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."
A GOP law on judicial appointments has been thrown out, and now it’s the judiciary itself that hangs in the balance.
What began as merely a fiscal mess in Kansas has become a full-blown judicial crisis.
On Wednesday, a district court ruled against the state, and threw out a 2014 law passed by Republicans that took the power of appointing chief judges away from the Kansas Supreme Court and handed it to local judges. But that rather simple question of judicial administration could have further-reaching consequences, thanks to a provision in a second law passed by the legislature earlier this spring that would cut off funding for the state’s entire court system, if the 2014 law was struck down.
Kansas officials were so worried about the consequences of the court’s decision that the state’s attorney general, Derek Schmidt, successfully filed to have the ruling stayed until the courts rule on an appeal and the validity of the 2015 law.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Would Donald Trump still seem like a good leader if his reality television show had offered an unedited view of his style?
When Donald Trump flirted with a 2012 presidential run, I argued that starring on The Apprentice had helped him to build a brand that any politician would envy: decisive, averse to bullshit, impossible to swindle, and guided in all decisions by common sense. Kevin Drum has similar thoughts about the billionaire’s appeal in the 2016 primary. After describing The Celebrity Apprentice to his readers, Drum urged them to reflect on how the hit show made Trump look to millions of NBC viewers:
He is running things. He sets the tasks. The competitors all call him ‘Mr. Trump’ and treat him obsequiously. He gives orders and famous people accept them without quibble. At the end of the show, he asks tough questions and demands accountability. He is smooth and unruffled while the team members are tense and tongue-tied. Finally, having given everything the five minutes of due diligence it needs, he takes charge and fires someone. And on the season finale, he picks a big winner and in the process raises lots of money for charity. Do you see how precisely this squares with so many people's view of the presidency?
The president is the guy running things. He tells people what to do. He commands respect simply by virtue of his personality and rock-solid principles. When things go wrong, he doesn't waste time. He gets to the bottom of the problem in minutes using little more than common sense, and then fires the person responsible. And in the end, it's all for a good cause.
Why haven’t more challengers entered the race to defeat the Iraq War hawk, Patriot Act supporter, and close friend of big finance?
As Hillary Clinton loses ground to Bernie Sanders in Iowa, where her lead shrinks by the day, it’s worth noticing that she has never made particular sense as the Democratic Party’s nominee. She may be more electable than her social-democratic rival from Vermont, but plenty of Democrats are better positioned to represent the center-left coalition. Why have they let the former secretary of state keep them out of the race? If Clinton makes it to the general election, I understand why most Democrats will support her. She shares their views on issues as varied as preserving Obamacare, abortion rights, extending legal status to undocumented workers, strengthening labor unions, and imposing a carbon tax to slow climate change.
ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society.
If the ruined ruins of Palmyra could speak, they would marvel at our shock. After all, they have been sacked before. In their mute and shattered eloquence, they spoke for centuries not only about the cultures that built them but also about the cultures that destroyed them—about the fragility of civilization itself, even when it is incarnated in stone. No designation of sanctity, by God or by UNESCO, suffices to protect the past. The past is helpless. Instead these ruins, all ruins, have had the effect of lifting the past out of history and into time. They carry the spectator away from facts and toward reveries.
In the 18th century, after the publication in London of The Ruins of Palmyra, a pioneering volume of etchings by Robert Wood, who had traveled to the Syrian desert with the rather colorful James Dawkins, a fellow antiquarian and politician, the desolation of Palmyra became a recurring symbol for ephemerality and the vanity of all human endeavors. “It is the natural and common fate of cities,” Wood dryly remarked in one of the essays in his book, “to have their memory longer preserved than their ruins.” Wood’s beautiful and meticulous prints served as inspirations for paintings, and it was in response to one of those paintings that Diderot wrote some famous pages in his great Salons of 1767: “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures. ... Wherever I cast my glance, the objects surrounding me announce death and compel my resignation to what awaits me. What is my ephemeral existence in comparison with that of a rock being worn down, of a valley being formed, of a forest that’s dying, of these deteriorating masses suspended above my head? I see the marble of tombs crumble into powder and I don’t want to die!”
But lower oil prices are almost definitely bad news for the governments whose budgets are dependent on them being high: Saudi Arabia, ostensibly the leader of OPEC, is facing huge budget deficits this year due to decreased oil prices. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the deficit will be about $140 billion.
It’s not just Trump: With Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina on the rise, Republicans are loving outsiders and shunning politicians.
For the first time in a long time, Donald Trump isn’t the most interesting story in the 2016 presidential race. That's partly because his dominance in the Republican polls, while still surprising, is no longer novel and increasingly well explored and explained, but it’s also partly because what’s going on with the rest of the GOP field is far more interesting.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”