‘Turning down the thermostat on our political rhetoric’

I had been working on this prior to yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear but, with the demands of a day job and a family, I don’t always get a chance to finish and post some of what I write. Rather than let this one sit in my drafts folder though, I’ll post it…

“The media in general … it’s focused on conflict. It’s focused on creating drama and a false sense of urgency. For better or for worse, the 24-hour networks are now the leading light of our information age. They’re the ones that kind of drive the dialogue. The people whose voices are heard are the ones who will say the most extreme things.”

That’s what Jon Stewart told Larry King last week. He went on to say, in describing The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear that he and Stephen Colbert are holding this weekend in DC:

“We are presuming that 75 to 85 percent of the country — reasonable people that get along — they may not agree on things, but they can do things. And the other 15 percent control it — the dialogue, the legislation. This is for the people that are too busy, that have jobs and lives and are tired of their reflection in the media as being a divided country and a country that’s ideological and conflicted and fighting.”

And that brings me to a Politico article from Friday, “Surviving in the Middle“, which talks about candidates in next week’s mid-term elections who have taken a moderate stance. Politico’s Alexander Burns writes:

“For all the talk of a campaign dominated by ideological extremes, a surprising number of candidates in both parties are competing by casting themselves as unapologetic centrists, attempting to seize the vast space between the made-for-TV conservative activists and national liberal favorites who dominated the primary season.”

As someone who watches about as much Olbermann as I watch O’Reilly and who doesn’t enjoy some of the venom that ends up in this country’s political dialogue, this is all music to my ears. Stewart and Burns are not far from each other with their statements. The country is not as polarized as some in the media would like us to believe. As Matt Bennett, vice president of centrist think tank Third Way, said in the Politico article, candidates who “have talked about finding sensible solutions to problems are resonating.”

In a recent column, “The Colbert Democrats,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said Stewart and Colbert “will light up the TV screens as the hip face of the new liberalism — just three days before the election. I suspect the electorate will declare itself not amused.”

I think it’s a mistake to suggest that Stewart and Colbert are the face of a party or that this weekend’s rally is only about the Democrats. Due to a multitude of reasons, the rally no doubt leans—or at the very least comes across as—more left than right. But for me, Stewart and Colbert have always been more about pointing out the absurdities in the media and U.S. politics than about cheerleading for a particular party.

The messaging around this weekend’s rally is no doubt muddied. But that can be cleared up when Stewart and Colbert take the stage, depending on what direction they choose to go with things. The two may be comedians but that does not mean what they do is fake or that it can’t make a statement while also being funny, as The Daily Show showed this past week, for example, with their commentary on the firing of Juan Williams—neither NPR nor Fox News was spared.

In an Outside the Beltway article, “Where Are the Moderates“, James Joyner hit on exactly why I’ve always enjoyed Stewart and Colbert. Joyner said, in talking about the rally, “to the extent that there’s a political message, it isn’t ‘Elect liberal Democrats’ but rather ‘Can we turn down the thermostat on our political rhetoric just a skosh?'”

That’s what I wrote in advance of the rally. Back to the present…

I was able to catch some of the rally on TV and I was a little disappointed in the parts I caught before heading to a family event. I laughed a few times and there were some some let’s “turn down the thermostat” lines aimed at the media. I was hoping for more though.

It turns out, that “more” was in fact delivered, just after I had already turned off my TV and gotten in my car to head to our destination. I was able to watch it last night on video though.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch John Stewart’s closing speech from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It made me happy and I’m sure you can understand why it did if you read the thoughts I wrote above.

Some of the money quotes (full transcript of Stewart’s speech):

  • “…we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies. Unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.”
  • “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
  • “The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything we eventually get sicker. And perhaps eczema. Yet, with that being said, I feel good. Strangely, calmly good, because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false.”
  • “We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe — torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.”
  • “Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats or Republicans or conservatives or liberals. Most Americans live their lives that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often it’s something they do not want to do, but they do it. Impossible things get done every day that are only made possible by the little, reasonable compromises.”

That stuff right there, that’s what draws me to The Daily Show or the Colbert Report. Their pointing out of the absurd and their call for reasonableness are what it’s about for me more than anything else.