Though the comedian had plenty of jokes about Herman Cain, who rallied with him in South Carolina, his critique of campaign finance is no laughing matter.
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- It is not every day on the campaign trail that one gets to see a onetime Republican presidential frontrunner recite the lyrics to a children's cartoon theme, then burst into song, then submit himself and his party to vicious mockery by a liberal satirist.
"I came here to praise one man -- one Her-man," Stephen Colbert told an enthralled crowd here on Friday. He added, "A her-man is not the same thing is a she-male. I don't want to frighten off any Santorum supporters."
The her-man was, of course, Herman Cain, the out-of-work former candidate who was so unjustly ejected from the 2012 race by the "Democrat machine" that he accused of somehow causing numerous women to accuse him of a history of infidelity and sexual harassment.
"Herman Cain is an outsider," Colbert said. "In fact, he is such an outsider, he is not even running for president anymore. He is a man with ideas; a man with convictions; a man with a bus with his face on it."
He whipped the crowd into a roar as he called Cain to the stage: "The Her-man with a plan, the plan so fine they named it nine-nine-nine! The Mad Max of the flat tax! The Indiana Jones of opportunity zones! The Her-man, the Her-myth! My brother from another mother -- Mr. Herman Cain!"
That ovation, before he opened his mouth, was the biggest cheer Cain would get from the youthful crowd of thousands, packed under trees draped with Spanish moss in an elegant 18th-century college courtyard.
The applause for his vague exhortation to take Washington back was tepid and disapproving. When he praised the Tea Party, there were boos and a shout of "Occupy Herman Cain!" When he told them not to take Colbert's advice and vote for his defunct candidacy -- "I don't want you to waste your vote," he said -- it was pretty clear whose side of the issue the crowd was on.
And then there was "the Pokemon thing": Apparently prompted by an audience member, Cain, who had quoted the theme from Pokemon: The Movie 2000 as the words of "a poet" on the campaign trail, intoned the lines in his rumbling bass, then sang:
Life can be a challenge.
Life can be impossible.
It's never easy when there's so much on the line.
But you and I can make a difference.
There's a mission just for you and me.
Cain was the court jester of the 2012 field, the man who reliably brought the house down at campaign events and debates with his shtick about "fixing the problem" -- itself a near-parody of politicians' fatuous odes to common sense. But next to Colbert, he wasn't very funny. He was a laughingstock, and he didn't seem to be totally in on the joke.
All of Colbert's jokes, though, couldn't disguise the earnestness of his own plea. He has become a campaign-finance activist, forming a "super PAC" with the help of a real campaign-finance lawyer who once worked for John McCain in order to satirize the shambles of the regulatory regime. In the latest twist, he's handed the super PAC over to his Comedy Central colleague Jon Stewart so that he can explore running for the presidency in South Carolina, his home state.
"The pundits have asked, is this all some joke?" Colbert said. "And I say, if they are calling being allowed to form a super PAC and collecting unlimited, untraceable amounts of money from individuals, unions, and corporations, and spending that money on political ads and for personal enrichment, and then surrendering that super PAC to one of my closest friends while I explore a run for office -- if that is a joke, then they are saying our entire campaign finance system is a joke!"
About this point, Colbert appears to be completely serious. He roundly mocked the idea of corporate personhood, one of the underpinnings of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, calling himself "the Martin Luther King of corporate civil rights -- the Lockheed Martin Luther Burger King, if you will." He called out the "unelected justices of the Supreme Court" who ruled in that 5-4 majority: "Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, the other Scalia and the tall guy, I want to say Gary something." (He was looking for Kennedy.)
In the wake of the Citizens United decision, liberals are now nearly as furious at the judiciary as conservatives, who invented the modern court-bashing franchise. And Colbert, who embarked on this venture too late to get on the South Carolina ballot, is urging his fans in the state to vote for Cain instead (over Cain's objections). The idea, beyond the joy of an old-fashioned prank, seems to be to send a message about corporate influence in politics, though it's a rather convoluted way to go about it.
There is a real, bipartisan backlash brewing against super PACs, which have had a major impact on the race for the GOP nomination already. Newt Gingrich complained bitterly about their attacks (Colbert: "I am not going to answer the gotcha question about whether I am interested in an open marriage, although I am flattered that Newt Gingrich asked me"). Mitt Romney has claimed to loathe them even as they do much of his campaign's dirty work (Colbert: "The only difference between a statue and Mitt Romney is that a statue never changes its position"). Republican voters on the campaign trail in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina routinely grumble about their clogging of the airwaves.
But while Colbert cloaked his serious point in sarcasm, Cain seemed a bit pained by the way the comedian was proposing to make a mockery of the electoral system, as evidenced by his plea not to be voted for. Seen through the lens of an earnest would-be participant in that system, Colbert's stunt seemed less clever than cynical, less irreverence than sabotage.
In a half-hour or so of canvassing the Colbert audience, nary a Republican voter could be found. Most were Democrats or liberal-leaning independents, relieved to have a campaign event of their own to attend amid all the Republican campaigning in their state.
Naylor Brownell and Nick Shalosky, a gay couple in their 20s who attended Colbert's speech, said they planned to follow his instructions and vote for Cain. South Carolina does not have registration by party, so any voter can cast a ballot in Saturday's Republican primary.
"The best part was when Herman Cain told us all to stay informed, when he's not informed at all," said Shalosky, a law student who says he is South Carolina's first openly gay elected official -- he sits on a local school board.
"I thought, 'Maybe you should stay informed about, for example, Syria,'" said Brownell, a medical resident.
Both commended Colbert for exposing the ridiculousness of the campaign finance system. And Brownell had this to say about the actual Republican candidates: "They're more of a joke than Stephen Colbert is."
The kerfuffle over Kim Kardashian's drug-promoting Instagram selfie is nothing new: As long as the agency has existed, it's had to figure out how to regulate drug advertisements in new forms of communication technology.
Last month, celebrity-news and health-policy bloggers had a rare moment of overlap after the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to the pharmaceutical company Duchesnay, which manufactures Diclegis, a prescription-only anti-nausea pill. At stake: a single selfie with pill bottle.
The image that attracted the censure of the FDA was an Instagram posted on July 20 by Kim Kardashian. The image featured her upper torso, right hand, and face, with a bottle of Diclegis prominently displayed in her grasp. “OMG,” the caption began:
Have you heard about this? As you guys know my #morningsickness has been pretty bad. I tried changing things about my lifestyle and my diet, but nothing helped, so I talked to my doctor. He prescribed my Diclegis, I felt better, and most importantly it’s been studied and there is no increased risk to the baby.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
The June 23 vote represents a huge popular rebellion against a future in which British people feel increasingly crowded within—and even crowded out of—their own country.
I said goodnight to a gloomy party of Leave-minded Londoners a few minutes after midnight. The paper ballots were still being counted by hand. Only the British overseas territory of Gibraltar had reported final results. Yet the assumption of a Remain victory filled the room—and depressed my hosts. One important journalist had received a detailed briefing earlier that evening of the results of the government’s exit polling: 57 percent for Remain.
The polling industry will be one victim of the Brexit vote. A few days before the vote, I met with a pollster who had departed from the cheap and dirty methods of his peers to perform a much more costly survey for a major financial firm. His results showed a comfortable margin for Remain. Ten days later, anyone who heeded his expensive advice suffered the biggest percentage losses since the 2008 financial crisis.
Demographic data shows that a Briton’s education level may be the strongest indication of how he or she voted.
Britain has voted to leave the European Union. The news surprised many people, including the British, who have learned that while brushing off early statistical warnings is tempting, it doesn’t make it any easier when those warnings turn out to be right. Give yourselves a break, I say: Polls are fickle, anecdote is limited, and prevailing wisdom is sometimes impossible to shake. (Though these remorseful Brexit voters don’t have an excuse.)
There’s a silver lining for statistics, however. With the close of Britain’s referendum, political analysts now have a concrete dataset to examine: the actual vote totals in the United Kingdom. This data, when matched with regional demographic information from the U.K. Census, gives insight into who actually voted to leave or remain.
Patrick Griffin, his chief congressional affairs lobbyist, recalls the lead up to the bill’s passage in 1994—and the steep political price that followed.
For those who question whether anything will ever be done to curb the use of military grade weaponry for mass shootings in the United States, history provides some good news—and some bad. The good news is that there is, within the recent past, an example of a president—namely Bill Clinton—who successfully wielded the powers of the White House to institute a partial ban of assault weapons from the nation’s streets. The bad news, however, is that Clinton’s victory proved to be so costly to him and to his party that it stands as an enduring cautionary tale in Washington about the political dangers of taking on the issue of gun control.
In 1994, Clinton signed into law the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, placing restrictions on the number of military features a gun could have and banning large capacity magazines for consumer use. Given the potent dynamics of Second Amendment politics, it was a signal accomplishment. Yet the story behind the ban has been largely forgotten since it expired in 2004 and, in part, because the provision was embedded in the larger crime bill.
The U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union betrays a failure of empathy and imagination among its leaders. Will America’s political establishment fare any better?
If there is a regnant consensus among the men and women who steer the Western world, it is this: The globe is flattening. Borders are crumbling. Identities are fluid. Commerce and communications form the warp and woof, weaving nations into the tight fabric of a global economy. People are free to pursue opportunity, enriching their new homes culturally and economically. There may be painful dislocations along the way, but the benefits of globalization heavily outweigh its costs. And those who cannot see this, those who would resist it, those who would undo it—they are ignorant of their own interests, bigoted, xenophobic, and backward.
So entrenched is this consensus that, for decades, in most Western democracies, few mainstream political parties have thought to challenge it. They have left it to the politicians on the margins of the left and the right to give voice to such sentiments—and voicing such sentiments relegated politicians to the margins of political life.
Thoughts on the first episode of ESPN’s five-part documentary
Every fall Sunday, when I was a kid, half an hour before the pre-game shows and an hour before the games themselves, I would tune into the latest offering from NFL Films. This was the pre-pre-game show—an assembly of short films derived from the massive archive of professional football. Steve Sabol, whose father founded NFL Films, would preside. He’d offer and then throw it to Jon Facenda or Jefferson Kaye, who would narrate the career highlights of players likeGale Sayers, Earl Campbell, or Dick “Night Train” Lane.
“Highlights” understates what NFL films was actually doing. The shorts were drawn from some the most beautifully shot footage in all of sports. It wasn’t unheard of for NFL Films to go high concept—this piece on football and ballet, with cameos from Allen Ginsberg and George Will, may be the definitive example. Great football plays would be injected not with the normal hurrahs, but with poetry. When Facenda, for instance, wanted to introduce a spectacular touchdown run by Marcus Allen, he did so in the omniscient third person: “On came Marcus Allen—running with the night.”
How the Brexit vote activated some of the most politically destabilizing forces threatening the U.K.
Among the uncertainties unleashed by the Brexit referendum, which early Friday morning heralded the United Kingdom’s coming breakup with the European Union, was what happens to the “union” of the United Kingdom itself. Ahead of the vote, marquee campaign themes included, on the “leave” side, the question of the U.K.’s sovereignty within the European Union—specifically its ability to control migration—and, on the “remain” side, the economic benefits of belonging to the world’s largest trading bloc, as well as the potentially catastrophic consequences of withdrawing from it. Many of the key arguments on either side concerned the contours of the U.K.-EU relationship, and quite sensibly so. “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” was, after all, the precise question people were voting on.