When all the ballots were counted on Saturday, the Stephen Colbert-Herman Cain Train walked away with 6,324 votes, giving them a fifth place finish with about 1.1% of the total vote. While that is forty times the votes for Cain over his non-Colbert affiliated New Hampshire tally (according to Ballot-Access.org), it's hardly a ringing endorsement of Colbert's candidacy for "President of the United States of South Carolina." But likely enough to make it worthwhile to try to become President of the United States of Florida on January 31.
The Colbert-Cain candidacy is pure satire, but as Public Policy Polling announced last week, Colbert is currently polling nationally at 13% in a hypothetical three-way race with President Obama and Mitt Romney. They note that "36% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 28% with a negative one. His 36% favorability is better than the entire GOP field."
PPP poses a scenario where Colbert throws in with Americans Elect, a nonprofit organization that's using internet-based voting to nominate a third-party ticket for the 2012 election. They've gained ballot status in 15 states, allowing them to put their eventual nominees on the ballot from Alaska to Kansas to Hawaii to Vermont.
If Colbert were to become the Americans Elect candidate, the bid "could be a blessing in disguise for the GOP. His voters go for Obama over Romney 52-38 in a straight head to head, so his presence as a potential candidate works to the Republicans' advantage." Not surprisingly, he's "popular with Democrats (47/21) and independents (43/26) but not with Republicans (18/39) despite his best efforts to run as one of their Presidential candidates."
This is all sheer fantasy, of course. Colbert's shtick is as a blowhard Republican, while his personal politics are clearly center-liberal...none of which says "third party candidacy." The man who teared up when Barack Obama was declared the winner on Election Night 2008 is not going to want to undermine voter turnout in what might already be a less than record-shattering turnout year. Americans Elect is a serious effort that wouldn't benefit from an unserious candidate. And the minute Colbert becomes a serious candidate, he stops being funny.
Stephen Colbert has done more in the last few months to illustrate the dangers of unrestrained, unrestricted political action committees on the presidential process than virtually anyone on television.
"This is the best shot in the arm on the issue that we have had in a long time," former Senator Russ Feingold, co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, told Variety this week. "It has been brilliantly executed. The net result is that it is finally getting through to people that what the Supreme Court did in Citizens United was one of the greatest thefts of our rights that we have ever seen."
Or, as Colbert put it during his joint rally with Herman Cain last week: "With a stroke of a gavel, the Supreme Court leveled the playing field and then sold the rights to that playing field to Bank of America."
It's a message largely lost on media, itself now an extension of the same moneyed structure. To take one widely-circulating example, Chuck Todd of NBC blasted Colbert earlier this week for pissing all over the political process, the Republican candidates, and the media.
"I worry we're going to trivialize our institutions, make people more cynical, raise an entire generation that's even more cynical than they are now, to the point where we have already demonized institutions that, frankly, I do idolize," he told an audience at South Carolina's Winthrop University on Thursday. "I idolize the institution of the United States Senate and the United States House. I'm sorry that there are a lot of people there that don't idolize that the same way."
"Pranks, I suppose, have their place. But in a process that picks the president of the United States? It doesn’t touch my funny bone," sniffed Colbert I King in the Washington Post on Friday. "To be clear, there are good and sufficient reasons not to want any of these Republican candidates to make it to the White House. But that doesn’t mean it’s fair to interfere with the established process by which they try to get there. Candidates, regardless of party, deserve more respect."
"Acquiring the millions needed to get a presidential campaign off the ground requires grueling hours of asking people and groups to part with their treasures on behalf of your cause," he continues. "Now introduce into that mix an entertainer who takes neither himself nor the political process seriously, who lives for laughs and satire, and has the prominence and enough dough to form a super PAC and try to muscle his way into the nominating process. The result is a mockery of the race."
"Maybe I’m becoming a curmudgeon. But I don’t see the humor."
That's because it's not funny, Mr. King. That's rather the point of Colbert's argument.
The current political process is so slanted, so money-fattened, so anti-small-d-democratic that it's become worthy of neither idolization nor respect.If our mainstream press were still free and independent, it's a crisis they would be hammering on every single day. Instead, the task has fallen to satirist with nothing but a basic-cable platform, a talented staff, and a loyal fan following.
So, stay in the race, Stephen. Consider that third-party option. Keep coming up with new ways to point out all the absurdities and abuses and excesses and unfairnesses of modern politics. Keep it in our faces so we can't forget it in the bustle of our daily lives. Just keep making us laugh while you do it. Lord knows we need the chuckle.