Colbert and the Super PACs: The men who stare at votes

Kris Connor GETTY IMAGES Stephen Colbert speaks during the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the National Mall on … Continued

Kris Connor

GETTY IMAGES

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.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • thebump

    As the Supreme Court correctly decided, freedom of speech is vitiated if somebody else dictates where and when you may speak, and how you may use your own resources to publicize your views.

    But what has any of this to do with the ostensible topic of this section—namely, faith? Oh, right. “Humor is a theological subject…” Got it.

    The Post needs to move this column to its section for left-wing political blogs.

  • persiflage

    ‘Is this the future of politics, where big money can manipulate our democracy?’

    No question – both from both the outside and the inside of government. Every consolidated monetary force (other than ordinary citizen/voters) that matters is using virtually unlimited resources legally, to manipulate legislative outcomes at every level of government. This includes several thousand corporate lobbyists on Capital Hill. Super-PACS have the exalted blessing of SCOTUS.

    50% of all congressional members are millionaires, and are seemingly more interested in long-term political careers than in forging constructive legislation that benefits the man in the street.

    This all makes for democratic laziness, timidity, and disorganization, and exacerbates groupthink republican maliciousness – faults that are peculiar to each political party.

    Meanwhile, the continuous transfer of wealth moves inexorably upward – while even the trickle down dries up for the majority of voters. I can understand Ron Paul’s appeal as a seeming alternative to ‘the same old same old’ – if he were 20 years younger and a democrat, the guy might actually stand a chance as the ‘man with new ideas’.

    As it is, running as a republican will always be a death sentence for anyone who opposes the irresistable flow of the status quo. Money talks.

  • James210

    I call it a troll! and look who the first was to hit. Me!

    How much line you gonna run? two? Reeling in tuna 250 yards out, can kill arm strength. I’m not having fun with this at all(greed). The twisted absurdity of word language, is it’s own drunken spector of hell(hitchins).
    If you going to take that gap , may I suggest we ask the devil, to have our backs, so that the blinding light of salvation reveals our aura of invincibility! ? That’s the short-road to recovery.
    Goals and objectives of said comedians? sunder the line and go for command(Rush), all other considerations secondary (ignore the cannon “primary objective”). Center the main masT and revet . sounds absurd to me. Night action(leary).
    Glorious! isn’t it? Not really. Planning and prep? we must take the ordained throught the pre-ordained, to establish, the Post-ordained.

    This is a personal lapse in training and discipline sorta like, I surrender, and somebody saying OOPs… sorry too late? I’m nuts

  • James210

    personal lapse on “my” part , main reason. james 210 is now retired(convicted) and, i look forward to mask training, my personalities, in the peace and sanctuary of isolation.

  • James210

    If I may enhance MY moment of defeat, for so many of my bretheran/family? so they continue to glorify my suffering and have something to brag about and, warn others not to do?

    Goals and objectives of said comedians? sunder the line and go for command-(Rush) “strategic position”, all other considerations secondary (ignore the cannon “primary objective” hi”commanding position”. Center the main masT and revet “concealing position” witch!?. sounds absurd to me. Night action “self preservation position” ?(leary).

  • thebump

    @James210: You took the words right out of my mouth. Well said, and the perfect rejoinder for this column.

  • amelia45

    “It’s almost as though voters have become irrelevant, and only manipulating their votes is what matters. ”

    And that is exactly what the Supreme Court gave us in saying corporations are people and money is speech.

    We are rapidly loosing our democracy and becoming a corporatocracy.

  • thebump

    Corporations are people? No, the creatures who provide the goods and services that make modern life possible are all Martians or unicorns.

    Money is speech? No, free speech is limited to shouting at people within hearing distance of my unaided voice—since any other form of communication involves money changing hands somewhere.

    Gotta love you moonbats. Thank God the courts have more horse sense than that—for now.

  • persiflage

    ‘We are rapidly loosing our democracy and becoming a corporatocracy.’

    I think the transition is all but complete – with a lot of help from our elected representatives. Just perusing the news gives one the impression that ‘bought and paid for’ corruption hiding out as ‘political ideology’ is much further along than is being openly reported.

    Is it possible that various conspiracies to enhance personal net worth by way of privilaged positioning, and at the expense of the general public, is as widespread as it appears?

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