Is the Stewart-Colbert Rally Becoming a Partisan Affair?

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When Jon Stewart announced his “Rally to Restore Sanity,” he billed it as a “million moderate march” that deliberately eschewed partisanship. It’s no secret that Stewart’s fans skew Democratic and that the rally—coupled with Stephen Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive”— is intended to be an antidote the right’s Glenn Beck and tea party-fueled hysteria. Until recently, part of the appeal of the rally—which is now expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people to the National Mall on October 30—was the absence of any national political apparatus or clear political agenda.

In recent days, though, liberal organizations have leapt on board to support Stewart’s Ironypalooza. Arianna Huffington caught Stewart by surprise on his show by announcing that the Huffington Post would be chartering free buses to the event from New York. The pro-choice group NARAL is planning a big blitz during the rally and is soliciting its supporters to chose a slogan for its PR materials. “They’re expected to draw hundreds of thousands of voters from across the country,” the group explained. “We need a clever, catchy way to remind them why voting pro-choice is important.” Stewart’s rally even received a ringing endorsement from President Obama, who mentioned it during a living-room visit to suburban voters: “And [Stewart’s] point was 70 percent of the people—it doesn’t matter what political affiliation—70 percent of folks are just like you… They don’t go around calling people names. They don’t make stuff up.”

None of these endorsements have been at the prompting of Stewart or Colbert, who would presumably prefer to keep openly partisan groups at arm’s length. But it’s not surprising that liberals are eager to use the event to try to turn comedic entertainment into more concrete political action. Though Democratic allies did hold their own pep rally last weekend—the labor union-backed “One Nation”—the poorly publicized event failed to make much of a national splash.

By contrast, the much ballyhooed Stewart rally is happening the weekend before the midterm elections, a critical time for making that last-minute get-out-the-vote push. Fearing Republicans might end up benefitting as a result, Democrats and their allies will doubtlessly do all that they can to use the high-profile event to help their cause and close the enthusiasm gap. And after all, conservative critics would invariably slam the rally as a Trojan Horse for naked liberal partisanship anyway. Stewart’s purportedly “moderate millions” could lend a sympathetic ear to the liberal cheerleaders on the sidelines—particularly if the message is wrapped in a clever, catchy enough slogan.

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