On Saturday, two mock newsmen from Comedy Central — Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — joined forces to stage a huge rally and performance on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was a counterpoint rally to Fox commentator Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, held on the mall on Aug. 28.
For two hours the co-hosts sparred, musical groups performed, prominent people made cameo appearances and “correspondents” from the two TV shows appeared in short sketches. Medals of Reasonableness and Fear awards were awarded, mostly in absentia. A giant papier-mache Colbert melted down, Stewart sang (ouch!) and, just before the musical finale, Stewart pontificated.
What were the most memorable lines spoken at the event? Here are some of the best.
Stephen Colbert introduced Sam Waterston (most recently of “Law and Order” fame) as “the most reasonable-seeming man in America.”
This was utterly apt. As the doggedly determined district attorney on Law and Order, as a frequent portrayer of Abraham Lincoln and as a spokesman for TD Waterhouse, Waterston is the soul of reasonableness.
Stewart said, “It does not matter what we say or do; it matters only what is reported about what we say or do.” This was a lead-in to two mock reports about the day — one positive and one negative.
This was a clever variation on Lincoln’s (now ironic) line from the Gettysburg Address: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here…” But it was also a stinging indictment of the slant that is applied to political stories on cable news.
And here is an anti-quotation, things not said. Neither Colbert nor Stewart said anything relating to penises, boobs, the “f” word, the “b” word that rhymes with “witch” or anything scatological. They also refrained from scathing satire of named conservatives.
Very wisely, for a nationally televised event on a Saturday afternoon attended by some kids, they cleaned up their acts. And they accentuated the positive — actually singing a song that emphasized how patriotic they are and how great America is. The humorous barbs were either politically neutral or even-handed.
Stewart began his closing talk with: “I’m really happy you guys are here… Some of you came because you heard a clarion call for action… Others came to have a nice time. I hope you did… We were honored to have a chance to perform for you.”
Stewart disarmingly acknowledged the ambiguous purpose of the event. By using the word “perform,” however, he conceded that the event was primarily a comedy performance. He also gave the audience members permission to be there to have fun rather than to support a “cause.”
Stewart: “We live now in hard times, not end times… We can have animus and not be enemies.”
I sort of get what he meant, but his words were ill-chosen. “Animus” means “a usually prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will” and is synonymous with “enmity.” This sounds a lot like being an enemy.
Stewart: “Our country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictenator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.”
Stewart sees the pundits on cable news stoking up the conflict and failing to acknowledge the “live and let live” behavior of ordinary Americans. He ended with a metaphor — a video of cars merging from multiple lanes down to one lane using that “you go ahead,” “now you go ahead” ritual we all know. Point taken.