By Ken Tucker
September 17, 2010 at 03:48 PM EDT
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We should have seen this coming.

The “Rally To Restore Sanity,” which Jon Stewart announced on Thursday night’s Daily Show, is the next logical step in Stewart’s seriously humorous attack on extremism — not political extremism, but rather the media coverage of political extremism.

The Wall Street Journal this morning says, “The whole thing, of course, is a send-up of the recent pair of Washington marches led by [Glenn] Beck and Al Sharpton.”

I wouldn’t be too quick with that confident “of course” — I suspect this is less a “send-up” than a humorously-framed but genuine attempt to allow Americans to take part in what they know in their guts is true but so rarely see on TV: That most citizens aren’t thunderingly condescending Republican-haters or baying-jackal, Beck-led libertarians.

Stewart wants to mobilize the people who don’t want to be mobilized; citizens who wish politicians and media pundits would stop bellowing and fighting and work things out for the common good of all Americans. Whereas extremists have redefined “moderate” as “wishy-washy,” Stewart calls for “A Million Moderate March” to show that moderation is a virtue, not spinelessness.

Stewart says, “Think of our event as Woodstock, but with the nudity and drugs replaced by respectful disagreement.” What he’s really conjuring here is a new kind of counter-culture: Not peace and love and rock & roll; not tune in, turn on, drop out, but a kind of civilized Yippie prank, with Stewart as Abbie Hoffman in a suit; a Happening with true media clout.

According to the Rally To Rescue Sanity website:

We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.

Are you one of those people? Excellent. Then we’d like you to join us in Washington, DC on October 30 — a date of no significance whatsoever — at the Daily Show’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.” Ours is 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. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.

As far back as 2004, when Stewart essentially destroyed CNN’s Crossfire by calling out hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala for “hurting America” for their shrill, yammering, pathetic version of political debate, Stewart was honing what is now his core idea: I can’t influence politics because I’m not a politician, I’m a comedian; but I can influence media coverage, because I’m part of the media.

This, I think, is what could make his rally really interesting. That is, if he follows through on it, and it doesn’t veer off to become a Joaquin Phoenix-like, I’m Still Here put-on. In the past, Stewart has demonstrated a tendency to skewer targets only up to a certain point, and then retreat behind his oft-used excuse that all he’s doing is a little TV show presenting what he invariably calls “fake news.” He heaps contempt upon the likes of Bill O’Reilly, but isn’t adverse to going on The Factor to plug his new product, Earth (The Book).

But if he marshals the moderates and ends up with thousands of well-behaved people attracted by his message of restoring sanity, that won’t be “fake news.” And his will be a message that will have to be covered by everyone from the nightly network news to Hannity to Morning Joe. If he manages to cut across the political spectrum with that message, it’ll be a triumph.

It’ll also be an opportunity for the Batman to Stewart’s Superman, Stephen Colbert, to present the dark, gritty side of all this sunny optimism. I mean, of course, the simultaneously planned March To Keep Fear Alive:

10/30/10. Will you be there? Do you think Stewart is being both serious and funny?

Follow: @kentucker

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