Rallying the Elites

Critics are billing it the anti-Tea Party. On Saturday, a crowd of more than 150,000 liberal, college-educated 20- and 30-somethings will descend on the capital for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. These are the élites who, as Stewart said, "have jobs and lives" -- most likely in New York, Boston, or Washington -- and they're taking a break from climbing the professional ladder to engage in a day-long parody of Glenn Beck's recent "Rally to Restore Honor." Though some of them are no doubt politically motivated, essentially they'll spend the time having a good laugh at the expense of frumpy Tea Partiers in Disneyland sweatshirts.

Timothy Noah at Slate fears that "the spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will ... have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull." Writing in The Baltimore Sun, David Zurawik takes issue with the event's "postmodern" display of irony and "wonder[s] if there is anything that is not a laughing matter in our national life any more," while The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum complains that the Comedy Central audience is just too liberal. Whether the problem is who's coming, what they're saying, or how they're saying it, the charge is clear: These are bad optics the week before the midterm election.

Perhaps living in Washington, having a college degree, and being a member of the "liberal media" automatically disqualifies me from opining. But in an election season featuring a former sorceress campaigning against masturbation and a state initiative banning the imminent imposition of Sharia law, I fail to see how young urbanites coming together over two comedians crosses any line.

Underlying a lot of the criticism of the rally is the same anti-élitist fervor that's become the Tea Party mantra. Despite serving as the economic engine of the country and accounting for a sizable slice of its population, working professionals in cities -- especially on the East Coast -- are, in the words of the Post's Charles Murray, "isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans." But the thing about a democracy is that everyone, including young professionals, has a stake in and a right to enter the political conversation. For all the talk about who represents the "ordinary" or "ideal" America, come Election Day, the much-vaunted distinctions disappear: You're as real as your vote, and in 2008 "authentic" Americans banded together with those of us who don't hail from the "pro-America parts of the country" to elect Barack Obama.

The other criticism that's been levied against the Comedy Central rallies is that, given the economic recession and the very real problems facing the country, satire is inappropriate. But whether you think Glenn Beck's I-just-love-my-country waterworks on Fox News are funny or touching largely depends on how seriously you take him. For all intents and purposes, our political discourse -- with acts like Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell, and Bill O'Reilly -- could be considered one big clown show. Even if you take these figures seriously, it's worth noting that satire has long been used to comment on politics. Reading an editorial cartoon, an article from The Onion, or Maureen Dowd's column may make you smirk, but it still conveys a message.

And who cares if the Stewart/Colbert rallies make the Tea Partiers mad? They've been mad since early 2009, when they first started filling up our TV screens and the streets of D.C., frothing at the mouth as if they had the rage virus. That's really the point of this weekend's rallies: for young people to express the frustration we feel when this band of "ordinary Americans" expresses their political views by spitting on black civil-rights leader and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver and calling Rep. Barney Frank a "faggot." It's a catharsis. Critics are right that Stewart and Colbert aren't proposing concrete policies (though it's worth asking if Republicans have really done much of that lately, either). But even if they were, would it make a difference? With Republican obstructionism in the Senate and the impending takeover of the House by the party of "no," it's safe to say that, come Nov. 2, the government won't be getting much of anything done.

You can choose to cry about it, but I'd rather laugh.

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