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Peace Trains, Crazy Trains, Love Trains and automobiles at Stewart rally

It was all about the trains.

The highlight of the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear, headlined by the comedic duo of Stephen Colbert's bloviating, bombastic pundit and Jon Stewart, America's straight man, was a clash that occurred towards the middle of the afternoon, between two trains. There was a surprise showdown between The Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens and The Shambling, Addled-Looking Man Formerly Known as Ozzy Osborne, singing the two songs about trains that made them famous. "Get on the peace train," Yusuf Islam sang, before he was interrupted by Ozzy Osborne, "going off the rails on a crazy train."

Each song epitomized what the two "rallies" were about -- Stewart's peaceable, go-along, get-along, "I-Disagree-With-You-But-I'm-Pretty-Sure-You're-Not-Hitler" ethos versus the high-octane bombast that fuels Colbert's pundit persona. For both of them, the crowd went wild -- swaying back and forth and making peace signs for "Peace Train," and throwing up horns in the air during "Crazy Train." Each song generated wild enthusiasm. But neither was adequate for the whole crowd.

Finally, Colbert and Stewart backed down and compromised -- Love Train. The O-Jays poured onto the stage and the crowd cheered -- wildly, perhaps without the same intensity they'd generated for the Prince of Darkness, but with deep and mutual contentment. Everyone joined in and started a love train.

They could have ended the rally right there.

The rest of it was all right. It ran the gamut -- a pre-taped skit about merchandise, apologies from famous over-reactors like Steven Slater and someone named Theresa Giudice ("I'm proud I don't know who that is," someone near me observed), awards for people who had embodied sanity (robbed perfect-game pitcher Armando Gallaraga) or fear-mongering (Anderson Cooper's tight black t-shirt, mainstream media outlets who had refused to allow staff members to attend). A highlight was when the Koran-snatching skater behind Dude, You Have No Koran received a sanity-promotion medal and flung it into the audience. Colbert and Stewart sang a humorous (and grammatical!) duet extolling their virtues as Americans, Stewart attempting to lampoon the elitist coastal liberals with jokes about his hybrid car and gay marriage ("I'd marry Uncle Sam if I could do it legally") and Colbert singing about the "shores of Kentucky."

There was an entertaining prayer from SNL's Father Guido Sarducci. There was a song by Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, and TI, basically in favor of benign apathy -- "I can't make the world fair. All I can do -- is care." One characteristic that seemed to unify the crowd seemed to be an indifference bordering on contempt for Sheryl Crow. (Seriously, does anyone go to her concerts any more? I feel like she just wanders the continental united states forcing herself on gatherings of more than eight people. "This is a family reunion," people retort. "Now it's a family reunion for awareness!" she responds, whipping out a guitar and making a sound that approximates the noise a cat would make if you were performing an exorcism on it.)

The showdown between Colbert, the monger of fear, and Stewart, the voice of reason, revealed them to be better-matched as opponents than might have been initially apparent.

And when it wasn't about the trains, it was about the cars.

The keynote address that concluded the rally, a rare moment of sincerity from Jon Stewart, returned to America's favorite overused metaphor -- the car. The grotesque mistreatment of this piece of imagery has led me to run around screaming: "Forget the walrus! Save the metaphor!" Nowadays, transportation metaphors are on the verge of extinction due to overuse. They are bent and broken and potholed, similar to America's infrastructure itself. Take the keys? Keep the keys? President Obama has toured the country talking about taking away the car keys, driving cars into ditches, riding shotgun, riding in the back seat, specifying everything about the mythical car of America except who has to get out and change the oil every 3,000 miles.

But Stewart took the imagery in a new direction. There were trains, sure -- crazy and peace and the kind that takes you to Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturdays. On trains, people either ignore you or collar you and try to tell you stories from their childhoods. This -- and their tendency to break down and become hot -- is why most Americans avoid them. Instead, we drive cars.

During his keynote address Stewart showed footage of cars merging into a tunnel. Most people, Stewart pointed out, don't live their days defined by the confines of their ideologies. They are conservative and liberal, but, asked to define themselves, they choose other words -- doctor, lawyer, mother, father, rap lover, philatelist -- rather than, say, Fabian Socialist. They spend their days keeping the country going, driving from one spot to another, working together across the aisle -- not with a grand flourish, but because that's the way life tends to operate.

The point of the rally, as it turned out, was that there was no real need for a rally. Most of us are, as Stewart noted, relatively sane. The image in the media is the world in a funhouse mirror. If the rally did nothing else, it reassured us that there were people out there like that. True, they were mostly liberal. They weren't free of partisanship or completely reasonable. Many, by all appearances, were aging hippies. And quite a few of the signs jeered at Fox news rather than transcending the need for this sort of jeering.

But most people seemed to grasp the rally's hoped-for point. The fighter Mick Foley stated it well: if he spotted anyone being less than reasonable, he vowed, "I will jump out there like a righteous bolt of thunder and -- ask you to be polite to each other."

Perhaps Stewart unfairly demonized cable news, the mainstream media, and the people who use their magnifying glass not to bring truth into focus but to "light ants on fire." But as he pointed out, we are Americans. We are proud. And in spite of all the shouting and distraction, we manage to muddle through somehow. Even in traffic.

By Alexandra Petri  | October 30, 2010; 6:44 PM ET
Categories:  Petri, Reality? Television, Tea Party  | Tags:  Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, cars, rally, trains  
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Next: Best signs spotted at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear


But wait! Fox says only 17 people showed up and that Liberalism is dead?? Why is the WaPo so totally in the tank for these media elites and their blame-America crowd???

Posted by: thebobbob | October 30, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

What a great day to celebrate fun and fellowship! Many of us know about the politicians who spend time in that great building behind the Rally, they say they hate Washington, but they love being here and they refuse to retire...we know they can do better...and, maybe they will... then again....

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | October 30, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Gee, in your smug, don't-get-the-point-at-all commentary, you might have at least have been the first at the Washington Post to acknowledge that the crowd was considerable. Like at least five times considerable over Beck, and that's charitable. But that's too much to ask, as you cover every quivering moment of Tea Party gatherings, no matter how small, and ignore all those on the Mall today. So you dismiss us all. Again. know what? You are cowards. Afraid that Fox News may criticize you. What about ALL those people there today? Do they not matter? "Even in traffic." That's how you conclude. That's all it matters to you. With both a journalism and a law degree, and a long history of civic activism, I'm pretty much looking forward to a retirement where I can hide somewhere and accept my failure to make my nation a better place graciously. Will you do the same?

Posted by: faygokid | October 30, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

This rally and the Beck rally before it just seem to be an effort of liberals and conservatives, respectively, to showcase how really sober and reasonable each side can be. How boring.

Posted by: RossOdom | October 30, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

I was discouraged at how white and middle-class the crowd was.

Is Liberalism racist?


Posted by: Ombudsman1 | October 30, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Are you so sure the criticism is unfair? Possibly unfair to the Post, but not to cable news. The demand for conflict to juice the ratings is endless. Would be so great if they would devote their time and talent to actually reporting on interesting things, but no. Just bring on another ignorant shouter.

Posted by: ndgirl | October 30, 2010 10:50 PM | Report abuse

No, bobbob, Fox News found some people who want to legalize pot and made THAT the point of the rally. The Fox cabal just continues to plug away, like cars on a rutted...something, creating their own reality to keep the fear and divisiveness--oh, and the informed ignorance--alive. They must be so proud of their professional lives! I wonder what they tell their kids they do for a living. News? Now that's comedy.

Ah, man. I just went and rejected everything the rally was supposed to be about. Waylaid again by the lamestream...wait, no, that's Sa...ah, so confused. I think I'll just go buy something.

Posted by: yogi11 | October 30, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

For those of us on the orange line, the rally was about the trains that never came. Sounds like it was fun. Sorry I missed the entire thing.

Posted by: Marimom | October 30, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

I would prefer satire and humor over hyper-ventilated self-righteous, self-importnat ranting any day. So I thought Fear/Sanity was pretty refreshing. I would have loved to have been there. But I am a liberal so it figures I would.

Posted by: mickster1 | October 30, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

It seems this reporter watched the Rally For Sanity on CSPAN, so her observations have all the insights of a republican think-tank.

Posted by: xdougwhite | October 31, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Wow, miss the point much?

Standing in the crowd, the message seemed pretty clear to me: our nation's immune system, the media, is overreacting to stuff that doesn't matter and under-reacting to stuff that does.

Stewart offered you a beautiful forest, worthy of reflection, and you're pointing out the flaws in the bark. Sadly, his job (mocking the media) just keeps getting easier and easier. Keep it up, and next time he holds a rally there will be a million people there.

Posted by: RobPinVa | October 31, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

OMG major brands giving out samples on their favorite products check at tell others

Posted by: maryjose31 | October 31, 2010 1:26 AM | Report abuse

Wow man, I'm writing a satirical comment on a satirical report about a satirical rally that Fox ironically portrays as the Rally to Legalize Marijuana.

It's like a satirical version of the movie, Inception, only in my dream Sharon Angle is blocking the Holland Tunnel. But if we all vote for Harry Reid at the exact time, we'll wake up moderately stoned in New Jersey.

You're right Alex. It is the dawning of the Age of Satire(ius).

Posted by: divtune | October 31, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

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