Time for the fringes to move off center stage

Perhaps now, the rest of us will have our say.

If there is an overriding hope for the Oct. 30 "Rally to Restore Sanity" that "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart is holding in Washington, surely that's it: a simple prayer that maybe the rest of us will finally be able to get a word in edgewise. The comedian's rally — a "call to reasonableness" it says on the "Daily Show" website — promises a welcome antidote to the tide of craziness now engulfing this country.

My colleague, cartoonist Jim Morin, did this great animation on The Miami Herald's website (www.miamiherald.com/opinion/). Guy sits down with the family dog to watch a little television. Out of the box spews a loud crosstalk of invective, accusation, venom, tirade and diatribe. Dog starts barking at the hateful box. A moment passes. Guy starts barking, too.

It is as succinct a description as you will see of what now passes for political discourse in America. The situation has been vexing for years, but the last two summers, with their birthers and Ground Zero mosques and death panels and town hall shouting matches and guns at rallies and rocks through windows and threats of Quran bonfires and charges of socialism, Nazism, terrorism, and general sense of end-times bacchanal, have been especially disheartening.

Watching cable TV news — often a bad idea — one cannot escape a sense that everybody in America is yelling at everybody else.

But what about the rest of us?

People frame all this as a debate between political extremes, a mud fight between conservatives and liberals. I submit that it is more than that. I submit that because they are louder, more colorful, crazier, angrier, and thus, more entertaining, the fringe elements of American political thought — right, and, increasingly, left — have made themselves irresistible to the 24-hour cable and Internet megaplex which, like a shark, is always swimming in search of its next meal. In response, that megaplex has ceded those denizens of the fringe the center stage and given them a megaphone.

The result has been less a clash between ideologies than a clash between reason and its opposite, between those who are willing and able to talk a thing through, think it through, even argue it through, and those who are unwilling and unable to do so. We're talking about people who believe what they believe "because" they believe. Their ignorance is bellicose, determined, an act of sheer will, and there is not enough reason in all the world to budge them from it.

So, for example, a large minority of Americans continues to believe the president to be a Kenyan-born Muslim, despite the fact that there is not a shred of evidence to support that dumbbell theory. And they don't care. When have the fringes ever needed evidence? That's why they are the fringes.

But what about the rest of us?

What about those of us who are busy raising our kids, paying our bills, living our lives, those of us who have concerns about the future, questions about the economy, maybe even disappointment with the president, but who are able to express those things logically, without reflexively screaming, invoking socialism or calling anyone Hitler? What about those of us who feel living in a civil society requires the ability to talk, compromise and reason, and that those who insist on behaving instead like a classroom full of 5-year-olds deprived of nap time whenever they don't get their way do not deserve center stage — deserve nothing, in fact, other than a chair facing the corner.

What about the rest of us?

It is Jon Stewart's contribution to rational national discourse to remember and remind us that we exist. And, that for all the media megaplex has done to confer importance upon the fringes, a large minority is still a minority.

We, the rest of us, are the majority. And maybe it's time we started acting like it.

Leonard Pitts' column appears regularly. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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