Let's get real about Jon Stewart.
Railing against the loud voices of the Right and the Left, Stewart says with a straight face that his jamboree with cohort Stephen Colbert on the National Mall Saturday is "a rally for the people who've been too busy to go to rallies.”
Forget the Silent Majority Redux, “The Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear” is all about preaching-to-the-choir ego, the Benjamins and the real dumbing down of America … and we’re all going along for the ride.
What’s actually going to happen at the two-ring circus has become almost a state secret. All we really do know, courtesy of the National Parks Service, under whose jurisdiction the National Mall falls, is that -- as of the September permit filing -- the Roots, Sheryl Crow and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy will be playing during the three-hour rally. It's hard to tell if they’ll prove a better warm-up act to Stewart and Colbert’s stand-up than Sarah Palin did for Glenn Beck at the Fox News host's "Restoring Honor" rally back in August.
What isn’t hard to tell is that success in America in 2010 is all about being able to sell something. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good or bad, nutritious or junk as long as you can sell it and humor is a great deal closer -- ask the over 300,000 who RSVP'd to Saturday's rally via Facebook.
It’s a reflection of our YouTubed times that Stewart, who got a good gig making fun of stupid politicians, has proven to be such a master peddler. In fact, according to a recent poll from AskMen.com, he has become “the most trusted man in America.” Sad to realize we’re talking about the guy who was the sidekick in 2002’s “Death to Smoochy.”
And here's the problem: Both Stewart and Colbert have made their recent careers on bashing and satirizing partisan politics. Now, I personally think it’s a cheap trick often employed by extremists on both ends of the political spectrum who want to get some free space in the mainstream spotlight. For another thing, partisan politics are what make America work.
But after all that bashing and satirizing, now Stewart and Colbert have jumped feet first into the game -- and clearly expect to gain from it.
You think it’s a coincidence that the rallynicely dovetails into the flurry of the midterm elections? Having pocketed a couple of prestigious Peabodys for past election coverage, “The Daily Show” team and Comedy Central couldn’t be unaware how good their rally and a week of broadcasts from Washington could be for ratings and future awards.
Its an additional refection of our times that, even with the kind of influence he has, this would-be Walter Cronkite, helped with free bus rides from Arianna Huffington and plane tickets from Oprah Winfrey, still shamelessly intends treats his audience like little more than warm-props.
Seriously, if nothing else, Comedy Central is about to have some of its highest weekend ratings ever this Saturday as they show Stewart’s undoubtedly well attended event live and every other news organization in America lines up to give the Viacom owned channel unprecedented free publicity.
Let's also be honest about something else -- one of the intended consequences of the rally is to sell another few thousand or so of “Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race.” Stewart’s new book came out just four days after the host announced the rally -- four days in which Stewart was like a billboard across the face of America. Again, more free PR.
Look, Jon Stewart’s got great delivery and a team of fantastic writers -- but besides a few clichés and homilies about turning down the volume of disagreement and raising the level of discourse, he’s never displayed many notable insights into the human condition besides its obvious fallibility. His assessment of the body politic is essentially: "GOP bad, Democrats well intentioned but spineless and America easily fooled." Pretty simplistic stuff in our complex times.
Watch Stewart interview Barack Obama, who he softballed on Oct. 27, Bill Clinton, Rep. Eric Cantor, Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Sen. John McCain or even Meghan McCain and between cringes, you’ll hit the limits of his abilities.
Stewart can’t reveal that the Emperor has no clothes, just that he’s occasionally wearing some mismatched and age-inappropriate ones and what a giggle that is.
Great for calling out what a moron former CNN correspondent Rick Sanchez or what a hack CNBC’s Jim Crammer is. Not so great for addressing real heavyweights or real issues in America.
Lenny Bruce’s fearless pursuit of free speech gleefully stripped Eisenhower’s America naked. In the early 1960s the satire of "Beyond the Fringe’s" Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore – long before he became the lovable “Arthur” – directly attacked the Establishment in the U.K. In Richard Nixon’s 1970s, the pugilistic thrusts of George Carlin and Richard Pryor were both uncompromising and populist.
More recently, Chris Rock and Lewis Black, a “Daily Show” regular contributor, have used comedy to turn the lights on some very dark places in America.
That’s not what Jon Stewart does.
“The Daily Show” host has said “The Rally for Sanity” is about America taking it down a notch. Yep, down limbo style -- and that’s just crazy making whether you’re part of a phony Million Moderate March or just one funny guy pushing a new book.