Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Participatory satire.

I'm not sure if you've been following Stephen Colbert's political career lately, but it sure is interesting — and an amazing example of satire being put into action. Let me explain through a series of bullet-points.

The background:
  • election laws in the US got all fucked-up by a Supreme Court decision a couple of years ago
  • they essentially said that groups could raise unlimited funds to support a candidate
  • these groups are called "Super PACs" (Political Action Committees)
  • they can't "coordinate" with candidates in any way, but they can support candidates by doing things like running ads
Colbert steps in:
  • to lampoon the ludicrousness of this new law, Colbert forms a Super PAC of his own
  • informally it's called "Stephen Colbert Super PAC," but officially it's called "Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow"
  • he went in front of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and basically said, "Let me raise a lot of money, and later figure out what I'm going to do with it"
  • they rubber-stamped his Super PAC's approval
  • a series of crazy campaign anti-ads aired in Iowa before their caucuses a few weeks ago, putting down various GOP candidates
Now things get interesting:
  • Colbert decides he wants to run in the South Carolina primary, which is this weekend
  • he has to hand over his Super PAC to someone, so he picks Jon Stewart
  • they rename the group to The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC
  • the Super PAC's lawyer used to be the chair of the FEC, so he knows the rules inside and out
  • Colbert and Stewart continually pull off crazy moves that seem like they should be illegal under campaign rules, but are actually perfectly legal
    e.g. Stewart hires all of Colbert's former Super PAC employees, Stewart tells Colbert what's going to be in the ads, the "new" Super PAC's lawyer is the same as the old one
The fun fine-print:
  • did I mention this lawyer, who is the DNCWSC Super PAC lawyer, is also Stephen Colbert's personal lawyer and longtime friend?
  • did I mention that Stewart and Colbert work for the same company and share business interests together?
  • did I mention that Stewart is one of the Colbert Report's executive producers?
  • did I mention that this is all legal under FEC rules?
Last night on the Daily Show, Colbert dropped by and chatted with — but did not coordinate with — Stewart, and they had their common lawyer on speakerphone the entire time they were goofing around. They told him to speak up if he heard anything illegal going on; they continually had to ask if he was still there or if he'd hung up, because even with Stewart telling Colbert what the Super PAC was going to do, right to his face, it wasn't illegal. At all.

This is absolutely brilliant satire. Actually, it goes beyond pure stand-on-the-sidelines-and-make-jokes satire: they're jumping right into the system and splashing around in it, precisely to show how ludicrous it is.

I'm reminded of the former Canadian political party, the Rhino Party, which actually fielded candidates in elections but had a formal set of policies that included ludicrous ideas. I'd wager to say that Colbert's dalliance is much more high-stakes, simply because of the huge amounts of money involved. (And, let's face it, Canada doesn't really matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but the US sure does.)

So, kudos to you, Dr. Colbert, and your Super PAC which you have absolutely nothing to do with.

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