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The Viable Candidate Test
What We Learned from Stephen Colbert’s Presidential Campaign
by CHARLOTTE LAWS


I’m no slacker when it comes to politics, but I almost fell off my balance ball when I saw Carol Fowler, the chair of the South Carolina Democratic party, tell Stephen Colbert that her little committee of 16 didn’t think he was "quite ready to be president." I hate to be the Col-bearer of bad news, but in case you haven’t heard, they voted to keep him off the ballot.

The funnyman had failed the party’s "viable candidate" test despite the fact that one poll showed him statistically tied with Joe Biden and ahead of Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson and Mike Gravel; and another gave him 13% of the vote in a three-way race with Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

Until that moment, I had no idea that a few political party elites could decide subjectively who was viable and vote to scrap the others before America could have its say. Could a not-so-sweet 16 reject Hillary Clinton willy-nilly if they believed a female had no chance? Is this a backstage glimpse of democracy in action? Shouldn’t legitimacy require objective standards?

Fowler’s words felt like fowl play (that’s southern for chicken ordure) and no doubt ticked off millions of young people who had crept out from behind "down with politics" placards to vote for the first time. The sentiment is expressed best on Youtube with the lyrics: "Get even, vote Stephen Show them you’re disgusted. The system’s busted.Stick it to the man."

In the end, did "the man" (aka the establishment) stick it to Colbert and his fans, or did "the man" puncture its own fantastically undemocratic balloon? I say the balloon has lost its air; there will be backlash for refusing to lend Mr. Popularity a "members only" jacket. For example, there are those who have now vowed to deep six both parties, grinning, "Take that closed-door Dems. And take that backroom Republicans, who treated John McCain in a similarly unacceptable fashion during the 2000 New York presidential primary."

By shutting the door on Colbert’s candidacy, some argue the political establishment has revealed its true colors are not red, white and blue. Instead, they secretly salute the flag of monopoly, manipulation, disenfranchisement and hypocrisy.

Ralph Nader would agree. He has no love for the Republican or Democratic Party. In fact, the consumer advocate has recently filed a lawsuit against the Dems for conspiring to intimidate and use other underhanded tactics to prevent him from the 2004 presidency. Nader’s attorney says it was a "shameful anti-democratic process by a party that claims to be a democratic party."

The two parties are private organizations with the legal right to choose their candidates however they wish. They can evaluate party loyalty, use ideological litmus tests, weigh campaign nest eggs, cave to daddy’s political connections or allow a committee of 16 to call shots "out" even when the masses would rule them in bounds.

Muckraker Colbert has shed a light on this irksome game. It is particularly unappetizing because the two parties have a quasi-public reality to them. They are like public utility companies in that they get all the business all the time: a candidate has little chance of winning–especially the presidency–unless he or she is affiliated with one of the two giants. In addition, the parties simulate nonprofits, saying they exist to benefit the public good. Have you ever heard a Democrat or Republican admit it’s all about increasing party power and achieving a monopoly; and well, curses to the little people?

The South Carolina Democrats blundered big time. The assured media coverage of the state and of their party-not to mention the voters who would have been brought into the system–would have made it all worthwhile in the end.

Plus there is the education factor. 1.3 million Colbert Report viewers got an entertaining dose of Civics 101 night after night, including information on campaign finance laws, political action committees and Democratic Party "hoop jumping." It is conceivable they were shedding a few layers of a well-entrenched apathy at each sitting.

As a native-born Georgia girl, I once dreamt of crushing the triangular state to the north. But I completely lost the urge because Colbert made South Carolina seem downright warm and fuzzy. Now that Colbert’s been rejected, I associate the state with a bunch of Old Guard fuddy duddies. Is that really the reputation South Carolina wants, in addition, of course, to its inferior peach status?

Colbert’s fake campaign was arguably less phony than those of competitors because the comedian was honest about the politics-as-usual hustle. Plus the entertaining Everyman offered Independents a place to hang their hats with hope that a mountain of headgear could eventually transform the two parties into relatively harmless molehills.

According to the book Independent Nation, 40 percent of American voters in 2000 (and 44 percent of those between 18 and 29) call themselves Independents, and the number has been growing steadily for some time. How has the two-party grip become an immovable object when so many people have jumped overboard or never climbed onto the boat?

Maybe Colbert and his campaign soldiers should seize the helm, starting The-Party’s-Over Party and giving it one platform: to end the two-party stranglehold. It might be the only way to foist the "good ole boys" from their threadbare captain’s chair.

The time has come to end political ickiness, folks.

CHARLOTTE LAWS, Ph.D. is an author and Greater Valley Glen Councilmember in Southern California. Her website is www.CharlotteLaws.org