Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Jester Testifies

Very late to the party on this one, but the question must be asked: why the hell was Stephen Colbert testifying before a Congressional committee on Friday?

The always-excellent Byron York of the Washington Examiner lays out the particulars:

This year the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate made a strategic decision not to pass a budget for the federal government. They feared their spending priorities might not win the approval of voters in November's elections, so they simply opted out of their budgetary responsibility.

More recently, the Democratic leadership made a strategic decision not to decide whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire Dec. 31. If nothing is done, taxes will rise for every American who pays income tax. But, as with the budget, Democrats worried that raising at least some taxes might not win voter approval, so they left the most pressing economic decision of the moment unresolved.

Finally, last Friday, Democrats in the House invited comedian Stephen Colbert to testify, in character as a buffoonish right-wing anchorman, before an otherwise serious hearing on migrant farm workers. Given the gravity of the topic, and of the country's economic situation in general, the performance was so off-key that even Democratic leaders called it inappropriate.

What do those disparate events have in common? In matters large and small, the actions of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have created what could be the question of the final weeks of the campaign: Are Democrats really serious about running Congress?

It's an excellent question. I remember the scene 20 years ago, when we had actresses who appeared in farm movies testifying on the farm crisis. That was silly, but they weren't appearing in character. It's mind-boggling, really.

We need our jesters, but no serious government has ever allowed jesters to become involved in actual policy discussions. If Colbert is genuinely serious about these issues, and there are reasons to believe he is, he ought to drop the mask and say his piece without resorting to performance art.

But why would the politicians stage a stunt like this? Here's one view:

Democrats appear too timid to explain to voters why they're not doing what they should be doing. "Part of the reason they didn't want to lay out the budget is that they didn't want to lay out where they were going to take taxes and spending in the next few years," says a GOP strategist. "Any time they have to lay out the direction they intend to go, they believe it will be politically detrimental to the continuation of the Democratic majority."

If you have to evade responsibilities and hide behind jesters, you're in trouble. And deservedly so.


Night Writer said...

When I first heard of Colbert's appearance I immediately thought of Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek testifying about ag issues because, you know, they played farmer's wives in movies.

Colbert is just more smoke and mirrors, or perhaps bread and circuses. Or maybe he was brought in just to make Barbara Boxer and Betty McCollum appear smarter in comparison. At any rate, I'm wondering why the local media hasn't been demanding details from Congress on their taxing and spending plans. I mean, it was absolutely vital to get these details from a gubernatorial candidate; certainly there's some curiosity about the same issues on a federal level?

Perhaps "curious" is only used to describe the curiosities who are invited to testify.

Chuckwagon Boy said...

I watch Jon Stewart everyday and occasionally watch Stephen Colbert. On his show (and in his character), there are two things he takes very seriously - the U.S. troops and rights for migrant farm workers. So, it made sense if the people behind the cause wanted to invite him to bring some "star power" to the hearings.

He has had the leader of the migrant workers on his show and has dared (along with the migrant workers movement) people to take the jobs that supposedly are being taken away from Americans. When he heard that at the time there were only 3 people who had taken them up on their offer to work in the fields and factories, he volunteered to do so and worked a day as a migrant worker. He also featured the legislator from CA on the piece. The whole episode can be seen on Comedy Central.

The main point Colbert is trying to make is that we use these illegals to gather our food under harsh conditions and then we want them out of the country. Now whether he should have appeared in character in front of Congress is something to consider. But, if you looked at the question and answer period by the Congressional Panel and the end of his testimony, you would see he was quite serious at those points.

Personally, I believe Colbert is smarter than most of the panel he testified in front of. Plus, I do happen to agree with him on the treatment of the workers, so I am a little biased. It shall be interesting to see the comments! :)

Mr. D said...

I take your point, CB, but this is what he should have done, then: he could have gone there, identified himself, explained his shtick, but not actually used it. He could have then made the same point without making a Congressional hearing a farce.

I'm aware that he was serious at the end. What I'm arguing is that he should have been serious all along. Our Congresscritters are supposed to serious people and it was an abuse of power for them to pull this stunt. Trust me, CB, my problem is that the Congresscritters orchestrated this farce. Colbert was doing what he was told.

While I realize that many Congressional hearings are farces, they are not supposed to be.

CousinDan 54915 said...

Why not. There are plenty of ass clowns in Congress, what's one more.

Chuckwagon Boy said...

Mr D, I can agree with you on your point!