I’m slightly perturbed, and I’ll do something about it if I get a chance

Many of you caught Jon Stewart’s self-proclaimed big announcement last week on “The Daily Show”: a Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. To regular viewers of “The Daily Show,” this type of rhetoric doesn’t come as a surprise; a key theme of Stewart’s banter is the absurdity of politics. I think the rally is a great idea. It doesn’t have to have hundreds of thousands of attendees to be successful. In fact, in many ways it has already succeeded. Its purpose is to send the message that there are Americans who aren’t swayed by loaded one-liners or out-of-context soundbites or inciteful rhetoric. They are liberals, conservatives, socialists, libertarians, moderates and independents alike. They do not always agree, but it is in their disagreement that they are most noble. They disagree, but are able to move beyond that. They don’t caricature their opponents as Hitler or throw rocks through the windows of congressional offices or blame the government for 9/11 or bring assault rifles to political rallies. In this perverted time of a polarized media, “The Daily Show,” which airs after an adult cartoon featuring crass Colorado third-graders, has become an unlikely source of information and a strong voice of reason for many Americans. An online poll conducted by Time magazine last year found Stewart to be the most trusted newscaster in America, ahead of Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. Some have labeled Stewart’s rally as a mere publicity stunt. I contend that since “The Daily Show” has won two Peabody Awards, 14 Emmys and has hosted three heads of state in the last week, it doesn’t need extra publicity. For Stewart and his writing staff on “The Daily Show,” the 24-hour news cycle is the gift that keeps on giving. Take this very rally, for example. Jon Stewart announced a nonpartisan rally to bring out the moderates in America who don’t resort to the Hitler-invoking rhetoric that dominates headlines. Yet CNN’s story covering the announcement led off with “two Comedy Central funny men are apparently entering the political fray.” While viewers have little doubt as to the political leanings of Stewart and his writers, “The Daily Show” distinguishes itself from other cable political programs in that it is bipartisan — it makes jokes at the expense of liberals and conservatives alike. Political ideologies aren’t the target of Stewart’s puns, rather, it is the perpetual absurdity of politics that has kept Stewart and his cohorts in business for over a decade. In the episode where Stewart announced his rally, he talked about how the 15 percent of Americans who hold radical views dominate the conversation of the moderate 85 percent. It is in this way that a bigoted pastor from Florida with a congregation of dozens could dominate headlines for over a week, from The New York Times to the Burlington Free Press. The birther movement, despite the pressure of a notarized Certificate of Live Birth from Hawaii, made headlines across the media spectrum during the 2008 Democratic primaries. The fact that whether or not the president is a Muslim has become a national discussion — 18 percent of Americans believe that he is, according to an August Pew research poll — supports Stewart’s claim that ideological extremists dominate public discourse. The proliferation of cable channels has allowed programs to cater to political ideologies further and further from the center, appealing to and seeking out those who represent the 15 percent of Americans with radical views. Why have cable channels and programming been able to thrive in recent years? Because the 85 percent love to watch and witness the antics of those fringe opinions. So in this age of increasingly polarized media, let’s take a cue from Stewart. It is time to restore sanity and civility to the American political conversation. Hey Cynic, want to send an opinion writer to D.C.?