Sunday, October 28, 2007

Strong Words in South Carolina

Having decided to keep riding the painted pony of Stephen Colbert on the merry-go-round ride of the South Carolina primary, our anonymous "E&P Staff" has at least decided to come up with some better quotations in today's Editor & Publisher dispatch. They also may be offering some insight into what makes Stephen run. If, indeed, the man is coming at this with little more than acting credentials, then we are at least obliged to figure out what script he is using. In that regard "E&P Staff" may have given us a clue:

Colbert, at the campus of the University of South Carolina today, told several hundred sign-waving fans that he'll take care of the rival state to the south. "I promise, if elected, I will crush the state of Georgia," Colbert said to the cheering crowd.

Colbert added, "Our peaches are more numerous than Georgia's. They are more juiciful."

Unfortunately, the script may not be familiar to Colbert supporters, who would probably dismiss it as before their time. The script I am referring to is for the early Woody Allen film, Bananas. Those of my generation may recall that this film depicts a Castro-like revolution in a fictitious Latin American country. While making strategic plans up in the mountains, this character has all the admirable qualities of a reformer determined to clean the muck of corruption out of the government. Once he gains power, however, he starts making all sorts of silly proclamations (or, in the spirit of the title of the film, he goes bananas). Colbert's speech at the University of South Carolina honors the spirit, if not the text, of the silliness that Woody Allen wrote for his Castro-from-cloud-cuckoo-land. The only difference is that, when Allen's fictitious character begins his blathering, the citizens of the fictitious country start looking at each other wondering if they have made a colossal mistake in supporting the recently-completed revolution. Colbert's audience, on the other hand, seems to have eaten it all up with the same enthusiasm they display for their peaches.

Fortunately, there is at least one group that is giving serious consideration to what is happening and what to do about it, John Edwards and his staff. It is not often that a state may experience a battle between two favorite sons; and Edwards camp seems to recognize that they do not want to embarrassment of being scooped, even in the name of postmodern theory. Thus, they did not waste any time when Colbert decided to question Edwards' South Carolina roots:

The truthiness is, as the candidate of Doritos, Colbert's hands are stained by corporate corruption and nacho cheese. John Edwards has never taken a dime from salty food lobbyists and America deserves a President who isn't in the pocket of the snack food special interests.

I think this amounts to a rather nice blend of the humorous and the serious. It is a not-too-subtle reminder that a major television personality remains major only as long as he or she brings eyeballs to commercials for tortilla chips (or potato chips or car insurance or Viagra or what-have-you). However often Colbert's rapier wit strikes the heart of his target, The Colbert Report will only stay on the air if its commercial supporters want to keep it there. Perhaps this is one reason why we have not heard Colbert fulminate very much about the other candidates being controlled by special interest groups, because he has his "minders," too!

With this move the Edwards team has reminded me that, while a strategy of postmodern resistance may be a good way to bring attention to the need for reform and while Colbert seems to be able to "play" this strategy very well, I, personally, would feel really bummed out if Colbert were to thrash Edwards in the South Carolina Democratic Party. Perhaps this is because I am still drawn to Edwards as a voice of reason among the Democratic contenders, even when I agree with Isaiah Berlin that the voice of reason is not necessarily the best voice for a political leader. Edwards may not have that "ruthlessness factor" that I wrote about on Thursday; but I still believe that he has more to offer the Democratic Party than Colbert does. I do not want to see him undermined; and, if Colbert is determined to take on a candidate in that candidate's home state, perhaps he should accept the fact that he is now a New Yorker and pick on Hillary Clinton!

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