Jon Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity: Is the timing off?

Tricia Ritchie from Palm Harbor thinks there’s an urgent need for such an event. She calls the 2010 political season “total insanity,” evidenced by the fact that Rick Scott is a serious contender to lead Florida and Christine (“I am not a witch”) O’Donnell is running for the Senate in Delaware. “It’s just ridiculous,” she says. “It’s like watching cartoons.”

She is also excited at the prospect of meeting like-minded progressives attracted to the “intellectual humor” that the Comedy Central hosts produce on a nightly basis.

Stewart is arguably the liberal community’s response to the question, “Where is our Rush Limbaugh (or Bill O’Reilly, or Glenn Beck)?” With conservatives dominating AM talk radio and cable news, Stewart’s satirical left-of-center newscasts have gained currency over the past decade with the public; in 2008 the Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism concluded that “‘The Daily Show’ is clearly impacting American dialogue” and “getting people to think critically about the public square.”

Diane Perenich, a registered Democrat who says she doesn’t always vote the party line, still fondly recalls the comic’s takedown of cable news blowhards Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson six years ago, when he said that programs like CNN’s Crossfire, with their hyper-partisanship, were “hurting America.” She said that moment exemplified how the political discourse has transmogrified over the years into sheer parody.

But this isn’t the ideal moment for the Rally to Restore Sanity, worry critics. Writing on the St. Petersblog 2.0 website, Darden Rice wrote that it was “disappointing to see sensible people fall for Jon Stewart’s March to Restore Sanity without taking the time to think about what it says about the Left — that we abandon our candidates who are struggling in a mean and testy mid-term election cycle to go to an event sponsored by an influential talk show host.”

In a recent interview, the activist, who is first vice president of the Pinellas County League of Women Voters, said she loves Stewart and thinks the March to Sanity is a great reaction to what she calls this “horrible election cycle.” But she calls it colossally poor timing, coming as it does on the last weekend before the November 2 midterm election.

“We have a lot hanging in the balance,” Rice says of what’s at stake in the election, such as the governor’s race and the constitutional amendments Floridians will be voting for.

Rice may be speaking for party activists who are canvassing to get out the vote on the last weekend before the election. But rally organizers say their event is designed for the “Busy Majority,” those who have busy, full lives, and can’t devote as much time to politics as they might want to.

And rally participant Perenich disagrees with Rice about the event hurting Democrats, believing the rally could actually fire up the base three days before the election. (Then again, she’s already voted absentee.)

Coming two months after the Beck event, organizers hope that their rally can approximate the size of that occasion (which was estimated at around 300,000). But Tricia Ritchie from Palm Harbor says it’s ridiculous to get into comparing attendance figures.

“It’s not a war, or it shouldn’t be,” she says. “I just don’t understand why there has to be extremes.”

Perhaps the best description of what Stewart, Colbert and their followers are attempting to do is exemplified by a letter to the New York Times Magazine recently after that publication’s cover story on Glenn Beck.

David Rocchio wrote that he has many conservative friends whom he respects and vice versa. But he worries that “demagogues like Beck will make conversation across viewpoints essentially impossible, encourage intolerance and breed even deeper cynicism and dissembling.”

If that feeling can be overcome to any extent on October 30, perhaps it will be more than just three hours of fun in the sun.

Note: In addition to the D.C. rally, local Rallies to Restore Sanity will be held across the country. As of now the closest such event in Florida will be in Miami.

On Saturday, October 30, thousands will likely descend on Washington D.C. to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity, and its ironic counter-demo, March To Keep Fear Alive, presented by Comedy Central stars Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Stewart’s event comes just two months after Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor. It’s geared, according to its website, to those “who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive and terrible for your throat."

Among those attending is Diane Perenich from Tarpon Springs, who wants to make a stand “against political extremists who are manipulating the American public with lies.”

But there are other Democrats, like party activist Darden Rice, who worry that the event will distract attention from a more important task: campaigning for local candidates.

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