The voters are desperate for a white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative."
Last week Stephen Colbert--or rather, the conservative lobotomy case that he plays on the Colbert Report--declared his intention to seek the office of the President of the United States.
On Tue., Oct. 16, Colbert made a surprise appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, arriving on set in the back of a petty cab piloted by Uncle Sam immediately after Stewart had rolled clips of Colbert on other programs playing coy about whether he was planning a run for President (When Larry King asked him if he was planning to make a run for the big one, Colbert feigned surprise, responding he was not planning on running for God, but rather one step down).
Sliding a piece of paper to Stewart, he instructed his former boss to read the lines written on it. With much hesitation Stewart did and found himself asking Colbert if he was going to run for President. Colbert, again playing coy though he broached the subject, said that he was officially announcing he was officially considering whether or not to announce that he was going to run for President. He said that that announcement would come at a later time, preferably on a more prestigious show. Fifteen minutes later, he declared his intention to run (in South Carolina) on his own show. He also mentioned that he would be seeking the nomination in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Obviously, this will provide a wealth of material for his show, but does it have any implications for the Presidential race?
Surprising as it may seem, this is not the first case of a comedian running for the Leader of the Free World. Pat Paulson, a frequent face on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, ran for President six times from 1968-96. It can only be hoped that Colbert will, like his predecessor, provoke serious, cutting commentary that can go some way towards excavating the bullshit pervading this contest. It's sorely needed.
Colbert may be able to use satire to illuminate as dangerously ridiculous and ridiculously dangerous certain notions being articulated (though not with overwhelming lucidity) in this campaign. Consider that many Republican candidates have expressed a firm commitment to the use of torture to extract information, and that straightforward condemnation of this practice from amongst their ranks has only resulted in John McCain taking a beating in the polls like he was caught having sex with his estranged husband, the abortion doctor. This being the case, Colbert offers an interesting alternative that may force voters to seriously ponder who deserves to be their next President. By acting as insipid and obviously false as past experience indicates he will, Colbert will cast a shadow of doubt and suspicion over everyone who shares the stage with him in the South Carolina debates. Running in both party's primaries, one can only hope that he will effect a raising of political consciousness, not only in South Carolina, but throughout the entire United States about the vile practices, blatant lies, and uncertain positions of all the candidates.
It is possible that Colbert's run will have no impact. That the sheer force of inanity in American presidential politics will castrate the satirist's ability to force people into critically and carefully considering the accepted rhetoric of misinformation and general insanity. While this possibility can't be discounted, there need be no fear that Colbert won't try. At the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, Colbert stood beside the President and made a speech that demonstrated his unflinching resolve to satirize and subvert the political elite. Continually looking directly at the President, Colbert argued for the President's policy of making decisions from the gut without clouding those opinions with rational thought and the consideration of facts.
"I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument," he said. "I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what; I'm a pretty sound sleeper. Somebody shoot me in the face. Is [Cheney] really not here tonight?" There is no question of Colbert being too bashful.
Stephen Colbert's run for President will surely attract a great deal of attention, and hopefully that added attention will bring to light issues of grave importance, currently being scrutinized with the careful eyes of a myopic bat. There is no guarantee that his methods will be effective, but they are without a doubt bold. Even if they break against the wall of voter ignorance, at least the attempt will have been made. If nothing else, surely he will add something to the race. It's not like there's anything that can be taken away.