On October 16, Stephen Colbert announced that he is seeking the presidential nomination from both the Republican and Democratic parties in his home state of South Carolina. Though Colbert has never asserted he is serious (he recently told students at Columbia University, "I don't actually want to win, I just want to f**k with people."), his candidacy continues to be covered by just about every media outlet you can think of. Some people fully support his run for president whereas others are less than excited about turning the U.S. into a Colbert Nation.
While it's interesting that Colbert continues to garner coverage for his bid on the White House, what fascinates me is the level of support his campaign has generated. It's clear that many Americans are frustrated with the state of politics and their voting options; this is the reason that less than one third of voters stated they would definitely vote against Stephen Colbert for President in a Rasmussen poll, and six percent said they'd definitely vote for him despite the fact that he's a Democrat with no political experience who plays a caricature of Bill O'Reilly on television.
Of course, this is actually the same story that made its way through the theater last year in the Robin Williams vehicle, Man of the Year. In the film Williams is more Stewart than he is Colbert, but the premise is the same, a late-night political satirist decides to run for president and manages to gather far more support than anyone expected. He actually winds up getting elected in the movie due to a technical glitch, but surrenders his victory after learning his success was only made possible through computer error.
It's unlikely that Diebold will deliver Colbert the win, or that he will even make it onto the national ballot, but the success he's already achieved in his campaign is indicative of the same hunger for a real alternative that Man of the Year tapped into. As the New York Times reports on their blog The Caucus, the Facebook group 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen T Colbert has already eclipsed their stated goal and left Barrack Obama in the dust. Obama has the second most popular Facebook group amongst the presidential contenders but hasn't even accrued 400,000 supporters in the 8 months the group has been active.
Jon Friedman at MarketWatch has suggested that Colbert's campaign is nothing more than an attempt to bolster sales of his new book. Friedman argues that, "The clever host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" is holding the usually clear-eyed media in the palm of his hand and bringing out the worst in some star-struck journalists who should know better," but Allison Kilkenny at The Huffington Post sees things differently:
This is the root of all that is wrong with American politics. It's the "you can't win, so sit down" attitude. Supporters of this philosophy forget that runners don't necessarily have to win to shape public opinion. Victories are won with ideas, and true leaders possess the vision and wisdom to know that sometimes revolutions happen gradually.
Sometimes, revolutions begin with one person standing up and saying: "I know you don't take me seriously. I know I'm the clown in the room, but damnit, I'm trying anyway."
I tend to agree with Kilkenny. It often feels as if a politician's influence can be bought and sold like a commodity on the stock market (Colbert himself alluded to this when he announced that his campaign would be sponsored by Dorritos), and this tends to be true at both the national and local level. Colbert and other also ran candidates are doing what they can to shed light on this sordid system we call politics. Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford professor and the author of Free Culture has been working to eradicate political corruption not as candidates, but as an expert on culture and a beacon in the academic community, and he's not the only one working to build alternatives to the current system.
There's obviously a long way to go before we can develop something that is truly representative of the will of the people, of all people, but it's encouraging to know that people are working on it. The classic saying is true: democracy is not a spectator sport; with the advent of the internet and Web 2.0, I'm hopeful that we can begin moving toward direct democracy and a system that isn't governed by the economic influence of special interests and the political elite.
In the words of John Lennon, "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
Here's to Stephen Colbert, Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, and every other person, who has ever run for office knowing their odds of being elected are a long shot, at best, but are committed to making a change in whatever capacity they are able: good luck and never, never, give up!