Jon Stewart's planned "Rally for Sanity" sounded a bit like a joke when he announced -- without his permit application approved -- that he'd hold it on October 30 in Washington, D.C.
But it's suddenly looking quite real: Nearly 100,000 people have written on Facebook that they're planning to attend, and I ran into some of them, a bit to my surprise, this weekend. Keach Hagey reports that they've asked for a permit for 25,000 people, fewer than attended Glenn Beck's rally.
But the planned event has also produced a bit of hand-wringing among Democrats. For one thing, Stewart hasn't mentioned that labor groups and other institutional Democratic organizations are already planning a big Washington rally to counter Beck: The One AmericaNation Working Together* rally on October 2, which has been struggling to get the kind of attention Beck does. And the Stewart rally is also, for Democratic field operatives, at an inconvenient time: Its participants are "not doing GOTV on GOTV weekend" said Matt Ortega, a former DNC staffer, referring to a weekend typically spent knocking on doors and making calls in one's home district, not Washington.
"Midterm elections are about turnout and as has widely been reported, there is an intensity gap in this election, with the Republican base more motivated than the Democrats'. Some of that gap can be closed with an aggressive ground campaign -- we can make up 2-3% in a given race by talking to people at their doors and on their phones," emails veteran labor Democratic consultant Steve Rosenthal. "I love Jon Stewart -- rarely miss the show, but to the extent that some people who will attend his rally would otherwise be involved in GOTV efforts this is not helpful."
Other Democratic field organizers, though, said the event would be a plus on balance, and suggested that the party could even set up phone banks beside it.
"He will energize many, many more people than he will distract. And those who attend are only a small piece of the audience," emails Dan Cantor, executive director of New York's labor-backed Working Families Party.
Nation editor Chris Hayes emails with a broader concern: That the event "points out he asymmetry of the right and left. "
First: It's hard to imagine lots of democratic politicians showing up to a left equivalent of Glenn Beck's rally (and I wonder how many will be at the *actual* progressive march on October 2nd), but more than that is puts our current ideological predicament in stark terms. On the right, a large, well-funded, organized, ideologically zealous movement dedicated to a genuinely reactionary vision of America. On the other side? A very gifted satirist calling for everyone to just chill. If I landed here from Mars and took this in and was asked to bet on who's going to have more political success, it would be a no-brainer.