So it seems Keith Olbermann was unimpressed, which is a very good sign.
I've been trying to think of why yesterday was unlike almost any other rally I've ever been to.
One obvious observation: it was the first actual ironic rally I've attended. Most of those in this movement were clearly ambivalent about being in any movement, but at the same time seemed to be acting out of some shared civic duty. "One man can write a pun, but every man must try." Almost every poster and placard was ironic, or undercut the ego or seriousness of the protester. One of my truly in-joke favorites: "Personally, I Blame Matt Yglesias." Who cannot rally behind that?
There were very, very few explicitly partisan appeals or personal attacks on public figures; and if the Beck rally coalesced around vague themes of patriotism, God and motherhood, this one seemed motivated by a simple sensibility of reason, empiricism and humor. But it was no less determined for that, in a quiet, midwestern, Frances-McDormand-In-Fargo kind of way. It was BobBo, but also Generation Obama; it was cool, but also unfashionable in a frumpy NPR-listener kind of way. It was the post-everything American middle class.
The point, it seemed to me, was that politics isn't all there is to life, there is something slightly off about those who think it is, and that political ideology has come to define us culturally and personally far too much. So this wasn't an angry rally for the alienated Democratic left; or even a joyous rally like last fall's March for Equality; or a desperate and frustrated rally like the Tea Partiers. No one was demanding their country back; they were just demanding, well asking, for a little less polarization, and a little more mutual understanding. It was an Obama rally that didn't want to be an Obama rally. And it was only an Obama rally sotto voce because he seems currently the only adult in Washington with any interest in compromising with anyone.
There are, after all, three political groupings in American politics Republicans, Democrats and Independents. But there are also three cultural groupings: ideologues, the pragmatists, and the totally indifferent. This was a rally for the pragmatists, which made it, for my money, the core Obama base.
It wasn't ethnically very diverse, but there were many more boomers than I expected. It was very good humored, and one sensed that the entire crowd loathed Fox, felt queasy about MSNBC, couldn't bring themselves to watch CNN and caught NPR in the commute. The young were out in force, but, again, they seemed like the Obama generation - not the facile dreamers who saw a Messiah in 2008, but the resilient rump who knew full well what he was up against.
Is this actually a politics?
Not if one compares it with, say the Perotistas of the early 1990s, or the Beckians of August (almost all of whom will surely be voting Republican on Tuesday because to do otherwise is the end of all American liberty for ever). But it is an identity politics: proud of being educated, sick of being stereotyped, interested in facts and reality, fed up with being condescended to ... and deeeply worried about the direction in this country.
If the ghost of Richard Nixon will allow me, Stewart and Colbert have sensed a silent plurality, alienated by both parties, still hoping for Obama's success, and yet unwilling to worship any politician or even take themselves too seriously for fear of falling into the same foul-smelling bullshit that already covers far too much of our political culture.
And that gave me not just a great afternoon. It gave me hope.
(Photos: Nicholas Kamm and Win McNamee/Getty.)
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