Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's rally reportedly drew
215,000 people, far more than the 87,000 estimated by the same company
to have attended Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" event earlier this year.
But does it matter? Liberals are celebrating the numerical triumph, touting it as a sign that more Americans are put off by Tea Party-style politics than drawn to it. Others argue that the apolitical nature of the rally—more
about jokes, satire, and media critique than an overtly Democratic
agenda—makes it tough to gauge the political impact. What, exactly, were
these thousands of people trying to say by showing up on a sunny
afternoon in DC?
- Size Doesn't Tell You Much—Most People Don't Go to Rallies James Joyner
of Outside the Beltway explains why the bigger size of Stewart's rally
doesn't mean it represents a politically stronger movement than Glenn
Beck's. First off, "those attending the Beck rally — and the Tea Party
more generally — are a broad cross-section with only loose agreement on
an issue cluster. But they were drawn by a broad opposition to what the
Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress are
doing. It was, more or less, a purely political rally. The
Stewart-Colbert rally, by contrast, was a lark. ... There were
doubtless a goodly number of people like myself, people who don’t really
agree with Stewart’s politics but enjoy his show and prefer a more
civil discourse about public policy. Furthermore, while the Beck rally
was all about political speeches — with the big draws being Beck and
Sarah Palin — yesterday’s event was as much a free concert as a
political rally." He guesses that much more of Stewart's crowd was from
closer places—New York, for example—than Beck's. Finally, he says,
comparing rallies really can't tell you what the U.S. electorate thinks
because "most of us just aren’t rally people."
- However Goofy the Crowd, a Real Message of Political Frustration Sabrina Tavernise and Brian Stelter
of The New York Times don't gloss over the silly and comedic aspects of
the rally. But they nevertheless detect a political undercurrent: "But
beyond the goofiness, the rally seemed to be channeling something deep —
a craving to be heard and a frustration with the lack of leadership,
less by President Obama than by a Democratic Party that many
participants described as timid, fearful, and failing to stand up for
what they see as the president’s accomplishments. ... Some in the crowd
expressed regret that it was comedians, not politicians, who were able
to channel their frustration. 'We don’t have any place to turn,' said
Michelle Sabol, 41, a jewelry designer from Pittsburgh. Mr. Stewart, she
said, gave voice to her feeling of frustration and isolation."
- Shows Most Americans Want More Civil Dialogue... Though many of the attendees were liberal, Steve Benen
of The Washington Monthly thinks the real point of the rally was to
show that many Americans are fed up with the overheated state of
political dialogue. That may not be a political message, but it's an
important one. "From what I could tell, the Stewart/Colbert event had
very little to do with politics, literally nothing to do with the
elections (none of the speakers even mentioned voting), and everything
to do with the sense that the basics of our civil discourse are badly
off track. ... Indeed, when Stewart talked -- not just yesterday, but in
the weeks leading up to the event -- about restoring 'sanity,' I'm
fairly sure he wasn't talking about policy at any level. I just get the
sense he's driven a little crazy by what's shown on broadcast media, and
wants Americans to be able to talk to each other again. ... If, in
America, sanity can continue to outnumber insanity by better than
two-to-one, our future might not be so bleak after all."
- ...But It Should Have Been About More As a liberal, Taylor Marsh of the Huffington Post hopes the rally translates into political action, but believes that Stewart missed the point. She objects to the rally characterizing activism on the left as "screaming," saying that it misses "the mood of Americans and just how disgruntled they are with our political system." What Stewart represents is "the frustration people feel with all media that goes for ratings and rants over perspective, truth and objectivity." But despite Stewart's evenhanded critique of both sides, the "truth isn't subjective... Sometimes one side is absolutely wrong, like when Sarah Palin talked about 'death panels,' or when Rand Paul talked about private business owners being exempt from the Civil Rights Act. That would have been worth Stewart or Colbert pointing out," she concludes.
- Want to Know How Much Size Matters? Wait 'Til Tuesday Joe Coscarelli
of the Village Voice also believes we read too much into crowd sizes.
He mocks the AP for looking at Facebook RSVPs to estimate popular
interest. Beyond that, too much talk of crowd sizes is "the horse race
media and its ravenous followers at their worst and it is boring and it
is mostly empty." What's wrong with it? "Legitimacy does not come from
internet buzz or numbers, but from ideas and conviction and
follow-through...It also will not prove anything, except how many
relatively well off, (mostly) white people had not much else to do on
the Saturday before Halloween and could make it to Washington D.C. Maybe
it also proves that The Daily Show and Colbert Report have loyal
viewers, even beyond their ratings...If there was a way to quantify
energy, enthusiasm or loyalty, that might be useful. Oh wait, there
might be -- it's called voting. Numbers matter on November 2nd."
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
bcarlson at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.