Given the way things have gone for progressives since the election of Barack Obama, perhaps we shouldn't be blamed for looking warily, as some do, at the spectacle that promises to fill the national Mall at the Rally to Restore Sanity hosted by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But with any luck, it will be a eye-feast of hundreds of thousands of good-humored, well-behaved Americans, there to answer the cynicism of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, at which the notion that the election of a black president somehow sullied the nation's dignity was dressed in sanctimony and a display of patriotism so bombastic that it was almost camp.
Yet progressives and liberals, ranging from left wing to the just left of center, have expressed a range of reservations, missing, I believe, the larger point of this rally's potential for reordering our out-of-whack politics, if only for a moment. But if that moment lasts until the polls close on Tuesday, it will have been worth it.
I agree with Code Pink's Medea Benjamin, for instance, that Stewart has made a false equivalence between the louder voices of the left and the right, setting the right's casting of Obama as Hitler on an equal plane with complaints that George W. Bush presided over war crimes. (The latter happens to be based on the fact that crimes against innocents were committed in the prosecution of an illegal war.)
Nonetheless, there are pluses that trump any minuses in the confab that will descend upon the nation's capital tomorrow:
1. Brilliant framing: Restoring Sanity v. Keep Fear Alive - If only the White House had messaging gurus as astute as the writers on the staff of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. If Stewart's liberalish newsman is the voice of sanity and Colbert's right-wing talk-show host is the voice of fear, and hundreds of thousands turn out to celebrate sanity, that's a powerful statement.
2. The inevitable aerial-view photos - In the age of Google Earth, the impact of demonstrations is told in satellite photos. What made Beck's rally so impressive was the view from above. The Stewart/Colbert rally is likely to draw at least as many people -- people who are coming to Washington to make the statement that they stand against the kind of fear-mongering that Beck represents.
3. Recasting liberalism as mainstream - Everybody knows that Jon Stewart's audience is largely a liberal one. Why, then, is he describing his rally as the "Million Moderate March"? Perhaps because most Americans think of themselves as moderate -- and when polled on issues, the majority concur with the liberal/progressive position on most of them.
4. Energizing young people - More young people get their news from The Daily Show than from any traditional news source. And young people are the slice of the progressive coalition said to be the least likely to turn out for next week's mid-term elections.