Stephen Colbert's South Carolina Presidential Run Shows Democracy's Flaws


Deciding to run for presidents ranks as one of the toughest choices a politician has to make, often stemming from decades of impressive service to the country, and grasping at fleeting once-in-a-lifetime chances. Many, especially from today’s Republicans, insist on a period of soul-searching, praying for spiritual advice, before taking the plunge.

Stephen Colbert instead theatrically prayed to money. And just like that, he decided to run for president. Of, and only of, South Carolina.

This isn’t the late-night comedy show host’s first time running. Using his fictitious persona – because nobody can be that fabulous in real life – from the award-winning Colbert Report, the native South Carolinian tried this stunt once in 2008.Technicalities unfortunately prevented him from appearing on the ballot. But he’s returned, armed with a requisite super PAC, and appears to have covered all the legal requirements.

But is it a genuine run or a comedic stunt to boost ratings?

Can’t it be both? After all, “serious” candidates Herman Cain and Donald Trump have already shown that a presidential run is nothing but some cheap, opportunistic publicity. All it takes is a little play-acting for the crowds and a half-serious campaign team. And this country does, after all, have a rather impressive record of electing entertainers to high office with Reagan, Eastwood, and Schwarzenegger all having held executive powers.

However, unlike these august gentlemen, Colbert’s campaign has been quite brazen about its comedic origins, echoing the "joke" political parties elsewhere around the world that the U.S. has, sadly, been allergic to. This has led South Carolinian officials to claim that this disqualifies Colbert from their primaries and, furthermore, that there isn’t even enough room on their ballots to include write-ins.

Colbert’s brand of humor obviously isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Elections are, after all, our highest expression of this country’s democratic ideals. Perhaps not.

If there’s one thing Colbert has shown – repeatedly and consistently – in his coverage of this season’s electoral politics, it’s that there are some deep flaws with the way we elect our officials.

For instance, Colbert had to have himself removed from control of his very own Super PAC, handing it over to friend, colleague, and business partner Jon Stewart in a televised legal ceremony. PACs are that bizarre combination of money and political interests that no self-respecting politician would be without, allowing politicians a magical scapegoat of "plausible deniability" when questioned about who their supporters are. As long as the PAC and the candidate do not “coordinate”– which apparently, as Stewart and Colbert show, includes business partners – PACs allow politicians to receive funds and support in a remarkably obscure and opaque manner from individuals and corporations alike.

PACs, and those that donate to them, are the shadowy sources of power, all priming their own chosen man – or woman – to succeed to the highest office in the land. When moneyed interests can sway politicians from behind the scenes, where is the accountability

Whether or not Colbert is doing this as a grand joke or as a serious campaign, he has revealed something we may all have long suspected: that the whole electoral process is a crazy, mixed-up world.

The current pool of GOP candidates have turned the primaries into a vicious catfight, with the sudden, dramatic rise-and-falls of a candidate’s fortunes seemingly dependent upon outrageously pandering easily-digestible five-minute soundbites. The whole process seems less likely to turn out the most qualified than it is to reveal the person most willing to slog it out through this complete mess. It seems Romney, at least, has the most constitution and patience to deal with the juvenilia which should give him some experience with handling recalcitrant legislators.

Instead, the shadowy world of PACs continue to funnel money to the media networks, that in turn broadcast paeans of praise or devastating guttersnipes at the politicos, legitimizing this twisted process to us, a captive audience.

Politics have become a farcical circus and it took Colbert, the professional clown, to reveal how ludicrous this all is. 

Photo Credit: Rakka