too much “sanity”?

Jon Stewart, like most of us on the Left, still does not get it.  The “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” which he hosted with Stephen Colbert last Saturday, was well-attended, and funny, and did find a balance with satire and sincerity.  Stewart’s intent, as reported by Christopher Beam, was “to show that civil discourse and cooperation are possible.” 

Beam quotes Stewart: “We work together to get things done every day…[Most people are not political animals—they] don’t live solely as Democrats or Republicans or liberals or conservatives. Most of them [are] just a little late for something they have to do.” 

Appealing to our common humanity is something we liberals do frequently, and it does have some validity and power.  However, we must also acknowledge our real differences.  Peter Beinart writes that Stewart made the mistake of “ridiculing fear. Yes, of course, Fox and friends hype the threat from terrorists, illegal immigrants, Christmas haters etc. But one reason they do so successfully is that there are quite rational reasons, in America today, to be scared out of your wits. Many Americans think that the great recession is not a passing misfortune but the new normal—that they will never regain their old quality of life.”

Many of us in the USA are not “just a little late,” many of us feel deep anxiety about our socioeconomic status.  Conservatives may fan these flames too often and too vigorously, but at least they acknowledge the power of those feelings. 

“Liberals often act as if reason is enough to change hearts as well as minds. We act as if our faith and values are born whole from reason instead of informed and shaped by our own experiences as communal, relational, physical, sentient beings,” wrote the Rev. Dr. Thandeka, in Tikkun magazine back in 2005.  She continued, “anxious hearts need an immediate emotional experience of peace…[Any] liberal alternative also has to start with the anxiety level already present in the American heart.”

Thandeka concludes, “We cannot ignore the anxiety-assurance strategy of the Right. While we must continue to probe and uncover the rhetoric the Right uses to raise anxiety, we cannot dismiss such anxiety with rational explanations. We, too, must speak to it. We, too, must use sacred texts. But with one difference: we won’t raise anxiety to lower it. We will lower the anxiety already present in the American heart through heart-to-heart work that links immediate personal feelings of emotional and spiritual relief to public policies that actually provide Americans with structural support for a better life on earth through decent schools, jobs, and medical and other social benefits. Whether we’re secular or religious, we will only speak effectively to America again when we speak from the heart.”

Stewart’s humor may help lower the anxiety level of some–mostly those who agree with him.  But his appeal to civility underestimates the power of the feelings beneath the discord.  Unless we address the real human emotions underneath the words, it will not matter how “polite” or “sane” is our conversation–it will still be ineffective.

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