Miller: The decline of the American moderate
September 23, 2010
In the wake of Glen Beck’s meaningless “Restoring Honor” rally on Aug. 28 come the even more absurd twin rallies of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Oct. 30. The two comedians for weeks teased their “big announcement,” finally coming out with a date and two mock-events: Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Colbert’s answer: the “March to Keep Fear Alive.” Americans respond to big, stupid events like this (see Beck), and by exploiting that fact, Stewart and Colbert are doing us all a favor by reminding us just how vulnerable we can be to persuasion – even when those doing the persuading come right out and tell us exactly how they plan to manipulate the audience for comic effect.
Colbert has the easier task. His template draws from the slate of partisan provocateurs who populate Fox News. From the ludicrous Beck and mean-spirited Bill O’Reilly to the empty-headed bullet-point populism of Sarah Palin and the faux journalistic invective of Sean Hannity, the network is chock-full of fear-mongering caricatures ripe for the plucking. So adept at mocking it all – aping it with only some exaggeration – Colbert need only take a few pages from Beck’s playbook, tart it up with some over-the-top talking points and voila – mock conservative rally. As is written on his website: “America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear – that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty.”
Moderates, by their very nature, don’t march in the streets, so when Stewart makes his call to reason, he’s quick to point out that it’ll only take a few hours – and one can get a sitter for the kids. It is, in fact, a “… rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) – not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority.”
How, indeed, does one get the Busy Majority to show up? These are not the folks cooking up hypotheses about Obama as non-American Muslim subversive or spending every waking hour online detailing their conspiratorial thoughts about the Illuminati’s hold on Tim Geithner. They do not go around calling themselves “Momma Grizzlies” or attend gatherings wearing tri-cornered hats with teabags dangling from them. Whether they vote Democrat or Republican, America’s vast center wishes more than anything for a return to reason that might include a functioning Congress, a national conversation that focuses on fact and logic as opposed to hate and fear, and a national news media – cable networks in particular – that really is “fair and balanced.” In Summit County, they are more concerned some silly ballot measures will eviscerate our school funding than genuinely concerned our “freedom” is being taken away.
If it sounds like much of the hysteria is coming from the far right (Colbert’s ostensible camp), it’s tough to argue with that. For the embittered minority party, so much of the rhetoric is focused on “going back” than moving forward, and so much of the nation’s conversation is being driven by these extremists that it’s tempting to think Tea Party talking points represent “mainstream America.” But they don’t. They’re simply the ones making the most noise. Stewart’s rally – even with its comic underpinnings – is an attempt to recognize that Busy Majority, and perhaps remind them that it doesn’t take that much time to write a letter to the paper or to a congressman to make one’s reasonable voice heard. After all, there are other ways to express frustration over how things are going than joining the Tea Party.
Locally, I’m often dismayed by how few moderate voices reach out in our online forums and in our letters section. Moderates will tell me in person they agreed or disagreed with this or that, but rarely will they affix their name to a published letter. As we come up to an important election, now’s the time to make those voices heard, at least locally. Restore a little sanity yourself and send a letter to email@example.com.
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You will be heard. And you don’t even have to go march in Washington.
Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.