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The case against Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity, by a 'Daily Show' fan

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Comedian Stephen Colbert testifies on Capitol Hill in front of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration.

And who is that? Over the years, there's been a lot of semi-academic psycho-babble trying to deconstruct you. Is Jon Stewart good for America or bad for democracy? Is he our media critic in chief or the nation's moral conscience? Is he a liberal activist masquerading as a comedian or the voice of a generation fed up with conventional politics?

And there has been more hyperventilating as the rally draws near. In Salon, Glenn Greenwald attacked you for your supposed middle-of-the-road moral equivalence between extremist crazies on the left and the right; Slate's Timothy Noah, by contrast, worries that you, Stephen Colbert and the adoring throngs will come off as such pedantic, anti-tea-party hyper-liberals that the backlash will affect the midterms.

I'm fairly certain that your rally won't change the face of American politics or alter the fate of the republic. But I worry that it will change you -- or our perceptions of you. You've always been able to deflect those Meaning of Stewart debates by saying, not entirely convincingly, that hey, it's just fake news. After this rally, though, you won't be able to say that with a straight face. Now it's real news. Some news organizations have even prohibited their staffers from participating in your rally, just like any old political event.

Beware the company you keep.

No doubt, being earnest makes sense sometimes, particularly when there is no alternative. Your emotions on "The Daily Show" episode of Sept. 20, 2001, not long after the 9/11 attacks, were raw and real -- and that was probably as serious as we've ever seen you on your show. But even in those horrific circumstances, you seemed aware of how out of character you were, and you offered a preemptive apology.

"I'm sorry to do this to you," you said that night. "It's another entertainment show beginning with an overwrought speech of a shaken host, and television is nothing if not redundant. So, I apologize for that." (You even joked that the cast of "Survivor" would soon be weighing in with its post-9/11 insights.)

In the middle of the speech, though, you also gave a perfect description of what you do -- and why we like it. "The show in general, we feel like, is a privilege," you said. "Even the idea that we can sit in the back of the country and make wisecracks, which is really what we do. We sit in the back and we throw spitballs."

Keep throwing spitballs from the back. Don't try to move to the front of the country. You and Colbert are America's Statler and Waldorf come to life, mocking the proceedings as they unfold. Don't risk that by entering the political fray so overtly. By all means, Colbert should hold his "March to Keep Fear Alive." If right-wing television hosts are having rallies and upending "The View" these days, Colbert's character should absolutely follow suit.

You should show up at the Mall on Oct. 30, have a cameo and walk off the stage. And keep our Moment of Zen going.

lozadac@washpost.com

Carlos Lozada is the editor of The Washington Post's Outlook section.


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