Stephen Colbert speaks during the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the National Mall on October 30, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Super PACs are the new kind of political action committee that came about post the Citizens United v Federal Election Supreme Court decision. These PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for a candidate. Effectively giant conglomerates of money, they are supposedly working independently of candidates. The problem is, Super PACs are also working independently of voters and are making American politics absurd.
What makes the era of Super PACs in politics so bizarre is that there is no rational relationship between the money and the beliefs of the voters. Candidates are supported by money that floats free of voter support. It’s almost as though voters have become irrelevant, and only manipulating their votes is what matters.
Comedy, therefore, may be the best way to deal with how ludicrous politics is becoming today. I took the inspiration for this post, for example, from the film comedy, “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” This film is a spoof of a true story of military attempts at psychic manipulation, starting with goats but with the clear intent to move up to humans. Psychic researchers wanted to know, ‘Can you really generate enough psychic energy to manipulate another?’
Super PACs are run by men who stare at votes, not goats, but there is definitely a similar intention to manipulate. You can stare at voters, and with enough money in your Super PAC, you can change their minds. Super PACs stopped Newt Gingrich’s surge in Iowa in its tracks.
Is this the future of politics, where big money can manipulate our democracy?
What gives me hope is that now the comedians have stepped in. Stephen Colbert, with a little help from his fellow comedian Jon Stewart, has started his own Super PAC. Colbert has developed spoofing the absurdities of politics into a comedic art form, as he did in the “March to Keep Fear Alive,” and I think Colbert’s action is very important to help voters become aware of how Super PACs function to manipulate voting.
Overall, I believe comedy plays an important role today in our polarized society, bringing the craziness to light so we can deal with it. As I have written before for On Faith, “For many years, a wonderful seminary colleague of mine taught a class called ‘Humor as Healing and Grace.’ Humor is a theological subject because it can be a way of healing divisions and cultivating the grace of self-awareness.”
Colbert has famously created his own Super PAC and is now toying with the idea of running for President, starting in South Carolina. He devoted his show recently to this subject. Colbert managed, in a short period of time on that program, to both demonstrate how Super PACSs work and how absurd it is to claim that there is no “coordination” between candidates and these Super PACs. He brought out his own lawyer to explain that Stephen could not run for President and run his Super Pac.
Colbert was shocked. “But… I love my Super Pac. And I love the money.”
It’s okay, the lawyer reassured. Someone else can take over the Super PAC as long as it was someone he couldn’t strategize with. Out comes fellow Comedy Central host, Jon Stewart, who said, “I’m honored,” when asked to take over Stephen’s Super PAC. Even though the two work closely together, and have for years, apparently Stewart’s taking over Colbert’s PAC doesn’t count as “coordination.”
Thus are voters helped to understand how absolutely absurd these Super PACs are.
On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Colbert explained his desire to do an “exploratory” run for President starting in South Carolina, despite Stephanopoulos’ careful explanation of the many reasons that wasn’t possible.
But the most reveling moment was when a Facebook question came in to the show and was read to Colbert by the host:
STEPHANOPOULOS: “Do you believe the outcome of the 2012 presidential election is based on how much money each candidate can raise?”
COLBERT: No, it’s how much speech they can express, because money equals speech. It doesn’t matter if the speech comes from money or comes from your mouth.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you agree with the Supreme Court?
COLBERT: On almost everything. Money equals speech, therefore, the more money you have the more you can speak. That’s just — that just stands to reason. If corporations are people, corporations should be able to speak. That’s why I believe in super PACs.
Funny? Yes. But, educational, too. Money isn’t speech, no matter how much money you have and despite what the Supreme Court may tell us. It’s absurd to say money equals speech, and it takes a comedian to say it.
The only way out of our current absurd politics is to make people aware of how illogical saying things like “money is speech” really is, and how the way Super PACs work is so ridiculous. Then, with this awareness, people can reject the whole ridiculous premise, and we can regain some balance and sanity again in our politics.
In Christian theology, we call that grace.