Friday, October 26, 2007

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Making the campaign into a running joke

undefinedStephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert says that he is running for president because “the junctures that we face are both critical and unforeseen, and the real challenge is how we will respond to these junctures, be they unprecedented or unforeseen, or, God help us, critical”.

His entry into the 2008 race for the White House – announced last week “after nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching” – is, of course, part of an elaborate joke to promote his late night TV comedy show and bestselling book I am America (And So Can You!). A group set up in Colbert’s honour on Facebook, the social networking website, signed up its millionth member yesterday, making him by far the most popular presidential hopeful on the internet.

The slow-dawning realisation that he is serious about being a candidate has caused some grinding of teeth from the sometimes pompous American political and media Establishment that he satirises with such effect.

An opinion poll this week suggested that he would get 2.3 per cent support in Democratic primaries – more than Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, Senator Chris Dodd, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Senator Mike Gravel.

Tom Reynolds, the spokesman for Mr Richardson, responded in po-faced fashion. “This is a serious election with serious consequences and we are not going to comment on this ridiculous exercise,” he said. “The country has seen eight years of a joker in the White House, and look where it got us.”

There is no chance that Mr Colbert will become president. He plans to stand only in his native South Carolina, on both the Republican and Democratic party ballots, so that “I can lose twice”.

Katon Dawson, the state’s Republican party chairman, has advised that Mr Colbert would be better off spending the $35,000 entrance fee to “buy a sports car and get a girlfriend”. He added: “Running for President of the United States is not something that you can really have a lot of fun with, because of the federal election laws.”

But Comedy Central, the cable TV channel that hosts Colbert’s faux news show, has hired a top Washington election law firm to navigate the legal minefield that lies ahead on questions about election expenses and whether TV channels can be used to promote a White House bid.

Colbert has shown quick feet in getting around such difficulties, telling his 1.3 million nightly audience that they must use a new campaign website rather than one linked to Comedy Central to sign a downloadable petition seeking to get his name on the South Carolina Democratic ballot. Last week he deftly skirted questions over whether Doritos could sponsor his campaign by appearing in split screens to talk about his candidacy and then lavish praise on the fast-food snack.

Playing the character of a blowhard right-wing pundit Colbert has popularised the term “truthiness,” defined as preferring facts one wishes to be true rather than those known to be true. He has even tested out truthiness in action by coining the phrase “wikiality”, by which if “enough people agree with a notion, it becomes the truth”.

He told viewers to silence the endangered-species lobby by claiming that the population of African elephants had increased threefold in the previous six months. Within hours so many changes had been made to Wikipedia that its administrators had to restrict access to its “elephant” and “Stephen Colbert” entries.

Stephen Colbert poses during the launch party for

The Gospel according to Stephen Colbert

“Sorry, but retirement offends me. You don’t just stop fighting in the middle of a war because your legs hurt. So why do you get to stop working in the middle of your life just because your prostate hurts?" (on old people)

“Marriage is the basic building block of society. And if gay men get married, that threatens my marriage immediately because I only got married as a taunt towards gay men because they couldn’t." (on gay marriage)

“I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things; he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers, and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world." (on President Bush)

“I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq." (on President Bush)

“We’ve learnt John Roberts is a nonosense guy, prefers a half-Windsor knot for his tie, is not fan of cufflinks. And, most tellingly, he parts his hair on the left, which very well might raise some hackles on the Right"

Sources: I am America (And So Can You!); speech to the White House;