an example in my class of how politics should be about compromise and working with people who have different views on a subject. She expressed dismay at the partisan market-driven emotion of ideological politics, noting that conservatives have even forgotten who Reagan was. Reagan was not an ideological “make no compromise” tea party type. Reagan compromised and worked with Democrats, cutting deals and thus getting things done. His ability to work with Gorbachev rather than continue Cold War confrontation helped assure a peaceful end to the Cold War.
What if more people thought like Stewart and Snowe, and focused less on demonizing the other than reaching out and saying “OK, we have different views, let’s figure out what we can accomplish.” That’s the only way our system can work, no party will ever have the power to unilaterally make significant long term change. At a time when our economy faces crisis, and there are really serious issues involving terrorism and foreign policy, we should be having serious conversations and coming together as a nation. Instead tea partiers call Obama a Kenyan born socialist, the far left calls tea partiers racist, and when we need to act like adults, the country acts like fourth graders.
Or do we? Stewart’s final message was one of hope. Americans are not reflected by the tea party candidates or ideologues from the left. Americans are not primarily Democratic or Republican, and do not think in terms of “us vs. them.” Americans do not think compromising on issues of principle is inherently bad; rather, it is inherently necessary just to solve the problems which arise every day. Americans are not what we see on the cable news or arguing in the Capitol Building. Olympia Snowe may be a rarity in the Senate, but she’s typical of most Americans — she wants to figure out how people of different views can get work together.
Might I suggest a Snowe-Stewart (or Stewart-Snowe) ticket in 2012?
The Republicans are poised for historic gains on Tuesday, turning around huge loses in 2006 and 2008. The GOP loudly proclaims that Americans are embracing conservative values, even though two years ago they seemed to embrace what many Republicans labeled socialist values. In 2008 Democrats thought Americans had embraced their view of the future. Yet what Americans want is problem solving, not ideology. They want compromise because without compromise, nothing gets done. Our system is designed for either compromise or gridlock. The great Democratic victory of 2008 may give way to the great Republican victory of 2010, and in 2012 things may break again the other way.
In some ways it was ironic to watch so many on the left enjoy themselves watching or attending the Stewart-Colbert rally. If your party is about to suffer huge defeats, it’s not typical to have such a fun time. But hey, why not? Being miserable and stressed doesn’t help the situation, and a well attended mass rally may do some good. Still, the larger message will hopefully get through: real Americans talk, debate, compromise, and collaborate. For ratings big 24 hour cable news thrives on emotion, division, and anger. So far, the politicians have let themselves be guided by that emotion-driven urge to demonize and simplify. That has made problems worse, rather than better.
Can sanity be restored, and can the politicians start reflecting real Americans again? We’ll know answers about the 2010 election in just a few days. But it’ll take a bit longer to find out if the Stewart- Colbert rally led to any progress on our need to restore sanity so we can make the decisions we need to for our future.