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“Everything is changing,” comedian Will Rogers once said. “People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.” The quote is old, but after Saturday’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” never has it been more timely.

Like a lot of kids in our generation, I grew up with Jon Stewart. On weekdays, my family would gather at 7 p.m. every night to watch the rerun of The Daily Show. I was there in the days after 9/11, when Stewart spoke candidly of the rubble he could now see from his apartment window, as well as how desperately he wanted to make us laugh again. I’ve been there almost 10 years since, as Stewart has shifted from comedian to critic to watchdog to — according to a recent Time poll — the most trusted name in news.

And I was there at his “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

I’m not going to offer a pithy recap or make a pun about “Sanity and/or Fear.” If you went online in the past week, you know all the facts and bad jokes already. Instead, I want to tell you why the rally wasn’t important. And I want to tell you why it was.

Stewart’s rally was not our Woodstock. Its attendees were not regaled by speeches or fired to action. Instead, they were treated to a two-and-a-half hour variety show interspersed with funny skits and ’90s pop icons. The last 30 minutes were serious, but not so serious. Even Stewart’s concluding speech was more of a conversation between friends than a call to arms.

The rally was also insignificant as a partisan event. Many attendees were liberal, but they were hardly lock-step Democrats. A few political groups made half-hearted attempts to capitalize on the crowd, but with limited success. Instead of campaign banners or fierce partisan propaganda, it was signs like “Radical Centrist” or “Hitler Was Hitler” which stuck out most often. If there was any coherent political message, it was relayed by the smell of marijuana wafting gently across the National Mall. It may have been the best-behaved crowd in Washington rally history.

And there was a crowd. Attendance — tallied now at 215,000 people — was almost quadruple what the organizers were expecting. Comparisons to Glenn Beck’s August “Rally to Restore Honor” are inevitable, and I’m happy to make them. Thanks to the nonpartisan power of aerial photography, we know that Stewart’s rally was about twice as big. It was also 10 times more pleasant. One rally featured Sarah Palin. The other featured a humorous duet between Ozzy Osbourne and the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. In one rally, the host shouted. In the other, the host spoke with a smile.

Yet 215,000 people did not come to Washington just to hear jokes and see musical acts. To quote Stewart as he gazed out on a crowd that spanned the better part of the National Mall, “So … what exactly was this?”

Watching the final, sad hours of an election cycle characterized by vitriol and rehashed by a 24-hour pundit peanut gallery, I think I have the answer. The “Rally to Restore Sanity” was a splash of cold water on a face that very dearly needed it. For a few hours on a beautiful October day, Americans were able to take a step back from the rhetoric that splits our country and a media that makes it worse. The rally was not a call to action, but it will most certainly stand as a call to reason. As Stewart observed, “We live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.”

I’m glad for Stewart and for what his rally did for us. It’s funny all this had to come from a comedian — but I guess that’s part of the joke.

Emerson Brooking is a College senior from Turnerville, Ga., and a member of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is Southern Comfort appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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