Nov 082010
Authors: Sam Klug, Columbia Daily Spectator

For many students and most people our age, the election that took place last week was less of a big deal than the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert could attract a larger crowd with their satire and mockery than the political process could with its blend of irrationality and apparent irrelevance, which isn’t exactly surprising.

I don’t think that this is a sign of our generation’s apathy — Stewart and Colbert are hilarious. And as they’re the only public figures in our country entirely focused on revealing just how ridiculous everyone who makes their living through politics in this country really is, they’re also politically relevant.

The problem is, the Rally to Restore Sanity (and its little sister, the March to Keep Fear Alive) tried to go beyond proving the absurdity of American politics. It also sought to prove that extremists on both sides of the political spectrum are responsible for the state we are in and that the solution to our problems lies in moderation.

Jon Stewart clearly saw his rally as an attempt to bring together people of different political stripes around the rallying cry of “take it down a notch for America.” Stewart rightly saw an opportunity to capitalize on the increasing polarization of the political discourse by advocating a moderation of the violent rhetoric found daily in political speeches and on cable news.

He also pitched his rally as an attempt to restore a sense of moderation to politics itself, suggesting that the center of American politics has been marginalized by extremists. The idea that a majority of the Americans who are fed up with our political system want solutions that fall smack-dab in the middle seems popular now.

Aristotle teaches us that virtues “have the quality of aiming at the intermediate,” applying the lessons he has learned from physiognomy — don’t eat too much or drink too much, basically — to social and moral life. Obviously, this formulation of the “good” as existing midway between two poles has appealed to people for centuries, but it seems to enjoy a revival in moments, like our own, of extreme polarization in the political sphere.

Jon Stewart and Thomas Friedman –– proponent of the “Radical Center” concept, among others –– seem to think our country needs an Aristotelian moment right now, in which the extremists who run our political system on the left and right meet in the middle and find moderate solutions to all of our problems.

What Stewart, Friedman and even Aristotle fail to realize is that politics is not like eating or drinking. There is no self-defined “middle” on any political issue — there is only the space between the positions that different sides are arguing at any given moment.
Many of the most important issues facing this country defy even the idea of moderation.

Politics isn’t sane right now, but it never is. Jon Stewart shows us the absurdity of politics every day, but his Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear overreached by trying to show us that we could combat this absurdity by meeting in the middle. We cannot find sanity by searching for moderation when what moderation means is so often dictated to us by the insane.

Sam Klug is a columnist for the Columbia Daily Spectator. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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