Rallying for Apathy

BY VICTORIA BARANETSKY

Some signs at the ?Rally to Restore Sanity,? held in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 30, made reference to political affairs; others made light of pop culture, telling officials to ?Legalize Conan.?
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Moderates are the greatest enemy of today’s liberals. On Saturday, Oct. 30, Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” was attended by borderline apathetic hipsters who were more interested in their witty, neon-colored posters than the substance of their political messages. Estimated at 200,000 people, the crowd that filled sixteen square blocks of the National Mall symbolized the biggest gathering of militant moderates D.C. has ever seen.

Standing before them was the greatest moderate of all of them, Jon Stewart. Asked whether people should vote, Stewart replied, “They should do what moves them. It’s not my place to make that choice for them.” Instead he said that he and Steven Colbert “just hope that people continue to like [their shows] so that Comedy Central can continue to sell beer to young people.”

Calling Jon Stewart, the Comedy Central king of liberal satire, a moderate might seem inaccurate. But moderate he was in encouraging signs like “Legalize Conan,” “If you keep shouting like that you’ll get big muscles all over your face,” and “Is this the line for Justin Bieber Tickets?” over his encouragement of a liberal vote.

As Scott McLemee of Inside Higher Ed wrote, the “anti-ideological spirit of the event is dangerous. The attitude that it’s better to stay cool and amused than to risk making arguments or expressing too much ardor — this is not civility. It’s timidity.”

This moderate or timid behavior has consequences. Just two days after the Rally, the Democrats suffered a poignant loss as the Republicans picked up 60 seats in the House, the largest House sweep since 1948 in the mid-term election, removing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

One reason for the loss was that only roughly 20 percent of Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. In other words, the exact demographic present at the Mall was the same demographic missing at the polling stations just two days later.

Despite this turnout being in the normal range for midterm elections, this was three percentage points lower than the 2006 election.

However, not everyone agrees that the youth were to blame. Quoted in a Chronicle of Higher Education article about the midterm elections, Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote said, “What we saw was not an enthusiasm gap” among young voters, “but a leadership gap from these candidates.”

One political leader many have blamed is President Barack Obama. In March of 2009, the New York Times reported a “moderate” David F. Hamilton was to be President Obama’s first nomination to the Court of Appeals. Similar observations have been made about Obama’s other nominations, his legislative reforms, and political statements.

Since Hamilton’s confirmation, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and even the Wall Street Journal have all joined the New York Times and described Obama and his administration as moderate. His administration’s turn to moderate politics has also been blamed for the apathy within the party.

Just days before the Rally, Jon Stewart intimated this to President Obama in an on-air interview, stating, “You ran on very high rhetoric, hope, and change, and the Democrats this year seem to be running on, ‘Please baby, one more chance.'” Moreover, Stewart called the healthcare plan “timid,” “political,” and a mediocrity which only “papered over a foundation which is corrupt.”

Certainly Stewart is not all wrong. Marshall Ganz, a veteran union organizer and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School hired as an Obama campaign official, agreed that Obama’s administration faltered when it lost its powerful rhetoric from the campaign. Values, according to Ganz’ Los Angeles Times op-ed, are what dropped out of the Democratic politics.

In addition to rhetoric, certainly advocates of changing corrupt practices in Congress like Prof. Lawrence Lessig would agree that the Obama administration should have attacked faulty procedures in Congress that led to a weakened healthcare bill. However, Stewart missed a point.

But at the end of the interview President Obama asked his host if he could make just one plug to the audience. He then said, “vote.”

In contrast, Stewart never asserted the same message in his rally. Instead, he asked left and right pundits to “take it down a notch for America” and disparaged what he called “the country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator.” Instead of taking soft swings at the media, perhaps he could have uttered one important political word: “vote.” He should have asked that moderates become political.

Certainly Stewart is not to blame for the election. He is just a symptom of a larger sickness. But it isn’t just Stewart’s refusal to become political while standing on the most political geographic landmark of our country that we should call out. We should all question our own behavior: Are we too timid to become political? Had we found the courage to vote, to write an article, to picket, to engage, and to take a stand, then perhaps we could have returned to progress. 

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