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Ball writes: "It is not every day on the campaign trail that one gets to see a onetime Republican presidential frontrunner recite the lyrics to a children's cartoon theme, then burst into song, then submit himself and his party to vicious mockery by a liberal satirist."

Stephen Colbert rallies with Herman Cain in South Carolina, 01/19/12. (photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)
Stephen Colbert rallies with Herman Cain in South Carolina, 01/19/12. (photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

How Serious Is Stephen Colbert?

By Molly Ball, The Atlantic

21 January 12


t is not every day on the campaign trail that one gets to see a onetime Republican presidential frontrunner recite the lyrics to a children's cartoon theme, then burst into song, then submit himself and his party to vicious mockery by a liberal satirist.

"I came here to praise one man - one Her-man," Stephen Colbert told an enthralled crowd here on Friday. He added, "A her-man is not the same thing is a she-male. I don't want to frighten off any Santorum supporters."

The her-man was, of course, Herman Cain, the out-of-work former candidate who was so unjustly ejected from the 2012 race by the "Democrat machine" that he accused of somehow causing numerous women to accuse him of a history of infidelity and sexual harassment.

"Herman Cain is an outsider," Colbert said. "In fact, he is such an outsider, he is not even running for president anymore. He is a man with ideas; a man with convictions; a man with a bus with his face on it."

He whipped the crowd into a roar as he called Cain to the stage: "The Her-man with a plan, the plan so fine they named it nine-nine-nine! The Mad Max of the flat tax! The Indiana Jones of opportunity zones! The Her-man, the Her-myth! My brother from another mother - Mr. Herman Cain!"

That ovation, before he opened his mouth, was the biggest cheer Cain would get from the youthful crowd of thousands, packed under trees draped with Spanish moss in an elegant 18th-century college courtyard.

The applause for his vague exhortation to take Washington back was tepid and disapproving. When he praised the Tea Party, there were boos and a shout of "Occupy Herman Cain!" When he told them not to take Colbert's advice and vote for his defunct candidacy - "I don't want you to waste your vote," he said - it was pretty clear whose side of the issue the crowd was on.

And then there was "the Pokemon thing": Apparently prompted by an audience member, Cain, who had quoted the theme from Pokemon: The Movie 2000 as the words of "a poet" on the campaign trail, intoned the lines in his rumbling bass, then sang:

Life can be a challenge.
Life can be impossible.
It's never easy when there's so much on the line.
But you and I can make a difference.
There's a mission just for you and me.

Cain was the court jester of the 2012 field, the man who reliably brought the house down at campaign events and debates with his shtick about "fixing the problem" - itself a near-parody of politicians' fatuous odes to common sense. But next to Colbert, he wasn't very funny. He was a laughingstock, and he didn't seem to be totally in on the joke.

All of Colbert's jokes, though, couldn't disguise the earnestness of his own plea. He has become a campaign-finance activist, forming a "super PAC" with the help of a real campaign-finance lawyer who once worked for John McCain in order to satirize the shambles of the regulatory regime. In the latest twist, he's handed the super PAC over to his Comedy Central colleague Jon Stewart so that he can explore running for the presidency in South Carolina, his home state.

"The pundits have asked, is this all some joke?" Colbert said. "And I say, if they are calling being allowed to form a super PAC and collecting unlimited, untraceable amounts of money from individuals, unions, and corporations, and spending that money on political ads and for personal enrichment, and then surrendering that super PAC to one of my closest friends while I explore a run for office - if that is a joke, then they are saying our entire campaign finance system is a joke!"

About this point, Colbert appears to be completely serious. He roundly mocked the idea of corporate personhood, one of the underpinnings of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, calling himself "the Martin Luther King of corporate civil rights - the Lockheed Martin Luther Burger King, if you will." He called out the "unelected justices of the Supreme Court" who ruled in that 5-4 majority: "Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, the other Scalia and the tall guy, I want to say Gary something." (He was looking for Kennedy.)

In the wake of the Citizens United decision, liberals are now nearly as furious at the judiciary as conservatives, who invented the modern court-bashing franchise. And Colbert, who embarked on this venture too late to get on the South Carolina ballot, is urging his fans in the state to vote for Cain instead (over Cain's objections). The idea, beyond the joy of an old-fashioned prank, seems to be to send a message about corporate influence in politics, though it's a rather convoluted way to go about it.

There is a real, bipartisan backlash brewing against super PACs, which have had a major impact on the race for the GOP nomination already. Newt Gingrich complained bitterly about their attacks (Colbert: "I am not going to answer the gotcha question about whether I am interested in an open marriage, although I am flattered that Newt Gingrich asked me"). Mitt Romney has claimed to loathe them even as they do much of his campaign's dirty work (Colbert: "The only difference between a statue and Mitt Romney is that a statue never changes its position"). Republican voters on the campaign trail in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina routinely grumble about their clogging of the airwaves.

But while Colbert cloaked his serious point in sarcasm, Cain seemed a bit pained by the way the comedian was proposing to make a mockery of the electoral system, as evidenced by his plea not to be voted for. Seen through the lens of an earnest would-be participant in that system, Colbert's stunt seemed less clever than cynical, less irreverence than sabotage.

In a half-hour or so of canvassing the Colbert audience, nary a Republican voter could be found. Most were Democrats or liberal-leaning independents, relieved to have a campaign event of their own to attend amid all the Republican campaigning in their state.

Naylor Brownell and Nick Shalosky, a gay couple in their 20s who attended Colbert's speech, said they planned to follow his instructions and vote for Cain. South Carolina does not have registration by party, so any voter can cast a ballot in Saturday's Republican primary.

"The best part was when Herman Cain told us all to stay informed, when he's not informed at all," said Shalosky, a law student who says he is South Carolina's first openly gay elected official - he sits on a local school board.

"I thought, 'Maybe you should stay informed about, for example, Syria,'" said Brownell, a medical resident.

Both commended Colbert for exposing the ridiculousness of the campaign finance system. And Brownell had this to say about the actual Republican candidates: "They're more of a joke than Stephen Colbert is." your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

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+127 # Capn Canard 2012-01-21 12:52
I doubt Colbert is serious about anything other than addressing Citizens United court ruling that has allowed anyone to create a Super PAC as ridiculous as the "Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC". That alone is a major clue that suggest the open corruption that is inherent to a Super PAC. Meanwhile SCOTUS is fiddling...
+177 # BobbyLip 2012-01-21 13:00
Nowhere in the Constitution does it say one has to be a lawyer to sit on the Supreme Court. Explain to me why Colbert would be a worse choice than Alito.
+48 # Texas Aggie 2012-01-21 14:20
If I tried to explain to you why Colbert is a worse choice than Alito/Roberts/S calia/Thomas, I would have to flat out, in your face lie. And I won't do that. So there is no valid response to your demand.
+156 # Billy Bob 2012-01-21 13:20
Colbert is the only serious candidate running. He's certainly the only one serious about the future of our country.
+4 # Richard Raznikov 2012-01-21 14:21
I beg to disagree, Billy Bob. There are other serious candidates running, but the mass media would rather cover fools such as Santorum and comedy routines like this one. How many stories have you/we read about Anderson and the Justice Party? How much legitimate space does Ron Paul get in supposedly even-handed news stories about the GOP primaries? How about Buddy Roemer, a former Governor, who can't even get into the debates? That's the only objection I have to the Colbert circus: that as a circus it gains coverage while real candidates and real issues are made to disappear.
+37 # Billy Bob 2012-01-21 15:42
Point well taken about the 3rd party candidates.

I was only refering to the GOP, however.

Regarding paul... like I said, Colbert is the only serious candidate running. Paul is the least funny joke of the bunch, but he's still a joke, no matter how dangerous.
+13 # Capn Canard 2012-01-22 09:55
Richard, you know that it's all about the money! Ideas and political theory equals marginal profits. Money is the only thing that the Media pays attention to! People like Roemer, Anderson and Ron Paul are marginalized because what they say tends threaten the Financial System's grip on power. Take note that Paul virtually won the Iowa straw poll(I think he lost by a couple votes?), but all the Media talked about was Michelle Bachmann! The Media is just the mega phone, the voice for the power of wealth. BTW, I think Colbert is doing a fine job of pointing out the retardation of our system.
+12 # mwd870 2012-01-23 09:14
I think it is true Colbert is serious about the future of our country. Unlike those currently in power or seeking power, he has a brain and is not a politician (I'm pretty sure he's not aspiring to be one). Satire is one of the best forms of criticism.

I don't know how any pundit could seriously ask Colbert if he is serious about protesting the absurdity of Citzens United and SuperPacs. As Colbert says in the article, "Our entire campaign finance system is a joke!"
+73 # Regina 2012-01-21 13:46
Maybe it takes a clown to expose clowns. In spoofing the doctrinaire robots, all spouting the same pack of lies about the economy and the same unconstitutiona l religiosity, Colbert serves the country well in its greatest peril to date.
+94 # Helen Marshall 2012-01-21 14:08
Al Franken was also a comedian and he is doing an excellent job as Senator. We need more of these guys in Washington!
-69 # BBFmail 2012-01-21 14:54
Quoting Helen Marshall:
Al Franken was also a comedian and he is doing an excellent job as Senator. We need more of these guys in Washington!

+4 # Capn Canard 2012-01-22 10:00
Helen Marshall, I agree. Congress is a circus and they are all clowns, it seems reasonable that they should have experience as actual clowns. Like Jesse Ventura! Pro rasselin' is a clownish "sport", and politics is the theater of the absurd.
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-01-22 13:26
We need less Hollywood..Reag un is a prime example
+41 # giraffee2012 2012-01-21 14:12
Colbert is doing us a favor - for telling the truth about the system. Of course - the GOP doesn't want to hear this since these candidates & elected ones are / can profit from the Supremes' UNCONSTITUTIONA L decision of "person hood".

I want to marry a corporation - I'm beautiful and the best spouse one could hope for - so step up any single corporation and if we have a big family, I promise to stay married until "death do us part"
+5 # KittatinyHawk 2012-01-22 13:27
Or at least Bankruptcy. Spend while you got it and put some good sound foundations together. Go girl
-39 # uglysexy 2012-01-21 14:14
colbert is dangerous if he pulls even one percent of dem voters as a spoiler in the 2012 campaign...I don't enjoy his levity when it encroaches on our chances to keep the republicans from being a triple threat, congress and white house
-19 # ChickenBoo 2012-01-21 16:32
Quoting uglysexy:
colbert is dangerous if he pulls even one percent of dem voters as a spoiler in the 2012 campaign...I don't enjoy his levity when it encroaches on our chances to keep the republicans from being a triple threat, congress and white house

I agree!
+19 # Billy Bob 2012-01-21 21:02
You're aware that Obama isn't running in the repuglican primary, right?
-12 # disgusted American 2012-01-21 23:49

Don't know why you are so terrified of a Republican getting into the white house. It won't be any different than what we have now. Obama took over where Bush left off. Both parties dine at the same trough.

A lot of people won't vote for either of these parties. They'll vote for Rocky Anderson, Jill Stein or write a name in or stay home.

How could you possibly vote for someone who just turned this country into a police state by signing the NDAA into law after changing parts of it to give himself complete control?

How could you vote for someone who signed a law that forces you to purchase health insurance even if you can't afford it, even if it's lousy coverage or you are forced into expanded Medicaid - all under threat of an IRS enforced penalty? That is gov't sanctioned coercion and collusion. Democrats did that.

People in MA know all about how Obamacare works. It doesn't. The adverse affects on your life will be a travesty.

Fear gets you nowhere. Think out of the box.
+11 # Capn Canard 2012-01-22 10:07
disgusted American, I believe it is even deeper than Obama or the Dems being douche bags. I believe the problem is our adversarial political system. Saints in heaven but I would prefer a parliamentary system with power evenly distributed rather than our winner take all system, because sometimes the winner has less than 49% of the vote and yet controls 100% of policy. Even significant minorities are marginalized. In the long run this can't be good.
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-01-22 13:35
Stick the Health Insurance up wherever. We pay every month for Health Insurance, we work.
Mass and other New England States are home to should have took care of their leaching tentacles years ago but you didnot. Now everyone has to pay?

Where were you when Hillary had a Medical Plan? some bar bitching about her. I am tired of people sucking the life out of us who work for a living and have to pay their bills. I know lot of them they are white, working but they refuse to pay for Medical Insurance for them or their family.

I have fought for over 40 years for Socialized Medicine...but again everyone had medical and didnot plan for the future so that makes all of us Republicans because they plan for how much they are going to get today...Pipelin e is proof of that.

I am tired of the medical bs...did any of you work on any plans locally, state, county? Did any of you send OB any info on working Health Plans, where we are going to come up with money to cover Bills for those who have NO Coverage...why no, we were too busy bitching about something else.
+8 # OrlandoDFree 2012-01-22 23:11
Please get your facts straight. You only have to buy health insurance if you can afford it. The only penalty is a tax penalty, so if you genuinely can't afford it, you're not penalized. But there's government assistance if you can't afford it.

Before health care reform, I got turned down for coverage because of a minor pre-existing condition. That plan would have cost $650/month. With the changes, I was accepted into a better plan at only $350/month. So I'm very happy with the President's new health plan. But you don't get to go without coverage for the same reason you can't buy car insurance after you've had your accident. We all have to pay for insurance for the same reason we have to pay taxes.

BTW, this isn't a police state either.

The Republicans want to criminalize abortion, cut taxes for the rich while you and pay for Bush's wars and economic collapse, and let the free market protect the environment. Come November, I'll be proudly voting once again for Obama.
+72 # Texas Aggie 2012-01-21 14:24
vicious mockery by a liberal satirist.

What??? Do you mean to tell me that Steven Colbert is NOT a true blue right wing ideologue?!!! Are you saying that his whole show is a fake, a put on, a farce??? Oh, my soul and whiskers! Well, shut ma mouf. Ah is totally bummed out. Next you'll say that wrestling is a put on job, too. Is there nothing sacred in this world anymore???
+14 # Riley73 2012-01-21 16:41
Yo, Tex, it's just too, too sad, isn't it? You'd be [rhetorically] surprised by the number of registered voters who don't, or can't, get the Colbert gag. [Glad to see another Aggie hanging out here, by the way.]
+16 # Glen 2012-01-21 16:54
Yep, Texas Aggie, "comedy is not pretty". Consider the number of comedians and bogus candidates who stuck a sharp stick in the eye of the system, including Ross Perot. We need them. The awareness level has been raised due to Steward and Colbert. That's the point.

Thanks for your comments and the ole pro wrestling comparison.
+41 # vicnada 2012-01-21 14:37
Someone once said that cynicism in adults is the most destructive moral atmosphere for children to breathe. I have two young children and struggle against cynicism--tryin g hard to sort any idealism from ideas floated in daily politics and news. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart mix a powerful potion of candor, commonsense and clever juxtaposition that may not be the answer to our social ills but it's the closest thing I've found to a remedy. And till my kids grow up, I'll keep laughing. And, yes, let's raise Cain!
+85 # lcarrier 2012-01-21 14:40
The five SCOTUS justices who voted for the Citizens United decision are an embarrassment. Nowhere in the Constitution does it bestow personhood on corporations. They are corporate tools that have enabled the Super PACs to spend millions on lying commercials. They should all be impeached for gross negligence and unfathomable ignorance.
+44 # Fight Back 2012-01-21 16:00
Here comes Colbert and his "Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC" - surely someone will bring a test case to challenge this Super PAC and its kin in our Super Court? The evidence is against it, but thanks for the try.

The term "activist", applied to a member of SCOTUS, used to refer to those liberal justices who were said to make new law from the bench favoring democracy. A bad, bad, bad, bad thing to do, according to the Garrison Of Privilege class warriors.

The SCOTUS decision that put Bush in the White House in 2001, a decision that itself stated that it was not intended to apply to any other case, that it was not setting a precedent - just the opposite of what SCOTUS decisions are supposed to do - was the most bald-faced self-convicting admission of misfeasance and malfeasance in office, the new anti-democratic activism.

But there followed no organized widespread calls for impeachment by Democrats, unlike how the Guardians Of Power are wont to react when their noses are out of joint.

+32 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-01-21 16:19
It's a wise court that honours its jesters.
+23 # Huck Mucus 2012-01-21 17:06
The thing that voluntarily places me in contempt of the United States Supreme Court is this:

If Citizens United is eventually obviated by Constitutional Amendment or legislation, the Court will always sit back in sanctimonious, self-righteous "justification" and say "That is the way it should be, we were bound by precedent/corre ct interpretation, and it was only our august judgement which pointed out the need for change. We were the wise motivators. Thank you." Such swill will be taught in law schools and an example of how the system works.

Bull shit. The court was wrong in the first damn place, under existing law. Just as they were in Bush v. Gore. They are a joke and corporate shills. Our whole system is corrupt and the court is not above it. Rather, it is part of it.

They should be hauled before ME for my judgement of them! I find them in contempt of ME! Of America!

Stephen Colbert is funny. I am not. I hope the court watches his show. It is being entered into The Record of America and they should know it.
+4 # Regina 2012-01-23 01:19
To the contrary, they rejected being "bound" and overturned decades of precedent. Of course the new judicial activists assured the Senate during their confirmation hearings that they would follow precedent ("stare decisis"), but once installed they threw jurisprudence overboard and served their political string-pullers, not the Constitution or the national interest.
-4 # photo01 2012-01-21 19:03
The Constitution of the United States
Article. II. SECTION. 1, Paragraph 5:
“No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

Mitt Romney was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 12, 1947, to Lenore LaFount Romney (1908-1998) and George W. Romney (1907-1995). Mitt's father, Governor George Romney of Michigan, was legally a Mexican, not a U.S. citizen.

United States V. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898):
“At common law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children, born in a country of parents who were its citizens, became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.”

So, to be a NATURAL BORN CITIZEN … you must be born in the country and your parents must BE CITIZENS. As it is a legal document parents with an "s" at the end means both parents.

Although a citizen, Mitt Romney is not, and never has been, a "natural born" citizen. As a citizen he could run for Congress but only be president if he were born over 236 years ago.
+6 # beeyl 2012-01-22 00:54
I think you've misunderstood something in the excerpt from US v Wong Kim Ark, which says that children born in the US to parents who are US citizens are themselves natural-born citizens.

From this, however, it does NOT logically follow that children born in the US to parents who are not US citizens are themselves not natural-born citizens.
+2 # bugbuster 2012-01-22 11:48
To back up your assertion, note that the court found in favor of Mr. Ark, a Chinese man for whom Congress attempted to deny citizenship by legislation.
0 # Nominae 2012-01-22 16:05
@ beeyl


If photo01's analysis were correct, there would be no such thing as the phenomenon known as "anchor babies".

Therefore, it is obvious that even illegal immigrants understand U.S. immigration law exactly as beeyl has stated above.
+2 # BeaDeeBunker 2012-01-22 02:32
[quote name="photo01"] The Constitution of the
Resident within the United States.”

United States V. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898):
“At common law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children, born in a country of parents who were its citizens, became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.”

So, to be a NATURAL BORN CITIZEN … you must be born in the country and your parents must BE CITIZENS. As it is a legal document parents with an "s" at the end means both parents.

PHOTO1: You misread this 1898 case. The parents have to be citizens, but how they became citizens is not important. I am a first generation American citizen. My mother became a naturalized citizen. She married a man from Europe and he became a citizen, because his wife was a 'citizen.' I was born to two parents who were both citizens. I was born in the U.S.A. I am over the age of 35. Are you really suggesting that I could never run for the office of President? I don't think so! Nice try. Don't get me wrong, the GOP will not win this race, but it will not be because Romney is not a 'natural born' citizen.
+2 # bugbuster 2012-01-22 10:45
I recommend that you review Boolean logic. Your interpretation of US V Ark shows that you misunderstand the concept of logical implication, also known as *entailment*.

"If it is raining then there are clouds in the sky." This statement does not imply this one: "If there are clouds in the sky then it is raining."

Similarly, "If I was born in the US and my parents are US citizens then I am a US citizen" does not imply "If I am a US citizen then I was born in the US and my parents are US citizens."

To carry your meaning, the sentence would have had to be " was never doubted that all children who were citizens were born in the country where their parents were citizens."
+5 # bugbuster 2012-01-22 10:52
from Wikipedia on United States V Wong Kim Ark:

"...this issue reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in Wong's favor, holding that the citizenship language in the Fourteenth Amendment encompassed essentially everyone born in the U.S.—even the U.S.–born children of foreigners—and could not be limited in its effect by an act of Congress."
+4 # OrlandoDFree 2012-01-22 23:14
Please get your facts straight. To be a US citizen, you need to be born here, or you need to be born of at least one US Citizen parent. That's why John McCain, born in Panama, was eligible to be President. It's also why George Romney, who ran in 1968, was also eligible.
+8 # RobinMcM 2012-01-22 09:42
"vicious mockery by a liberal satirist" ? Aren't we becoming just a bit overwrought? Stephen Colbert is a brilliant satirist who is using his gifts to bring to the light of day the cynical travesty that is the Supreme Court Citizens United decision. It is not Mr. Colbert who is committing the "vicious mockery" but rather the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
+1 # bugbuster 2012-01-22 12:13
What's wrong with that? Is it better to be a Rush Limbaugh who purports himself to be serious?
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-01-22 13:43
If people here have so little awareness than the big picture is scarier than we can imagine.
Most of the people are out/out followers without an idea in their head. When Stewart, Colbert and others jolt us into thinking...that is what we are supposed to do. Think. Really Colbert/Stewart doesnot have near the evil implications that Bush/Cheney did or say Newt/Perry.

Put your energy into doing something, otherwise you are no better than the GOP followers...thu mb me down all you want..go to a Mirror!
+3 # BellBuoy 2012-01-22 14:09
Colbert is the Abbie Hoffman of 2012. It's the Yippie vote; remember? Holding up the mirror to the tourists on the bus in the Haight-Asbury. Holding the mirror up to the fools who listen to Rush and Sean and their ilk. May he be successful at showing the King wears no clothes, or at least giving us good comic relief as the tragedy of Election (media spin) 2012 wears on....
Power to the People!
+7 # Windy126 2012-01-22 15:15
I was born in the US to a mother who was a citizen and a father who was not a citizen until I was 3 years old. We had been told that since my mother wad a citizen my brother and I were citizens. Don't go changing that on us now.
+1 # 2012-01-23 15:25
"... But no matter the specific diagnosis, it is fascinating." Try scary.
+2 # Buddha 2012-01-23 17:31
At least Colbert has a POINT to what he is doing. Meanwhile the GOP in Wisconsin runs "fake Democrats" in recall primaries. Who is "sabotaging" elections cynically more, Colbert or the GOP?

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