"Sometimes it's just New Jersey."
Now, I had every intention of repeating what I did with the Glenn Beck rally and staying up until 4AM to watch the livestream of "Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" as it happened live in Washington, DC, this past Saturday. I set my alarm for one AM, full intending to go to sleep for a couple of hours, wake up, watch the rally, and then go back to bed until noon.
That didn't happen. I fell asleep around 10:30, and sometime around 12:30, I shut off my alarm and fell asleep until 7:30AM.
But I feel okay about that. I knew this was a rally I would much rather have attended than watched live through my computer. And I knew that if Jon Stewart was going to say something meaningful, it would not be an hour long speech detailing a plan for America, but rather something short, sweet, and probably funny. And it turns out I was pretty darn right.
Closing out the rally, Stewart gave a ten minute speech in which he extolled the virtues of working together, and realizing that the person the next car over on your commute to work is probably someone with radically different views, but that doesn't make them any less human. Basically, Stewart said things I've been saying for months. To reiterate what he said would be to simply repeat myself.
And then he closed with an interesting sentiment.
"Because you know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land. Sometimes, it's just New Jersey."
Now yes, he's making a joke at the expense of his home state, New Jersey, following through rather brilliantly on an illustration he had used throughout the speech. But, at the risk of sounding like an academic who reads far too much into simple jokes and one-liners, New Jersey here is not just New Jersey. Or rather, it is and it isn't.
In politics, the rhetoric is grandiose, verbose, bombastic, and lofty. "Yes We Can!" "Country First." "Yes, America Can!" "Prosperity and Progress." "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." "It's Morning Again in America." "For the Future!" "Peace and Prosperity!" "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage!" "Vote yourself a farm!" (All of these are genuine campaign slogans from presidents ranging all the way back to Lincoln).
We talk often of "restoring honor," of America being the "greatest best country," of idealism and progress, of helping people and saving the world, of hope and change. And then we're sorely disappointed when we don't get it. One of the reasons Obama's approval rating dropped when he came into office was not necessarily Republican backlash (though that was part of it). It was that whatever he did, it would not live up to his own rhetoric.
He, as a politician, can only do so much.
Congress, as men and women, as elected representatives, can only do so much.
Our governors, schools boards, military, and regulations can only do so much.
There comes a point when we realize that putting our hope in the government to make things completely entirely right is mere foolishness. Now, this is not to say that we cannot work within the government to attempt to make things better - it is almost always better to be actively fighting oppression and helping people through what means we have available (which I would contend includes the government) than to sit back and let oppression, poverty and pain run free.
But pinning all our hope and change on a man who is just like us - a man who, though he wields considerable power, is still just a man - is just as foolish as thinking that imposing a theocracy would be somehow better.
And that's what Jon Stewart is exactly right about. Politicians and the media who serve them promise us the world on a platter, promise us hope, change, and a savior on capitol hill.
They promise us a light at the end of the tunnel, when really, it's just New Jersey.
And that's okay. I've been to New Jersey. Most of it's pretty nice. I just wouldn't confuse it with heaven.