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Obama Rally Should Take Cue From Stewart And Colbert Rallies

Sarah Erickson |
October 21, 2010 | 3:37 p.m. PDT


Obama and Colbert (Creative Commons)
Obama and Colbert (Creative Commons)
It would be redundant to recount all of the factors that made Barack Obama’s campaign and election to the presidency in 2008 historic.

However, as the president’s rally on USC’s campus draws nearer, once again it seems that the gap between Washington and Hollywood is growing smaller.

Or is it?

When Obama campaigned for presidency, he received immense support from Hollywood (at least, once it was clear that Hilary Clinton was out of the race), with celebrity endorsements and lavish fundraisers held by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. 

By comparison, this mid-term election season is remarkably quiet from Hollywood’s end. Apart from endorsements by actor Alec Baldwin for Jerry Brown and comedian Paul Rodriguez for Meg Whitman, the normally energized Hollywood campaign force has yet to come to life. 

Of course, Obama’s rally at USC on Friday is not about seeking celebrity support, it’s about inspiring the young people of California – who turned out in droves across the country for the 2008 election (many of them voting democratically to swing states blue) – to return to the polls for this election. Unfortunately, mid-term elections have a history of lower voter turnout, particularly among the youngest voter demographic.

If the president himself can’t rally young voters to head to the polls this November, perhaps there is one  - or two – celebrities who can.

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have both been heavily promoting their own rallies in Washington D.C. this election season, each of which will be held at the exact same time on October 30th.

Stewart is calling his the “Rally to Restore Sanity” while Colbert prefers a “March to Keep Fear Alive.” 

Stewart appeared on Larry King Live Wednesday night to promote the rally, which has also been endorsed by Obama himself, but insisted that the organized event “is not a political rally in any way… it is a visceral expression of a people fed up with the reflection that they are shown of themselves as a divided people.”

Organizers of both rallies are unsure as to how many people will actually show up the day of, but more than 400,000 people have responded to the respective events on Facebook as attending or maybe attending. 

Though both Comedy Central comedians have been criticized as making their viewers apathetic towards political issues, their recent behavior suggests a sincere effort to motivate audiences to react to current events. 

Colbert’s recent congressional testimony for a hearing about illegal immigrant farm workers signaled that he does in fact take these issues, as well as his role discussing (or pointing out ironies in) them seriously. 

It is this style of making poignant statements about political activities and the rhetoric of the news media through the guise of comedy that has attracted a strong and growing number of young, educated viewers to their shows. Comedy Central reported a 9% rise in viewership over the summer in comparison with the previous summer. 

I maintain what I articulated in a previous article about the importance of celebrity opinion in political discussions.

Celebrities are the royalty of American popular culture and what they say matters to us – now perhaps more than ever as people grow more mistrusting of local and national news-sources.

Outside commentary from trusted artists and familiar comedians sometimes seems the only way to make sense of the discourse propagated in the media.

Not long ago President Obama had the trust and support of the American people in a sweeping majority.

It will be fascinating to see how his rally on Friday, and for the rest of this election season, affects young voter behavior.

Perhaps he could use some tips from Stewart and Colbert who’ve managed to build a youthful, energetic army… 

In the meantime, I’m still looking for my ticket to help restore sanity in Washington next week!

Reach Sarah Erickson here.
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