Stewart is a comic genius and one of the most sharp-eyed political satirists and news media critics in decades. (Ditto, ditto, and ditto for Colbert) If Stewart can draw 200,000-plus people to D.C. (with or without Colbert), this will be a significant cultural moment. (“Think of our event as Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement,” the march’s call says.) It will further twist, blur, or emulsify the lines that supposedly distinguish real media from faux media, and real politics from for-show politics. (“America Is a Joke,” was the title of a recent New York magazine profile of Stewart.) But though Stewart’s rally could end up a valuable moment by presenting a potent counter to Beckism, let me suggest another concurrent possibility: It could be useful for Republicans.
Stewartpalooza is happening the weekend before the critical congressional elections. It will suck up plenty of media attention—and resources. Think of all the people who will be coming—and the time and money it will take them to plan the trip and to travel to and from the nation’s capital. These folks are likely to be more sympathetic to Democrats than Republicans, despite Stewart’s skewer-’em-all approach. So if the pro-sanity crowd is packing bags and heading to Washington on the last weekend prior to the elections, these people won’t be knocking on doors or making phone calls to get out the vote for Democratic candidates.
Certainly, if many of moderate-as-hell demonstrators hail from congressional districts where the Democratic candidates are likely to win (say, anywhere in Manhattan), there’s no real harm done. But if Stewart draws bodies from toss-up districts—and provides an outlet for citizens who might otherwise be persuaded to do grassroots political work at home—Republican strategists will be delighted. Moreover, one can expect President Obama to be barnstorming that last weekend and promoting a forceful case against the Republicans. Stewartstock will compete for precious media time with the president. And what will the rally’s overall message be? Something like “Enough already”? As much as that might resonate with many Americans, such a call might not do much to motivate voters to hit the polls the following Tuesday. Stewart obviously is a progressive-minded fellow, but how far can he go in pushing a message—after all, this is comedy, right?—that helps the Democrats at the last minute?
Corn notes that Stewart’s rally is similar to Stephen Colbert’s recent appearance as a congressional witness:
When Colbert testified before Congress recently, he was masterful—as a postmodern (or post-O’Reilly) reality-curving humorist. His appearance was a rather sophisticated send-up of American politics. At the same time, he attempted to register a sincere point about the plight of immigrant workers. Ultimately, Colbert the comic ended up competing with Colbert the advocate. Yes, he did bring attention to a subcommittee hearing that was otherwise destined for no notice. But that attention focused on whether Colbert as “Colbert” had brought the right sort of attention to the hearing.
The dynamics of the Stewart/Colbert rallies could be similar. With this event, Stewart is using satire to advance a serious case, but he has to play it for laughs. Come the end of October, the Democrats will be doing everything they can to hold on to the House and beat back an anti-incumbent surge beneficial to the Republicans. Anything that distracts or gets in the way could hamper that effort. And the Republicans end up laughing the most.
Still, Corn invites all the attendees of the Stewart rally over to his house for coffee and cake once the event is done.