Majority must reclaim center stage

September 26, 2010


Perhaps now, the rest of us will have our say.

If there is an overriding hope for the Oct. 30 “Rally to Restore Sanity” that “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart is holding in Washington, surely that’s it: a simple prayer that maybe the rest of us will finally be able to get a word in edgewise. The comedian’s rally — a “call to reasonableness” it says on the “Daily Show” website — promises a welcome antidote to the tide of craziness now engulfing this country.

My colleague, cartoonist Jim Morin, did this great animation on The Miami Herald’s website (http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/). Guy sits down with the family dog to watch a little television. Out of the box spews a loud cross-talk of invective, accusation, venom, tirade and diatribe. Dog starts barking at the hateful box. A moment passes. Guy starts barking, too.

It is as succinct a description as you will see of what now passes for political discourse in America. The situation has been vexing for years, but the last two summers, with their birthers and Ground Zero mosques and death panels and town hall shouting matches and guns at rallies and rocks through windows and threats of Quran bonfires and charges of socialism, Nazism, terrorism, and general sense of end-times bacchanal, have been especially disheartening.

Watching cable TV news — often a bad idea — one cannot escape a sense that everybody in America is yelling at everybody else.

But what about the rest of us?

People frame all this as a debate between political extremes, a mud fight between conservatives and liberals. I submit that it is more than that. I submit that because they are louder, more colorful, crazier, angrier, and thus, more entertaining, the fringe elements of American political thought — right, and, increasingly, left — have made themselves irresistible to the 24-hour cable and Internet megaplex which, like a shark, is always swimming in search of its next meal. In response, that megaplex has ceded those denizens of the fringe the center stage and given them a megaphone.

The result has been less a clash between ideologies than a clash between reason and its opposite, between those who are willing and able to talk a thing through, think it through, even argue it through, and those who are unwilling and unable to do so. We’re talking about people who believe what they believe “because” they believe. Their ignorance is bellicose, determined, an act of sheer will, and there is not enough reason in all the world to budge them from it.

So, for example, a large minority of Americans continues to believe the president to be a Kenyan-born Muslim, despite the fact that there is not a shred of evidence to support that dumbbell theory. And they don’t care. When have the fringes ever needed evidence? That’s why they are the fringes.

But what about the rest of us?

What about those of us who are busy raising our kids, paying our bills, living our lives, those of us who have concerns about the future, questions about the economy, maybe even disappointment with the president, but who are able to express those things logically, without reflexively screaming, invoking socialism or calling anyone Hitler? What about those of us who feel living in a civil society requires the ability to talk, compromise and reason, and that those who insist on behaving instead like a classroom full of 5-year-olds deprived of nap time whenever they don’t get their way do not deserve center stage — deserve nothing, in fact, other than a chair facing the corner.

What about the rest of us?

It is Jon Stewart’s contribution to rational national discourse to remember and remind us that we exist. And, that for all the media megaplex has done to confer importance upon the fringes, a large minority is still a minority.

We, the rest of us, are the majority. And maybe it’s time we started acting like it.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com. lpitts@miamiherald.com


chasmo 7 years, 2 months ago

Thanks Leonard. That was well said. Now let the screaming begin.

Jeff Barclay 7 years, 2 months ago

Hmmm. Pitts is far left of the middle. He should be the last one we would expect to be able to help us identify the "middle majority." "...Comedian Jon Stewart's contribution to rational national discourse..." I remember reading a survey a few years ago. The survey revealed that college students got most of their news from Stewart's Daily Show because they believed it was really a news program. I thought Learnard Pitts Jr. had already graduated from college? Is Pitts really truly serious here or is this an attempt to copy Stewart's satire? A Pulitzer Prize winner endorsing a comedian. Weird. Maybe Stewart will win a seat next to Franken's. Here is a insider tip. Pitts is hip on Stewart only because he likes his politics, not because Stewart will be adding one sentence of "...welcome antidote to the tide of craziness..."

thinkagain 7 years, 2 months ago

I think that says more about college students the Jon Stewart's show.

ebyrdstarr 7 years, 2 months ago

Do you have a cite for that survey? Because I don't think you're remembering it correctly. The surveys I have seen, from the Pew Research Center, are that viewers of Stewart and Colbert are more knowledgeable about national and international affairs than other groups, while viewers of Fox News are among the least knowledgeable. Like their survey dated April 15, 2007.

HMcMellon 7 years, 2 months ago

LOL. Your kind of irrational absurdity is exactly what Pitts was talking about, and then you end it with a "god bless" and use a Fox News avatar. Too funny!

dontcallmedan 7 years, 2 months ago

The "craziness" of the W days left hundreds of thousands dead, all for his (and Tom's) political gain.

HMcMellon 7 years, 2 months ago

It doesn't matter what avatar you use. I just think it is hilarious when extremists (on either end of the scale) make the absurd assumption that everyone else must also be an extremist (on one end of the scale or the other). Extremists are so caught up in irrational absurdity to know that 99% of America view them (on either end) as idiots. Thanks again for the laughs. LOL

zzgoeb 7 years, 2 months ago

What a logical, well-thought out response. This speaks volumes about the ill-mannered, irrational babble coming from WAY too many people today. Mr. Pitts at least put together a well-thought-out essay, as a opposed a rude, ignorant tirade.

Determined 7 years, 2 months ago

I think Pitts is right. There has been some craziness going on in the country. He mentioned a few, but forgot the assault on a black man by SEIU members in St. Louis, attacks on Americans sharing their opinion. Rep. Grayson's personal attacks on people who have different views, possible voter fraud in Missouri's district 40 race, issues being forced on an American public when the majority states it is not wanted, the de-industrialization of the US, the planned rationing of health care.

 Yes, you would think there is a lot of craziness going on.  However, it's only crazy if you are a person with a view from the right.  If you're view is from the left then the plan is working well.

esteshawk 7 years, 2 months ago

Hey Shewmon- When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And it looks like you have the FOXNews hammer glued to your brain.

Rex Russell 7 years, 2 months ago

Tom, if you had one ounce of objective reasoning, you're myriad of disturbed thoughts would be worth listening to. Without it, they are not. Plain and simple. As usual, you supply a daily trainwreck of mangled logic twisted in ideoligical, frothing-at-the-mouth propaganda. Nothing to see hear people, keep moving.

Jimo 7 years, 2 months ago

Thanks, Determined. I'm a busy person and not always about to follow enough wacko news sources to keep up with the 'controversy du jour'.

Planned rationing of health care you say? I'll tell that to the people condemned by the (ever greater) profit seeking death panels from Aetna.

SEIU, you say? I'll remind the IRS victims of your domestic terrorism.

Grayson? I give you Gingrich.

Voter's fraud in MO? I'll give you voter suppression in 50 states.

Issues forced? I'll give you billionaire welfare.

(You forgot to mention the New Black Panther Party, telling the unemployed that they're lazy, walking while Mexican, Luo Kenyan tribesman playing Anti-Christ, bailing out your Wall Street bank buddies, and kicking gay patriots to the curb.)

Scott Drummond 7 years, 2 months ago

But thank you for taking the time to tell us you won't be responding. That's so.........convincing.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 2 months ago

No, thank you. Unintentional humor is the just the very best.

Jimo 7 years, 2 months ago

From someone whose entire existence on these pages is to spread misinformation, this comes as a high compliment.

Jimo 7 years, 2 months ago

From someone whose entire existence on these pages is to spread misinformation, this comes as a high compliment.

ctutgo 7 years, 2 months ago

Reasonable people have no one to blame but ourselves. When the fringe started yelling, we went mute. I think most people posting here are missing the point. The point is not your political views, it is how we verbalize them. I am a liberal, but I see many conservative ideals as having merit. The whole point of having two (or more) parties is to never let things go too far in either direction. We need both parties to balance each other out.

Yes, we are a country built on hard work, being responsible for one's self, and freedom from government interference. And yes, we are a country built on Christian values. However, the Christ I know and love tells us to care for those less fortunate. We are also a country who takes care of their own, while knowing that our "own" includes those from all races and religions. Right now, Bin Laden is winning by default. We are tearing each other apart.

windex 7 years, 2 months ago

Thank you, ctutgo. We act like this is some sort of sports rivalry (an ugly one, where nobody ever wins.) But the Republicans don't have a corner on hard work and the Democrats don't have a corner on compassion. It will take all of us working together on both fronts to rebuild a reasonably good future for the generations to come. This divisiveness is cheap and destructive. It's a lot easier to sit around and yell, mock and sneer than it is to actually get up and start working (and the amount of money you make or have may or may not be related to how hard you work!)

Scott Drummond 7 years, 2 months ago

I also thank you, ctutgo. And, in the interest of balance, we are also a country built on big government - the WPA, the New Deal programs, world wars, the space program, military excursion. Being a hard worker, self reliant and liking freedom from government intrusion in personal matters is all true, but we are also a country that has seen first hand how powerful we can be when we band together to accomplish great tasks.

Scott Morgan 7 years, 2 months ago

What about the rest of us? 47% pay no taxes, college students think Jon Stewart is a newsman, and 2.2 million $ in federal stimulus funds $ to one job ratio in California . On top of this European Socialism is failing, but we use it as a template for reinventing our government.

These are but a few items to think about, and then focus on our massive government health care program which is nothing as advertised floating over us like endless black cloud.

Yes, what about the rest of us?

tomatogrower 7 years, 2 months ago

Then there are those of us who pay plenty of taxes, who are relieved that we can keep our son on our insurance, because those wonderful CEO's who apparently deserve multimillion dollar bonuses have taken decent jobs out of the country. We can't have those poor CEO's suffering, can we? Hard working Americans need to support these guys, and give them a bunch of tax breaks, and they will continue to promise to create new jobs, maybe sometime, when they get around to it.

overthemoon 7 years, 2 months ago

If the majority voted against stupid white guys....

esteshawk 7 years, 2 months ago

The left gets upset about prohibitions on gay marriage is because it is unconstitutional. You know, that little part about equal protection. I guess right-wingers scream "protect the Constitution" only believe that when it coincides with their beliefs.

justoneperson 7 years, 2 months ago

only 25% of Americans are against any type of legal recognition for gay couples


justoneperson 7 years, 2 months ago

ummm Jon Stewart even claims he's not a journalist. Can someone link this poll? What organization is it from? College students think the show is funny (it is, after all, on Comedy Central?), and I do too.

Stewart has also been known to poke fun at the fact he's won more journalism awards than shows that are supposed to be presenting the news (as opposed to say, inciting fear or misrepresenting information), and he thinks it's sad. It's called "fake news" for a reason, he's making fun of the news organizaitons that claim to be reporting news but are in fact sharing opinions or creating a "discorse" of loud talking heads.

If you've ever watched the show you'd know he makes fun of CNN, FOX, CNBC, etc, as well as politicans from both sides of the aisle. Does he lean left? sure. At this point anyone who is not a social conservative is deemed a liberal.

Now, as to your 47%, again a link to an acutal study? Beyond that, are you meaning the people that have so little money that they don't pay taxes? Really? Pretty sure a low income bracket has existed for years.

As someone above said, you're missing the point about the whole rally. Yelling and screaming, using fear mongering, and personal attacks are not political discourse. It's a joke of sorts becuase he's calling on those not traditionally likely to show up to a rally; the Stewart and Colbert rallys are poking fun at both the recent rally and counter rallys on MLK Day. It's also not a joke because reasonable people are acutally sick and tired of the stuff that passes for journalism, political discourse, etc.

"The empty vessel makes the loudest sound." William Shakesphere

overthemoon 7 years, 2 months ago

The 47% number is a favorite of those who want to scream but not look into the whole picture. Interestingly, this debunking of the number references Jon Stewart's excellent analysis.

I'm no College student, but I find that Stewart offers more insightful and researched analysis of the talking point misinformation machine than anyone. And I'm going to DC for the rally, along with twice as many people who showed up for the Beck Book sales program.

Scott Drummond 7 years, 2 months ago

A. Well, I guess it all depends on what the meaning of "we" is. Maybe he's referring to all of us here.

B. Funny. I love it when the righties complain about something. It means it's effective.

C. See B. above

D. Not that I care, but who the %^$##% are you talking about? "Dems, the left wing of the Dem party" WTH?!

esteshawk 7 years, 2 months ago

E. Why can't Shew make a post without whining?

Carol Bowen 7 years, 2 months ago

A. $ for ? B. Bill is good at stumping. C. Both parties need to give us more to consider and not rely on a formula for campaigning. D. I do not refer to W as a train wreck. Can you critique without insulting your readers?

jafs 7 years, 2 months ago

How much sympathy or respect did you have for Democrats in the past?

beatrice 7 years, 2 months ago

Although intended as a parody and likely entertaining, it is still a rallying point against the Bible-thumping radicalism of Beck's gathering. Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck are both entertainers, and they both pretend to put on a "news" program. Only difference is, Stewart lets everyone know up front that it is meant to be entertaining. Beck, on the other hand, always stays in character as the uber-conservative guy who works for a "news" channel.

I hope Stewart doesn't ask attendees not to carry signs. God forbid the photo-ops that let people see what others are really thinking.

Kris_H 7 years, 2 months ago

I think he should have said, "the adults must regain center stage." I'm really tired of the tantrum-throwing, name-calling, foot-stomping, selfish screaming children of all ages and political affiliations.

Can we just frikkin' TALK?

mr_right_wing 7 years, 2 months ago

Oh no! Glenn Beck had a great big (successful) rally....

(...and no I've never listened to Beck, have no desire to.)

Liberal see, liberal do....we better have our own!

So creative guys....

Scott Drummond 7 years, 2 months ago

Perhaps the point is to demonstrate that there are more who support left of center, progressive and responsible government.

Also, it will be interesting to see the coverage provided by the corporate media. We suffered a weeks long orgy of free publicity for the Beckorama. Strange, isn't it, that we've seen nothing similar on behalf of a liberal march by the so called "liberal" media.

overthemoon 7 years, 2 months ago

Yep. The whole "liberal media" thing is just more spin and balderdash. Its just a handy tool to dismiss uncomfortable things that border on reality instead of the talk points of the day.

Determined 7 years, 2 months ago

I heard about the rally on Fox News channel

Kent Kossoy 7 years, 2 months ago

For a brief moment I thought that this article would be legitimate. Then I saw that it was a joke.. By reading most of the comments, so did most of the readers.. Once again the lame street media doesn't disappoint.

George Lippencott 7 years, 2 months ago

Careful, I too, would like to see a more moderated discourse and have written so many times. However, Mr. Pitts unintentionally I think, raises the very real challenge with that notion. What is moderate?

Many attacks have been lunched in this space against the "tea party" (whatever that is). They represent a vocal minority - is that the large minority he eludes to in his piece? Is attacking them with loaded terms such as "racist" still in the moderate column? I believe that I recall Mr. Pitts doing so. Could that be a failure to live up to one’s own expectations or his definition of acceptable discourse?

Just who decides what is OK and what is not? That is why we have a very clear clause about freedom of speech. Of course it is free speech to call the "tea party" racist but then it may be free speech to question Mr. Obama's efforts to enforce our laws. You do not get to pick and chose based on your own ideology.

I just hope we are careful with this one. Shades of "1984".

Paul R Getto 7 years, 2 months ago

What goes around comes around, eh? This sounds a lot like Nixon's old 'silent majority.' 70-80% of the public does seem to think the 15% or so who drive the discussions to the extreme left and right are full of it, but it's hard to get involved when one has a job, a family and a life to live while waiting for the nuts, left and right, to settle back toward the middle. Good column, Mr. Pitts. The press is partially to blame, but they are entertainers who sell ads to keep their jobs and their television ratings. Until news shows refuse advertising, we will be in this sad state.

jafs 7 years, 2 months ago

There's a mature and thoughtful response.

independant1 7 years, 2 months ago

"Jon Stewart’s contribution to rational national discourse" - he's a comedian/satirist who recently discovered a bit of balance, that's all.

Pitts - occasionally writes a good one, not this time.

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