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100 percent legal. 10 percent ethical.

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What are the consequences of mixing the theatrical with the political? I don’t mean this in the sense of, Bachmann or Obama’s campaigning is all theater and no substance. I mean this in the sense of, Stephen Colbert is not an actual political figure, but an actor. It’s time to talk about the Colbert SuperPAC: Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

Besides having the best name for a political action committee ever devised, what should this mean to Americans involved in politics? Colbert is using the Super PAC to comment on his perceived absurdity of the unmitigated rights of Super PACs in American politics. And satire and politics have always had a close knit relationship. But the NY Times is wondering now, does Colbert cross a line? Does making a “fake” Super PAC, that is actually a real Super PAC and both raises money and spends money like a real Super PAC, and using that Super PAC to impact real elections, cross the line from satire to just being wrong?

Says the Times:

Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow may be a running gag on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, but it is spending money as it sees fit, with little in the way of disclosure, just like its noncomedic brethren.
Comedians, including Mr. Colbert in the last election, have undertaken faux candidacies. But his Super PAC riff is a real-world exercise, engaging in a kind of modeling by just doing what Super PACs do.
And he has come under some real-world criticism for inserting himself in the political process so directly.  

TRC thinks: no. Colbert is safely in the realm of his satire comfy chair. Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow actually might impact the silliness of the world of PACs, but it’s not going to affect the presidential election. Colbert might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is not malicious. He’s interested in the process.

“I am much taken by this and can’t think of any real parallel in history,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. “Yes, comedians have always told jokes about elections, but this is quite different. This is a funny person being very serious, actually talking about process. What comedian talks about process?”

And that might be the point. I imagine very few Iowa voters voted for Richard Parry. But spending money on advertisements that lampoon the advertisements subjecting children to cornography while playing terribly, emotional music actually offers a real opportunity for people to acknowledge just how ridiculous campaign advertising, and campaign finance actually is. It is so ridiculous, in fact, that a comedian on a fake-opinion-news show can start a PAC with the FEC, and raise untold monies to spend in any way Colbert can possibly imagine. It is brilliant both because it probably shouldn’t be allowed, but it must be allowed, which is ridiculous, and thus should be laughed at.

Colbert seems to accept his absurdity. His character acknowledged that establishing his Super PAC is 100 percent legal, and probably only 10 percent ethical. But that might be the point: is that any less ethical than any other Super PAC?


Written by Christopher ZF

August 24, 2011 at 16:35