As did many students at the College of William and Mary, a couple of friends and I traveled up to Washington, D.C. to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear Oct. 30. After spending Friday night in northern Virginia, we got up at 7:30 a.m. to take the already packed metro into the capital. Once on the mall, we were able to get close enough to the stage that it was possible to hear and see the festivities on one of the jumbotrons, but we had to pay for our position by standing for three hours, watching Daily Show and Colbert Report reruns before the main event started. Finally, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart ’84 made their appearances, which culminated in a mock debate between “fear” and “sanity.” Sanity won, of course and Stewart slipped out of his TV persona to deliver some remarks on American politics. After the event, there was one question that seemed to be present in every discussion: What exactly just happened? I still have no idea but here are a couple of my observations.
The crowd was predictably young. The majority appeared to be — 18 – to – 24 — year-old, middle-class suburbanites, many with discernable hipster-ish tendencies. However, what surprised me most was the number of older people who came out. Many families brought their kids, who were obviously less excited than were their parents about the whole thing. There was even a handful of senior citizens.
The one thing that united everyone was their political views. This was, hands down, an event for Democrats. Signs attacking something fell into one of four main categories: Christine O’Donnell, Glenn Beck, Fox News or the Tea Party. Signs supportive of a political issue had only one aim — to legalize weed.
Although the crowd, the hosts and most of the guests were defiantly at the liberal end of the political spectrum, the event itself was consciously non-partisan. Stewart made sure to include Democrats as well as Republicans in his montage of “insane” political figures. Only the news media — the one villain everyone can agree to hate — was singled out for repeated criticism. At the end of the day, most people seemed to be there to listen to some music, enjoy some very tame political satire, and basically just have a good time. Even the once-ubiquitous command to vote was absent. Tony Bennet, I believe, was the only one to bring up voting after he finished his rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Many Democrats hoped the rally would reinvigorate the young liberal base of the party — a hope that, in lieu of Tuesday’s elections, seems to have been dashed. I think those who believed this was a political rally in the traditional sense did not understand what the rally represented. The multitude of people was not brought out by its faith in or support of Democratic politicians. Rather, the people were there because they had finally let go of their beliefs in the transformative power of politicians which they had felt in 2008. The rally was a coming of age for the Obama generation. Hope gave way to realism, optimism to skepticism, and the demand for radical and immediate change became a request for politicians who are not that crazy. The last few years have shown them how American politics really work. They are slow and full of compromise, missteps and a good deal of insanity. They are best approached with limited goals and a healthy dose of satire. This is exactly what the rally provided, a sort of preemptive catharsis for the repudiation liberals eventually received Tuesday. The message: Politics as usual win every time, but we can work with that.