What I Saw at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 1 2010 8:18 AM

What I Saw at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

As soon as the Rally to Restore Sanity was announced, Democrats who were sweating their GOTV operations took after it as yet another problem. I spent much of Saturday at the rally -- a crush of humanity unlike anything I've seen liberals put together at the Capitol since the Obama inaugural -- and did not get the impression that Democrats had been denied a bunch of willing volunteers. Some were in 2008, but they bailed out of that game a while ago. They had reverted, actually, from the confidence leading up to Barack Obama's election to the very familiar panic they felt during George W. Bush's presidency.

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Chris Beam attended the rally and heard the speeches. I couldn't hear them at the outskirts, which were clearly more crowded than anyone expected. (Very few people I talked to guessed the actual size of the rally, which drew in more than 200,000 of them.) I mostly saw the signs, with a remarkable number of them offering rote meta-commentary on the very of The Rally: "I Have A Sign," "Angry Man With A Sign," and so on. There were shows of intellectual superiority, like "Steinbeck not Glenn Beck." There was Dadaism with a conscience, in a group of Muslims who hoisted songs that read "Jump Rope With a Muslim," and offered exactly that. And there were many, many pop culture memes, my favorite appearing in the form of men dressed as zombies who held up signs with references to the Antoine Dodson video. ("Hide your kids, hide your wife!")

There were also conservatives doing interviews, with an endless supply of smarter-than-thou liberals to grill. Michael McGovern held up a sign that read "I understand the difference between communism, fascism, and socialism, and don't use the terms interchangeably." That drew the attention of videographers from Newsbusters, who asked him exactly what the terms meant, producing some dull footage when he got them exactly right.

But if looking for "crazy" or smug protesters was less easy at this rally than at a Tea Party, or at the August Glenn Beck rally that inspired Stewart, that's cold comfort for liberals. Those rallies had important ideological thrusts. Beck's rally spent two hours informing conservatives that if they wanted to dismantle the welfare state -- and they had to -- they had a network of churches and charities that they could rely on to help the aged and care for the sick. The ideology of "Restoring Sanity" was liberalism with a killing dose of helplessness.

(Photo taken by me.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.