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Colbert Nation

LAST WEEK, another candidate joined the already crowded race for president - Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report." On the show, Colbert announced his intentions to run on both Democratic and Republican tickets in his home state of South Carolina, a key primary venue.

Though farfetched, Colbert's candidacy makes a weird sort of sense. Night after night, he mocks political partisanship, the demagoguery of conservative pundits like Bill O'Reilly, and the art of political doublespeak - by pretending to engage in all three. Colbert's on-air persona preaches the importance of "truthiness," or "reality that is intuitively known without regard to liberal ideals such as reason and logic." Since the tactics that the on-screen Colbert practices have become distinguishing features of American politics, a Colbert candidacy begins to seem like the next logical step.

Is he just promoting his book, "I am America (And So Can You!)"? Or could his campaign become something more meaningful? He doesn't exactly sound serious. "After nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching," he said on his show, "I have heard the call."

Other comedians have run for president, including Dick Gregory in 1968 and Pat Paulsen numerous times. Then again, that was before the Internet, YouTube, and cable television. Colbert's reach is much wider. His candidacy has been hyped on the major news networks, which seemed eager to play along.

Some candidacies that seem silly nevertheless succeed; former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor in Minnesota, and the current governor of California, after all, is Arnold Schwarzenegger. In one recent poll, Colbert was ahead of Democratic candidates Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich and just behind Joe Biden.

Colbert is already a proven vote-getter - of sorts. When Hungary's Economy Ministry conducted an online poll last year to select the name for a planned bridge, he called upon his fans to vote for him. Being neither dead nor fluent in Hungarian, Colbert was ineligible to win. But the Hungarian ambassador to the United States did appear on the "Report" to announce Colbert had received the most votes.

Whether Colbert will actually compete in South Carolina remains to be seen. Getting on the Republican ballot there costs $35,000, and he can't appear on the Democratic ballot without the approval of state party officials.

Will he win the presidency? Of course not. Can he improve the political dialogue by poking fun at candidates who try to manipulate voters? Could he make it any worse?

Maybe Colbert can at least force the real candidates to step up their games. At least, he will provide some much-needed comic relief to the monotony of a campaign that's already a year and a half old, with another year to go.

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