Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Speaking Truthiness To Power: The Subversive Brilliance Of Stephen Colbert

I've always been more of a Jon Stewart fan than a Stephen Colbert fan.  I sometimes find Colbert's "character," his faux Bill  O'Reilly, over-the-top and exhausting, as the real O'Reilly must be.  But Colbert has the ability to expose the absurdity of our politics and the media's complicity in it like no one else.

In 2006, at the height of George W. Bush's popularity, Colbert was invited to speak at the White House Correspondent's dinner where, staying in character, he literally spoke truth to power, courageously and hilariously skewering the President and mocking the all-too-compliant national press.  And the beauty was that it was done in such a deadpan manner that a clueless Bush didn't get that he was the joke and lamely laughed along while the reporters squirmed uncomfortably.    

As Frank Rich wrote, "the moment when the American news business went on suicide watch . . . [was] when Stephen Colbert, appearing at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, delivered a monologue accusing his hosts of being stenographers who had, in essence, let the Bush White House get away with murder (or at least the war in Iraq)." 

His latest project is even more remarkable.  Boldly illustrating the destructive consequences of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, he created his own Super PAC without much trouble.  As Dan Froomkin and Paul Blumenthal at Huffington Post explain:  Colbert "has managed to pierce the veil of dullness to actually demonstrate -- in an electrifying way -- just how dangerous and corrupt the current system of political campaign financing has become."
Colbert has spent much of the past year on a crusade to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals in order to make political statements and lavish himself with luxuries. In so doing, he may have helped bring the troubling issues surrounding campaign finance to the public's attention more than either the reform community or traditional media.
He received approval in June 2011 for his Super PAC, and using this vehicle,
Colbert has exposed many of the potential dangers of the current campaign financing system, including the influence of PACs and unlimited-donation super PACs, secret contributions by big donors, the failure of regulators, and the coordination between campaigns and supposedly independent groups.

And then last week, he declared a run for the presidency. But since candidates cannot run their own Super PACs, he had to give up control, which he did on the air, legally transferring the Super PAC to his close friend and Comedy Central cohort, Jon Stewart, and renaming it "The Definitely Not Coordinated with Stephen Colbert Super PAC."  Among other things, this bit of political theater demonstrated how the rules which prohibit coordination between the candidates and their Super PACS are so transparently ineffectual.

And the latest?  This brilliant ad by the Super PAC, which calls Mitt Romney a "serial killer" for murdering corporations which Romney previously declared were people too.

Of course, now that Colbert is a candidate we know he could not have possibly had anything to do with this producing this ad.


lonbud said...

That Bush roast is already one of the great cultural artifacts of the 21st century.

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