After stating that she would never, ever go on The Colbert Report, after cautioning Democratic Representatives to avoid talking to Colbert, Nancy Pelosi finally came around. She appeared on The Colbert Report on February 22 saying that her decision was "part of my Lent resolution -- to do good works, and be kind to Republicans." But she was really there to push The DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would call for transparency in the financing of political ads.
As Pelosi explained during her interview: "First we want to disclose, the people have a right to know whose money is coming in there instead of the bankroll of a few determining the voice of the people. [...] Disclose. Stand by your ad. Win the election, reform the system, overturn the Supreme Court decision by amending the Constitution, and give the voice and the vote and the power to the people."
Fans of Colbert no doubt found it odd that the Colbert-suspicious Pelosi had decided to appear on the show. They probably found it even odder that she had turned to humor to get her message out.
The Colbert-Pelosi feud started back in 2006 when Pelosi (then Speaker of the House) said that she would not recommend that any Democratic members of congress appear on the show. Shortly after, Rahm Emanuel echoed Pelosi's advice and urged all freshman congressmen to steer clear of the show's "Better Know a District" segment.
"Better Know a District," one of The Colbert Report's early recurring segments focused on an interview with a Congressional member's district -- one which often spoofed the answers of the Representative in such as way as to make them look foolish. One of the most infamous was Colbert's interview with Republican Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who was sponsoring a bill that the Ten Commandments could be displayed in courthouses, but then could not name all ten of them.
Despite the fact that "Better Know a District" was effective at drawing public attention to the least covered branch of government, and despite the fact that many of those that appeared on the show received the "Colbert Bump," Pelosi's and Emanuel's criticisms effectively led to the end of the segment. Proving that stiffness is bi-partisan, their inability to get the joke showed that Democrats are fully capable of having no sense of humor.
This is why Pelosi's appearance on the show signals a real shift in her attitude about Colbert's comedy and its role in shaping our democracy. In a sharp turn of events, Pelosi baited Colbert when she released an "attack" ad earlier this month against Colbert and his super PAC -- Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. The ad was meant to be both funny and serious:
Stephen Colbert used to be my friend. I even signed the poor baby's cast when he hurt his hand. But since the day he started his super PAC, taking secret money from special interest, he's been out of control -- even using his super PAC to attack my friend, Newt Gingrich. And if that weren't enough, I hear he doesn't even like kittens. Colbert must be stopped. [...] Americans deserve a better tomorrow, today. Join me in stopping Colbert and creating a new politics, free of special interest money. The first step is passing the DISCLOSE Act.
The ad worked to get Colbert's attention, but I suspect most would agree that it did not work as humorous satire. While the concept of going after Colbert as a bad guy and defending Gingrich as a victim might have been an entertaining twist, the ad fell victim to the sorry outcome that happens when politicians try to be comedians. It may not have been as disturbing as some of Herman Cain's jokes, but it still had that awkward feel.
Funny or not, though, the ad quickly went viral. And, most importantly, it got noticed by the PAC Daddy (aka Colbert) himself. So the two ended their ongoing standoff and met for a common cause on The Colbert Report.
At the end of her interview Pelosi and Colbert brokered a deal. He would support The DISCLOSE Act if she would encourage members of Congress to appear on his segment "Better Know a District." It was win-win for Colbert, whose work with his Super PAC has also been aimed at raising awareness of the secrecy behind current campaign finance laws. They joined on a common cause -- and he got support for his hilarious segment back.
So why did Pelosi change her mind? Does she finally get the joke? Does she finally understand Colbert's satire and see the productive role it plays in public discourse? Or did she feel like she had no choice?
Well the answer may be elusive but, if her own attempt at satire is any indication, it is unlikely that she does get the joke. It seems more likely that she has finally recognized that Colbert's comedy may actually be playing a major role in drawing public attention to flaws in the democratic process.
She may also have noticed that Colbert has been more effective at encouraging public critique of campaign finance than the politicians themselves. When fans watched him acquire a Super PAC, raise funds, and release ads, they received a civics lesson that was entertaining, enlightening, and empowering. Maybe Pelosi has finally learned a lesson from Colbert: Colbert's comedy doesn't just mock the system; it may well remake the system.
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