Monday, June 01, 2009

A Killing Joke for American Conservatism

Many American conservatives don't get Stephen Colbert

There is no doubt that Stephen Colbert is a comic genius.

In just a few short years on the air, the Colbert Report has managed to eclipse Jon Stewart's Daily Show in popularity, and has endeared itself to many people around the world -- within the United States and outside of it -- as a masterful parody of American arch-conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and "Papa Bear" Bill O'Reilly.

Yet for concerned American conservatives -- those who probably love Colbert's show as much as anyone -- a recent study conducted by the University of Ohio has revealed a disturbing factoid about the show. It seems that a majority of American conservatives may believe that Colbert is actually one of them.

Colbert's parody may be more stunningly close to the genuine article than many people had realized.

"I'm thrilled by it!" Colbert says of the study. "From the very beginning, I wanted to jump back and forth over the line of meaning what I say, and the truth of the matter is I'm not on anyone's side, I'm on my side."

"The important thing is that the audience laughs," he adds.

The audience has, indeed, laughed, including at Colbert's appearance at the 2006 White House Correspondant's Dinner, when it seemed that then-US President George W Bush may not have understood Colbert's parody until it was utterly too late for him.

But this revelation should be especially disturbing to American conservatives who have become concerned about the direction that individuals like Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and others have drug American conservatism -- into the fringes of lunacy and extremism.

The self-glorifying, barely-functional image Colbert portrays on the show is not one that embodies the finest intellectual traditions of American conservatism. American conservatism, it seems, has come a long way down since the days of William F Buckley.

Buckley had always insisted that conservative political parties should support conservative movements, as opposed to conservative movements supporting political parties. Buckley's brand of conservatism was one that stood by its principles and thought for itself -- a stark contrast to the parodic conservatism of the Colbert Report, in which Colbert issues marching orders to the "Nation" and the Nation complies.

Buckley's conservatism was one that would stand against the Republican party when necessary -- Colbert's parodic conservatism would never dream of such an act.

Buckley's conservatism was very close to the "nation and enterprise" conservatism advocated by Canadian conservative patriarch Hugh Segal, wherein the role of the government is to maintain society's institutions at a level that ensures a maximum level of freedom for a country's citizens, and allows the market to function unimpeded enough that it can meet society's needs.

At what many people consider to be a historic low for the GOP, the American conservative movement is said by many to be effectively wandering in the desert. Those intent on rebuilding both the Republican party and American conservatism are in desperate need of an influential new intellectual and spiritual leader -- someone prepared to pull the strands of intellectual and populist conservatism together again to find a new balance for American conservatism.

This exercise remains at the heart of the activities of the National Committee for a New America -- an organization that, if allowed to function as intended, should manage to re-constitute American conservatism just as the Reform party eventually managed to re-constitute Canadian conservatism.

But so long as many American conservatives are unable to tell Stephen Colbert from the genuine article of American conservatives -- Colbert's character seems to implicitly reject any efforts to re-organize American conservatism -- it will be extremely difficult for any genuine intellectual or spiritual leader to emerge.

Then again, one remembers that Preston Manning's efforts to re-constitute Canadian conservatism took sixteen years to come to fruition, and eighteen years to bear political fruit.

The efforts to re-constitute American conservatism may take a long time to culminate, but with any luck, will be successful enough that American conservatives could look back on the Colbert Report and laugh, understanding the joke.

Watch Stephen Colbert at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at

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