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Saturday, September 25, 2010

The day the Colbert Circus came to Congress

Amid a high stakes struggle to connect with voters, House Democrats turned Friday to celebrity comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight the plight of migrant farm workers.

He promptly returned the favor by turning Congress — specifically a Judiciary subcommittee — into his personal comedy club.

Ditching his “prepared” testimony, Colbert delivered a punch-lined discourse on his chief qualification as an expert on the issue: A 10-hour stint working the fields. Staying in the character of a faux TV newsman, he also threw in a few one-liners more suitable for a late-night show on Comedy Central or Cinemax than morning C-SPAN.

"No doubt we just locked up the Comedy Channel vote," Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis chided. "My opinion, we should forget social satirists. Given Congress' low approval, maybe we should invite the 'Glee' cast to perform next."

Colbert's antics certainly brought national attention to the hearing room, though it’s unclear whether anyone will remember the real point of the hearing — migrant workers in America — as much as they’ll remember the day the Colbert Circus came to Congress.

Colbert delighted in asking whether he could "submit video of my colonoscopy into the Congressional Record," talking about getting a Chilean to give him a "Brazilian" wax — a delicate-area hair-removal procedure. And he apologized to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for using the term "cornpacker" because it is "an offensive term for gay Iowans."

While Colbert might have killed it for his "nation" of TV followers, he bombed with political strategists and analysts in both parties.

For a Democratic majority that has had difficulty demonstrating to voters that its policies are addressing their needs, Colbert provided another day off message and, perhaps, an emblem of a party that has lost its footing as it limps toward a preelection adjournment.

David Corn, who writes for the liberal Mother Jones magazine, tweeted "Colbert is making a mockery of this hearing."

Republicans were more harsh.

"I thought top libs were out of touch elitists. Colbert's visit to Congress proved me right," Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture for the conservative Media Research Center, told the world from his Twitter account.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was apprised ahead of time of Colbert's planned appearance by Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), praised his performance — and some lawmakers and aides were quick to defend the decision to bring him in as an expert witness, noting that it is consistent with past efforts to use celebrities to bring attention to an issue.

"Of course I think it’s appropriate. He's an American, right? He came before the committee. He has a point of view. He can bring attention to an important issue like immigration. I think it's great," Pelosi told reporters.

But there was division among Democratic lawmakers and aides — even in leadership circles — over whether he should be allowed to testify before the subcommittee. While some were quick to point out the positive aspects of his testimony, no one POLITICO spoke with claimed it was a brilliant or graceful stratagy.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers seemed to be onto Colbert’s shtick before the comedian started delivering his one-liners, asking whether Colbert would be willing to simply submit his statement for the record instead of actually talking. (Continues here at POLITICO)

John Harwood and most of the media were not too happy either with the stunt:

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