You might think that Comedy Central stars Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, founding fathers of "fake news" and "truthiness," chose a controversy-free theme in staging their "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the Washington Mall. After all, who could be opposed to sanity?
Alas, look to your right. Some conservatives can find a way to oppose "sanity" -- when it is defined by known liberals.
"The Daily Show's" host Stewart leans that way, as you may know. Colbert is not a true conservative either, although he plays one on "The Colbert Report."
Even so, let's give the duo proper credit for journalistic integrity. Stewart commendably refused to let President Barack Obama off the hook in a recent interview, driving the embattled president to reluctantly amend his 2008 campaign slogan to "Yes, we can, but...!"
Yet, despite the comedic duo's efforts to be nonpartisan and even-handed in their Mall rally, my conservative colleague Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, scoffs at the rally as "Operation Diversion."
"How to keep as many liberals as possible safely in thrall to their own smug superiority and distaste for the rough-and-tumble of political persuasion?" Lowry blogs in the magazine's online edition. "Give them a rally a few days before the election in which they can amuse themselves with their ironic signs and their highhanded dismissal of anyone not as exquisitely reasonable as they are. 'Yes, We Can (Congratulate Ourselves).' "
What a buzzkill. With all due respect to Lowry, whom I consider a friend, the smugness I hear in that paragraph is not coming from Stewart or Colbert.
In fact, as a respectful reader of National Review since high school (Yes, I was a political wonk even then), its founder William F. Buckley would be as dismayed by some elements of today's tea party movement as he was when he took a courageous stand against paranoid and racist elements of the John Birch Society.
In that spirit of standing athwart extremism even on one's own political side, Stewart and Colbert staged their joint rally as political theater in its most bold and audacious sense as a crowd numbered at 215,000 by CBS News played along.
A liberal crowd? Let's say that most of their signs read like a Mad magazine version of a tea party protest:
"Don't Tread on Snakes"
"Americans for . . . Oh look! A puppy!"
"Do I Look Suspicious?" (Carried by a tall, bearded, dark-skinned gentleman in a turban.)
"My Wife Thinks I'm Walking the Appalachian Trail."
Another favorite: "It's a Sad Day When Our Politicians are Comical and I Have to Take Our Comedians Seriously." Agreed. Yet Stewart criticized the media more than politicians. Giant video screens showed a hilariously startling montage of cable TV news bulletins warning us about such dubious threats as government "death panels," fecal matter on our remote controls and lessons about "gay penguins" in our classrooms.
At least one of Stewart-Colbert's targets got the message. After tweeting initial criticism of the rally, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann turned nice. He announced he would suspend his daily "Worst Persons in the World" segment, which delights at targeting conservatives about as much as Fox News' Bill O'Reilly delights at skewering liberals. Good. As far as I'm concerned, Olbermann can retire the trophy with, say, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe or North Korea's Kim Jong Il.
But, in fairness, MSNBC's stars have hardly been the worst offenders of cable TV journalism when it comes to checking facts or apologizing for errors. Since I have been an occasional guest commentator (unpaid, in case you're wondering) on all of the national cable TV news channels, I know that my objectivity in this matter is suspect. But the next time you hear an interviewer treat Obama's Christian religion and Hawaiian birth certificates as if they were rumors instead of facts, you be the judge
For now, we have more urgent issues at hand. The midterm elections and their relentless attack-ad campaigns are mercifully over. We Americans still face the Great Recession, runaway health care costs and other urgent problems. Yes, we need "the rough-and-tumble of political persuasion," as Rich Lowry points out, but we also need to work together across partisan lines to find solutions we can live with. For starters, we can try a little sanity.