Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Obama Owes It All to -- Stephen Colbert!

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Obama Owes It All to -- Stephen Colbert!

Article excerpt

For this holiday, Barack Obama should have offered a special toast at Thanksgiving to Stephen Colbert for making his election possible. After all, Obama did not start surging, exactly one year ago, until Colbert suddenly pulled out of the race for the White House -- or was booted out.

Let's take a moment to review Colbert's brief but meaningful venture into electoral politics. Colbert ended up pulling out of the primaries despite topping Bill Richardson and closing in on Joe Biden in one national poll.

He had kicked it off during an appearance on Larry King's show in October 2007 to promote his new book, "I Am America (And So Can You)." The Comedy Central star was accused by the host of using the book as a platform to run for president. Colbert happily confirmed this, saying that he would likely seek the nomination from both parties. When King said this was a "cop out," Colbert said that it actually demonstrated true "courage" because "I could lose twice."

Likely he would launch his grassroots crusade in his native state, South Carolina, as a "favorite son." Colbert refused to knock any of his competitors, but did allow that Fred Thompson's campaign slogan should be, "Do Not Disturb." He pointed out that Mike Huckabee had already offered him the veep spot if the former Arkansas governor got the GOP nomination.

Soon, a major South Carolina public TV station offered Colbert airtime to officially announce his candidacy. The Colbert bump kept growing when, on October 14, Maureen Dowd turned over her New York Times column to him for the day. Colbert revealed, "While my hat is not presently in the ring, I should also point out that it is not on my head. So where's that hat?"

Keeping nothing under his missing hat, he went on to describe his platform. On gender: "The sooner we accept the basic differences between men and women, the sooner we can stop arguing about it and start having sex." On race: "While skin and race are often synonymous, skin cleansing is good, race cleansing is bad." On the elderly: "They look like lizards."

And finally: "I don't intend to tease you for weeks the way Newt Gingrich did, saying that if his supporters raised $30 million, he would run for president. I would run for $15 million. Cash. Nevertheless, I am not ready to announce yet -- even though it's clear that the voters are desperate for a white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative."

Two nights later, after nearly a solid week of dropping hints, Colbert did find, and throw, his hat in the ring. On his own show, The Colbert Report, with balloons falling, he screamed, 'Yes, I'm doing it!" Then he welcomed CBS political analyst Jeff Greenfield to analyze his impact on the race "in the past three minutes."

Greenfield said it was "astounding."

Colbert took out one of the "Colbert/Stewart 2008" bumper stickers that have circulated for awhile and cut out the Stewart part, saying that he might replace Jon Stewart as a possible vice president with someone named "Huckabee" or even "Putin." To finance his campaign, he threatened to sell advertising patches on his suit, like a NASCAR driver.

Questions quickly rose about his ballot status in South Carolina but the situation there appeared murky. Stewart signed a contract extension for his Daily Show, explaining, "I love doing this show. …

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