As satire has done through the ages, Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" has found a comedic way to focus national attention on a serious issue: Will the United States begin acting like a responsible force in the world or will it continue to wander off into its own ghastly dreamscape?
Millions of Americans have responded positively to Stewart's message, with thousands arriving from all over the country to take part in Stewart's semi-serious rally at the National Mall in Washington on Saturday.
But other Americans are confused about why someone would call a march for "sanity," and some who get the point are perturbed by its implicit criticism of their own craziness.
Whether Stewart's rally will have any lasting effect is another question. Is it possible that many Americans don't want to be sane? Or put differently, are they addicted to the crazy?
Is watching the madness of Glenn Beck simply too much fun for many? Are Rush Limbaugh's rants a way for listeners to feel better about their own personal grievances, by blaming the hated "liberals" or the "minorities" or some other scapegoats?
Especially on the Right, crazy has become the bread-and-butter. For Muslim-haters like Michael Savage and Steven Emerson not to mention the bigger names like Limbaugh and Beck irrationality and fear-mongering are how they rile up their audiences and make their money.
Crazy also is how you trump rationality. You can dismiss it as "liberal elitism" brought to you by those pointy-headed, we-know-better-than-you-do Al Gore types, folks who want us to listen to the "scientists" as they explain about the looming calamity of global warming and stuff like that. Isn't it more fun to simply call scientific judgments "myths" and feel superior to all those PhD guys?
To the Religious Right, irrationality has another role, as a defense of "biblical truth" in the face of reason. Anyone who operates under the principles of empiricism and objectivity is by definition a "liberal" for not accepting the Bible and Faith as the provider of all answers.
Many centrists are uncomfortable with Stewart's rally for a different reason. They may find his jokes amusing, but they reject his more serious message that the U.S. political/media process has gone quite literally mad. If you're a Washington-Post-or-CNN-styled journalist, you simply can't accept that the system you have helped sustain is insane.
To do so and to be honestly self-critical would require acknowledging that you sat on your hands in the face of George W. Bush's violent delusions of the past decade because to do otherwise would have put your salary at risk. For these centrists to accept the need to restore sanity would require them to admit they tolerated madness.
Some on the Left also have trouble with Stewart's observation about how insane things have become because they, too, have operated with their own unrealistic expectations, at least about how much can be done and how quickly. As we also have seen with some of the conspiracy excesses of the 9/11 truther movement, anti-empiricism is not a monopoly of the Right.
Still, the American Right must be seen as the principal culprit in the decoupling of America from rationality.
The latest manifestation of the Right's wackiness can be found in the rise of the Tea Party, a movement of supposedly grassroots, mad-as-hell regular Americans. However, even that image is an illusion. The reality is that the movement is heavily subsidized by wealthy corporate donors (such as the billionaire Koch brothers) who want to ensure deregulation of their industries.
The reality that the Tea Party's phony "grassroots" obscures is that the hated federal government is the only force potentially powerful enough if it were energized on behalf of the people to counter the overwhelming might of multinational corporations. By hobbling the government, the Tea Partiers are simply empowering the corporations to run everything.
But the Tea Partiers have been persuaded that they are the new revolutionaries fighting for America against all those who would sap its strength from the liberals and the illegals, to the Muslims and the atheists but most of all, the federal government itself.
How It Happened