Jon Stewart and "Generation I"

by Dr. David Aikman
November 9, 2010

First, the nice things to be said: many of the attendees of comedian Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" (and/or fear) on the Mall in Washington, DC, on October 30th, just days before an historic election restored the GOP to a majority in the House of Representatives, were pleasant people. They carried amusing signs (one example: "Americans for...oh look!  A puppy!"), and seemed drawn by the idea of a few hours of entertainment by two of cable TV's most popular comics, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  Though an observer who covered the rally for me didn't notice many ethnic minorities present and reported that the largest single group seemed to be college-age and college-educated young people, there were "aging hippies" and plenty of apparently middle-income, middle-of-the-road attendees from different parts of the country.  The crowd was not visibly angry with anyone; perhaps most people just wanted a good time in the autumn sun.
That said, four aspects of the rally were very disturbing to me -- and, I suspect, to many others as well.
First of all, who is Jon Stewart to call for a return to civility in public life?  Stewart may often be funny, but he also acts like a plain thug with his propensity to use profanities toward people whose politics he doesn't like.  The first thing he might have done to restore sanity would have been to apologize to Sarah Palin for directing a foul epithet at her on-camera, during the 2008 election campaign.  This kind of obscene insult in public is sheer thuggery and a descent into the barbarism from which Stewart's weekend rally was supposedly rescuing us.  His call for a return to sanity is as convincing as Son of Sam's appeal not to commit murder.
Second, despite protestations (sometimes hidden behind a smirk) that the rally was politically non-partisan, it was clearly intended to counter the effect of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" on the Mall in late August.  It may be fruitless to argue whose rally had more attendees; let's just say there might not have been much difference between the two.  But a very large number in the audience at Stewart's rally were clearly trying to make a liberal political point.  One member of a group that had come to Washington, D.C., from Seattle said she had come "to support progressive causes."  The unspoken villains of the crowd were the tea party movement and Fox News, the only television network that consistently airs conservative views and features conservative anchors.
Third, no one could deny that the political rhetoric on both sides during the recent midterm election campaign had been often testy and heated.  During his 2008 election campaign for the presidency, then-candidate Barack Obama called for an end to the red state-blue state antagonisms in favor of the concept that we Americans are all members of "the United States."  Yet it was President Obama who actually referred recently to opponents of immigration reform as "our enemies" in an interview with a Hispanic TV station.  "Enemies" is not even a term that he uses for the Iranian regime that is dedicated in its opposition to the U.S. and is helping America's actual foes, the Taliban, in Afghanistan.
Fourth, am I the only American tired of the pretentious, self-congratulatory hot air penned by some members of the Millennial Generation (who came of age after 2000) and their assertions that they are so clever because they are masters of "irony"?  "Call us Generation I for irony, IPhones and the Internet," wrote a self-described aficionado of irony in the Washington Post.  "To sum up our lives in a phrase?  The importance of never being too earnest. We respect Lady Gaga," said the writer (not at all ironically this time).  "But we'll travel hundreds of miles just to touch the hem of Jon Stewart's robe."  For Generation I, the writer said, "for whom life exists so we can put as many things as possible in quotes, this 'rally' is the closest we will ever get to a love-in.  It's a 'like-in.'"
Thank you.  I'll take any day the old-fashioned, heated rhetoric of an election that is really significant because it is about policies that make many Americans uneasy, indeed angry, in place of this self-important clap-trap by an over-educated member of the new elite.
New elite?  Yes.  Many writers have drawn attention to the looming cultural gap between the majority of hard-working Americans in sometimes messy jobs -- or these days actually out of work because their jobs have been closed down -- and the brainy offspring of well-heeled Americans who have the luxury of being "ironic," as the Washington Post writer was.  Without question, much of the anger evident within supporters of the tea party movement derives from their perception that too many reporters for established news organizations are unwilling to report honestly about what this movement is doing. Are those journalists perhaps too indoctrinated by attending elite universities where their most influential professors are overwhelmingly liberal, sometimes even Marxist in orientation?  Such reporters are apt to even use the term "wacko" on-air to demonstrate their refusal to take seriously ideas with which they disagree.
In the old days, such an attitude used to be called "bigotry."  Nowadays, of course, it may simply be labeled as "ironic."  Shortly after 9/11 -- the real event in 2001, not the "ironic" one, an event when the United States was attacked by enemies intent on destroying us -- a writer for the Washington Post said that this would now mean the end to irony.  Apparently not.  Give me earnestness instead of this conceited drivel any day.

A version of this column appeared originally at