Sunday 31 October 2010

Rally to restore what?

I'm a regular viewer of The Daily Show (or at least, the edited, day-late version we get over here) but I sometimes think the acclaim for Jon Stewart as the liberal saviour of political television is overblown. We often find ourselves switching off at the first commercial break. Stewart's opening monologue/rant can be hilarious, but the fake news reports involving other cast members are frequently juvenile and embarrassing, allowing a single 'joke' to run on far too long. And Stewart's 'interviews' with politicians and other assorted celebrities tend to be wasted opportunities: frustratingly brief bouts of comedic joshing in the interests of book or movie promotion.

Having said all that, I wished Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's 'Rally to Restore Sanity' (held yesterday in Washington's National Mall) well, even if I agreed with some commentators that its effect on the Democratic vote, so close to the mid-term elections, might not be entirely positive. I didn't watch all of the coverage, but I found these comments on the event instructive:

Here's P.Z.Myers expressing disappointment that the rally turned into a plea for 'moderation' in political tone, rather than anything more substantial:
I don't want moderation, especially when the only people who will listen to Stewart and Colbert are the people on our shared side of the political aisle. I can understand where they're coming from; people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Andrew Breibart are poison, Fox News is a propaganda organ without bounds working for the far right-wing, we've got evangelical Christians demanding the installation of a theocracy, and on and on and on. But who, exactly, do Stewart and Colbert regard as the equivalent of Beck and Limbaugh on the left? Is it Rachel Maddow? Amy Goodman? Keith Olbermann?
In other words, the rally could be seen as reinforcing the sense that has pervaded not only this mid-term election campaign, but the first two years of the Obama administration, that Democrats and liberals haven't found the language or the courage to fight back against the lies and insinuations of the Republican right. Myers concludes:
I was left cold by the fuzziness of the event. It could have been great; instead of embracing an apolitical perspective and saying nothing at all about values, it could have been a rally for moderation that emphasized the actual values that moderates hold: we believe in tolerance for people of different ethnicities and religious views and sexual preferences, we believe in building an egalitarian social and economic infrastructure, we believe in privacy and personal freedoms, etc., etc., etc., and they could have held to the theme of the rally by advocating rational argument and unified, organised activism within the system to advance those goals...but they didn't. There was no purpose given other than a generic insistence that we all get along nicely.
As for that plea for a focus on 'tolerance', it would have helped if the rally organisers hadn't included a performer who has expressed the most outrageously intolerant opinions. Appearing onstage in the National Mall was Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, who is on record as supporting the fatwah against Salman Rushdie and wishing the author dead.

So, as well as reflecting the US left's failure to find a positive political message with which to hit back at the Tea Party movement, the rally also demonstrated characteristic liberal naivety towards Islamism (some of this naivety was on display in the rush to support the Ground Zero 'mosque' in reaction to rightist intolerance). Someone with Yusuf Islam's views should not have been invited to appear at a rally in favour of moderation and tolerance: his opinions are the exact mirror image of the rightist extremism of Glenn Beck et al that the event was organised to oppose.

Also recommended: the other Martin (Meenagh) on the rally and the congressional elections.

And via Pootergeek, confirmation from Nick Cohen of the culpability and duplicity of Mr. Islam/Stevens.

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