Stewart and Colbert’s rally in D.C. attracts thousands

Jinae West

The two most well-known names in satirical news, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, attracted thousands of supporters in Washington for a joint rally to “Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on Saturday.

The three-hour event, which aimed more to entertain than provoke, was filled with musical guests, video montages and jokes that made irrational and unreasonable the punch line of nearly every joke.

The rally fell just three days before Election Day, when most expect Republicans to take control of the House and Democrats to face heavy losses because of a lack of enthusiasm. Analysts also predict a low turnout at the polls, especially among young people, a demographic that appeared strongly represented at the rally. Many attendees wore stickers that read: “Vote Sanity 11.02.10.”

Stewart often joked about the rally’s success, or failure, as determined by the media, and his role in particular, he said, would be inevitably criticized. In the weeks leading to the rally, members of the press said the late-night comedian may have overstepped his boundaries. The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday that Stewart risks “becoming one of the people he makes fun of.”

Those at the rally, though, didn’t seem to share that sentiment. People carried signs for “Team Sanity” or “Team Fear.” Others brought homemade ones that read everything from “I don’t agree with Christine O’Donnell, but I’m pretty sure she’s not a witch” to “President Obama supports bears” and “Fear Me! I’m Muslim.” Some dressed in costumes.

Vanessa Canack, 26, of Austin, Texas, came to the rally as Lady Liberty and said this was her first time in the nation’s capital.

“I was watching the show, and Jon Stewart did this whole bit about if you’re the type of person who will strap on your underwear, get in your car and drive straight to Washington, you’re not the person who’s supposed to come,” she said. “So my boyfriend looked and me and said, ‘You stay here.'”

Canack said she hopes the event will spark a better dialogue between people and remind those with whom they disagree to remain civil.

“I’m really tired of all the talk of a real America and a fake America. I think we’re all Americans,” she said. “I’d like for the other side to realize that and stop shouting at us.”

John Butler, a sophomore history major at American University, said despite the political indifference of a lot of people his age, the event could prove that wrong. He said it could also disprove the misconception that those on the ends of the political spectrum speak for everyone.

“We’re not all apathetic,” Butler, 19, said, “and the Tea Party shows America has become a caricature of itself throughout the world, especially the Tea Party and the crazy people who are in it. Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, you don’t have to be crazy.”

The rally featured pairings of special guests, including The Roots and John Legend, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Ozzy Osbourne, Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples, and the familiar ideological on-screen clashing between the two hosts. But Stewart turned sincere in the last 15 minutes.

“We live in hard times, not end times,” he told the crowd in earnest, “and we can have animus and not be enemies.”

Stewart added later: “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

Associate political science professor Thom Yantek said he’s not sure if the rally is anything more than an entertainment spectacle and questioned why it would be more eventful than an awards show or the Super Bowl. He also said he doubts it will have an effect on voter turnout Nov. 2.

“There is a political aspect to (the rally), but my concern is when what drives it is the entertainment, and politics is sort of an afterthought,” he said. “And I think the political side of things is more likely to be forgotten. If the rally’s this weekend, how many of those people will turn out on Tuesday? There’s no way to do that study, but it would be interesting to follow.”

Yantek said in the 1960s, college-age students were the most heavily news consuming age group in the country. Since then, he said, statistics have flipped despite the “blip” in 2008 when young people headed to the polls in record numbers — something he said is troubling because it infers that election was just an aberration in “an onward march of declining interest.”

“I suppose to the extent that (the rally) gets people excited about politics one way or the other, it is important,” Yantek said. “I just wish it was real politicians getting them excited rather than someone who insists that he’s just an entertainer.