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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Shades of Coluche - Colbert Runs for President

I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember the year French comedian Coluche ran for the Présidence de la République. It was back in 1980 and Valéry Giscard D'Estaing was facing a challenge from the Socialist party candidate, François Mitterrand.  Coluche seemed to have thrown his hat into the ring just for fun.  His motto was, "Ils nous prennent pour des imbéciles alors votons pour un imbécile !" (They are taking us for fools [the politicians] so why not vote for a fool!)


It was funny, it was different and added some excitement to an otherwise rather dull race. Nobody took it very seriously until the polls results came out:  Coluche got 16% of the potential vote.  Think about it, 16% of the French were thinking about voting for a comedian, a modern day clown who nevertheless, in my view, had some of the most pertinent and intelligent commentary on French politics at that time.  Thee poll results struck fear into the hearts of the more conventional candidates and they put pressure on him to remove himself from the race which he finally did in 1981.  Mitterand went on to win that year.

30 years later  something similar (and just as interesting) is happening in the U.S.  Steven Colbert is an American comedian who has a television show called the Colbert Report.  To understand why this show is so funny (I'm a regular viewer) you have to understand the context.  In the U.S. there are quite a few Right and Left-wing personalities (not politicians) who have very popular radio and television shows;  Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly to name just a few.  The Colbert Report is nothing less than a spoof (a parody) of these programs.  Colbert plays a self-absorbed, pompous, conservative right-wing talk show host and pokes fun at them and at American politics in general.  It is hilarious and even people on the American Right find him amusing.  It's just that well done.

The U.S. is right in the middle of the Republican (conservative) party state primaries and the next state on the agenda is South Carolina.  Last week Public Policy Polling released a poll that showed Stephen Colbert (who is not even on the ballot) winning 5% of the vote which puts him ahead of at least one respectable (and real) candidate, Jon Huntsman. See this article from The Guardian for the details.  Very embarrassing for Huntman but the real question was:  what will Colbert do?  And this is where things start to get mildly serious.  Aside from the fact that his entering the race would most likely have a (minor) impact on the results, Colbert also runs something called a PAC (political action committee).  This is a fund (perfectly legal) through which private people and organizations funnel money to and channel their support for candidates and causes. The rule is that PAC's cannot "coordinate" with the candidates in any way - nice in theory but, frankly, I doubt anyone really believes it.  Colbert's PAC is called the "Colbert Super PAC" and he has apparently raised quite a bit of money. So, there were two questions in the air last week:  Will Colbert run and what will he do with his PAC?

The answer to both can be found here:  January 12th episode of The Colbert Report.
Watch it and either weep for the current state of the American political process or laugh yourself silly.


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