Monday, May 01, 2006

Colbert speaks truthiness to power

At Saturday night’s White House Correspondents' Dinner, comedian Stephen Colbert concluded the ceremony with a routine that spoke truthiness to power.

If you are not familiar with Colbert or his concept of truthiness, they are worth explaining. Colbert, whom Time recently anointed as one of 100 people who shape our world, is a comedian who got wide public exposure on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His recently started spin-off, the Colbert Report, skewers bombastic right wing pundits like Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.

Colbert coined the term truthiness on his first show, which he defined as the quality by which a person purports to know something emotionally, without regard to evidence or to what the person might conclude from intellectual examination.

In Colbert’s performance Saturday night, which can be viewed here, he courageously delivered a blistering comic critique of Bush’s policies.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the performance:

"Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32-percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias … Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32 percent means it's two-thirds empty. There's still some liquid in that glass, is my point. But I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash."

"I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message: That no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world."

"What incentive do these people have to answer your questions, after all? I mean, nothing satisfies you. Everybody asks for personnel changes. So the White House has personnel changes. Then you write they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking, this administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg."

"The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change ­- this man's beliefs never will."

What was most interesting in viewing the video on C-SPAN was that Colbert’s performance was clearly making the President and the audience very uncomfortable. Although he was standing just a few feet away from the President and despite the negative audience reaction, Colbert never lost his nerve.

The reaction in the room and in the mainstream media today and Sunday highlights the emperor-has-no-clothes nature of the Colbert performance. Washington is a one-company town and nobody wants to appear to be treating the chief with disrespect – such treatment could endanger the careers of those who work there. Thus the people in the room could not appear to enjoy Colbert’s performance nor could the mainstream media report on it. Instead we have been treated to fawning descriptions of the comic routine between the President and his doppelganger.

Fortunately we still live in a democracy. And recent polls suggest serious dissatisfaction with the current people in power. In November we will see how well that democracy works.


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