Smile Politely

Sanity is more reasonable than fear

7:15 a.m. Wake up, feel refreshed, ready to restore sanity and/or fear to our once-great nation.

7:20 a.m. Begin morning routine. Shower, stretch, meditate. In honor of the day, decide to only mutter at portrait of George W. Bush instead of yell. Only throw three darts at Sarah Palin poster.  Am already feeling more reasonable.

7:45 a.m. Have breakfast of muesli and organic yogurt. Wonder if other people would be less angry if they ate healthier. Probably not. Did not work for me during Bush era.

8:15 a.m. Pack up my hemp NPR tote bag, ready to go.  Have time to ponder rally while waiting to leave. 

Is it a rally for moderates? Is it to protest extremism in our political discourse? Is it about liberal exasperation? Anti-insanity? Anti-fear? Or is it a parody of rallies? The anti-rally rally? 

Sure, why not. The rally is a Rorschach blot. It is all things to all people.  All shall bow down and cower before the power that is the rally. Or the anti-rally rally. Or whatever it is.

The truth is, I am going because I love Jon Stewart. He has an uncanny ability to combine political advocacy, satire and respect in a way that should be impossible, but is dang near perfect. If he is holding a rally, then I want to go. Whatever it is.

9:30 a.m. Arrive at Metro station, a few stops in from end of the line. Train comes within a minute, but is already packed with reasonable non-extremists. We momentarily give in to passion and push our way on.  I realize then what is unreasonable: flying half-way across the country, crashing at a friend’s brother-in-law’s basement, jamming myself into a metro car and joining hundreds of thousands of other people in a rally that politely requests everyone to calm down and be reasonable.

The Metro is tight. I have not felt this enclosed since being in the womb.  But the womb did not smell like this guy’s armpit.

Also, we are holding on with clenched fists to the top of a speeding train. I’m certain this is a good metaphor for something or other.

One person shouts: “Who’s going to the rally!”

Everyone says loudly, without quite shouting: “Yeah!”

Somebody: “That was very reasonable enthusiasm.”

10:00 a.m. Metro dumps us out at Chinatown.  Liberals and moderates are not afraid of the Chinese.

10:05 a.m. Hundreds of liberals have already flocked to Starbucks for their lattes. Good thing it wasn’t a Whole Foods, or violence may have ensued. I realize at this point that crowd is mostly liberals after all.

10:30 a.m. Arrive at National Mall.  I am comforted by the sight of all the Porta-Potties. They tried to scare us before the rally by saying there wouldn’t be enough bathroom facilities.  As if that would scare liberals away from anything.

10:45 a.m. Find some space three Jumbotrons back from the stage, between the Air & Space Museum and the Art Museum, what we feel is the most moderate spot on the mall. Start taking photos. First sign I see is: “It’s OK to disagree. But use your indoor voice.”  Score one for moderation in discourse. Another: “I am moderately excited by this.” Score one for parody.

10:55 a.m. Weather is absolutely perfect. Partly sunny, in the 60s.  God approves of this rally, whatever it is.

The Jumbotrons are replaying hilarious clips from Daily Show and Colbert Report about the rally itself, some sort of meta-rally-mind-blow thing. Everyone is grooving.  Especially those guys upwind with the funky cigarettes, hoping that the states’ right folks are serious about freedom.

11:00 a.m. In between clips, they play other clips of Coldplay, Devo, Vampire Weekend, Green Day, plus an advertisement for Michelle Obama introduces it on screen and gets biggest cheer so far.  As she should. That woman is a goddess. Oops. Must get moderation back in check. She is just a fine woman.

11:45 a.m. Cell coverage goes down. Network completely swamped, making us unable to connect with friends that were going to join us. God apparently not OK with twittering or facebook updates during the rally. Maybe God doesn’t like my friends, thinks they are a bad influence on me. Maybe God thinks I’m the bad influence. Always hard to know what God is thinking.

12:00 noon The Roots take the stage with John Legend, play some funky music for us white boys. We try to groove, as best we can. The crowd is largely white, perhaps similar to the population at large, but certainly a Daily Show and Colbert Report demographic. Or maybe that’s just the people who arrived when we did, neither too early nor too late, at a reasonable time to get a reasonable spot to see things at a reasonable distance. The Roots play for a half hour. Old people get tired and sit down.

The crowd is huge by now, stretching as far as we can see in both directions. You don’t get a perspective of the size when you are in it. But, as I’ve said before, you have to show up to these things if you hope to be accurately undercounted.

12:35ish p.m. Myth Buster guys come on stage, play various games with us, like seeing how long it takes a stadium wave to travel through the crowd (something like a minute?). We discover we are in the front half of the crowd. Or the back half are a bunch of laggards.  Which they are, since they were late. Myth Buster guys get us to all jump up and down to create an earthquake. We succeed in creating one 1/14 billionth the size of the San Francisco earthquake.  Then we create one a 100 times bigger than a car crash at 35 mph. Hurray for us. But now we are impatient. Let’s get Stewart and Colbert out here already.

1:00 p.m. Finally, Jon comes out.  Does the national anthem. It starts out so schmaltzy that I wonder if it is a joke. But they kick it before the end.  Nice save.

1:10ish p.m. Father Guido comes out and gives the benediction, asking God for a sign on which is the right religion.  As usual, he is humorish, without quite being humorous.

1:15ish p.m. Colbert comes out from his bunker in a red, white and blue superhero suit and the real show begins. I stop checking the time. It’s an hour and a half of humor sketches that you can already find on YouTube.  Some of them are hilarious, like Wyatt Cenac and Jason Jones doing opposing media points of view on the rally by interviewing the same guy. Others don’t work very well, like the counting of the audience, which seems like a great idea, but got old very quickly. Some of the sketches have a cornball, Disneyland-esque feel. Comedy in front of such a large audience has to be very hard.

It is mostly rally parody stuff, until they bring out Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens. People audibly gasp around me. More than one person starts to tear up.  A former beloved songwriter turned former conservative Muslim turned reasonable Muslim performing his own Peace Train is by far the most poignant moment of the rally.

Unfortunately, the moment is ruined when Colbert interrupts and says he won’t board the peace train. Liberals stumble out of their weepy trances, start to raise their voices in anger, look for nearby pitchforks and rocks to hurl at the stage. Rocks are dropped when they realize it is just part of a comedy bit, as Ozzy Osbourne comes on to perform Crazy Train, followed by the O’Jays with Love Train. Still, the moment could have been truly special. Although the comedy bit turns out to be funny too.

Awards for reasonableness and fear are awarded. The reasonable awards are well-chosen. They go to guy who pitched a perfect game that was nullified by a bad ump call but who then forgave the ump, the professional wrestler Mick Foley, and some guy who stole a Koran from someone who was going to burn it.

The fear awards were given to Mark Zuckerberg, Anderson Cooper’s shirt, and a seven year old girl, who they said were braver for showing up than the news organizations who banned their reporters from coming to the rally. Sure, these were somewhat funny, but it’s a bit lame too. There’s no question that Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity and a host of others are way higher on the list of people who create fear in the world. But, I guess they were trying to prove they were being non-partisan, by picking on Anderson Cooper.  Bah. Humbug. Lame.

As the rally progresses, it becomes obvious that it is focusing more on the fear vs reason theme than anything else.  Jon and Stephen have a debate about whether fear is stronger than reason, and Jon wins, but not until the last fifteen minutes. Then Jon comes through with a serious speech, and hits a home run.  The rally is about anti-fear. The media creates and inflames fear.  The media is supposed to be our political immune system.  But if it over-reacts, it ends up doing more harm than good. People are for the most part reasonable. Stop calling each other names. Stop the guilt by association. Be reasonable. We live in tough times. Not end times.

I later go to where I usually go for the most incisive and reasonable thoughts on any given topic: Comments in a blog post. A seasoned old guy from Utah says that he’s been to a lot of political rallies and that this was the only truly peace rally he has ever been to.  And it’s true. Jon is begging us for peace, in our politics, in our religions, and in our discourse.

Dang. He’s speaking to me. I hate that. I’m always quick to pounce on those who confuse all Muslims with some terrorists. So why, then, am I so quick to jump from Glenn Beck and Fox News to “conservatives”? I need to do better. After all, core conservative ideas can be reasonable. Government should be as small as necessary to accomplish collectively what we cannot accomplish individually.

And yet, I’m conflicted. What do I do with the unreasonableness? What happens when that core idea gets translated into “government health care is like genocide”? That government is evil? I can simply laugh it off, which is what the Daily Show is all about.  And it does help. It especially helps when I am surrounded by 200,000+ other people who are also laughing along.

But that’s not enough.  When ideas are unreasonable and elected officials act on them, it becomes tragedy. Like the idea that we can do whatever we want because we are the most powerful country in the world. That idea leads to unnecessary war, hundreds of thousands of dead, millions of people suffering, and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted.  We need to keep the crazy out of government policy.

Oh, that’s right. Today is Election Day. I wonder if there is still time.

3:00 p.m. Rally ends.  We wander around the mall, snap more photos of the funny signs.

4:00 p.m. I personally witness Darth Vader and Napoleon Dynamite bury the axe on their longtime feud. They agree never again to use dance or The Force in inappropriate ways. World rejoices. Rally an unmitigated success.















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