The Colbert Report last night featured one of the most subversive and brutally honest half-hours of television in recent memory. It's a sad commentary that it takes a comedy program to provide more news and information on one of the most critical subjects in American politics that anywhere else in our broken media and political landscape, but I'll take this argument wherever I can get it.
Colbert spent two full segments of his show focusing on the Citizens United Supreme Court case, which could - and probably will - lead to deregulating the entire campaign finance process, allowing corporations to give unlimited money to any candidate of their choosing. This severe step backwards with enormous implications has been barely discussed in any traditional media setting, but Colbert went after it vigorously, discussing the consequences and even the flawed legal rationale, a true third rail of American politics, corporate personhood.
Colbert explained that the 1886 case (Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad) that conferred 14th Amendment equal protection rights onto corporations wasn't even in the original ruling. But when the Chief Justice made an off-hand comment that the Court wouldn't hear an argument on whether the 14th Amendment applied to these corporations (saying, "We are all of the opinion that it does"), the court reporter wrote it into the ruling opinion, and the precedent has held ever since. And that reporter of the Supreme Court didn't only have ties to the railroad barons, he used to run one.
These are subjects you just never hear about in the American media, precisely because the American media is owned by giant multinational corporations, who benefit from the corporate personhood rule and would stand to benefit more from deregulating elections so they could use their "speech" to buy candidates and fund their own with unlimited resources. And despite being on a Viacom-owned network, Colbert says, skewering the immorality and psychopathology of the corporation, "Corporations are legally people... they do everything people do, except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River."
There's some backstory to that remark. Colbert actually worked with Robert Smigel on the "TV Funhouse" bits from Saturday Night Live (he's one-half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo), including the infamous episode from March 1998, Conspiracy Theory Rock. Here are some of the actual lyrics (remember this aired, albeit one time, on NBC, whose parent company is General Electric):
It's a media-opoly
The whole media is controlled by a few corporations
thanks to deregulation by the FCC.
You mean Disney, Fox, WestingHouse, and good ol GE?
They own networks from CBS to CNBC.
They can use them to say whatever they please,
and put down the opinions of any one who disagrees.
Or stuff about PCB's.
What are PCB's?
They come from power plants built by WestingHouse and GE.
They can give you lots of cancer that can hurt your body,
but on network TV, you rarely hear anything bad about the nuclear industry [...]
But the bigshots don't care.
They're all sitting pretty.
Thanks to corporate welfare.
What's that now?
They get billions in subsidies
from the government.
It's supposed to create jobs,
but that's not how it's spent.
They pulled this cartoon from the rerun broadcasts and it never aired again.
Colbert didn't just provide this lesson in corporate control of government in his "The Word" segment, but then had Jeffrey Toobin on to explain how the expected Supreme Court ruling would impact elections:
COLBERT: If this goes through, if they decide in favor of the corporations here, what's going to happen to elections?
TOOBIN: Well, they will be essentially deregulated. Corporations will be allowed to give money, corporations will be allowed to broadcast programs that are in favor of one side or another, it'll basically be no more rules about what corporations can do in political campaigns.
COLBERT: Now when I ran for President in 2008, as the Hail to the Cheese Doritos Stephen Colbert campaign for President, I was told that I actually couldn't do that, that I was breaking federal election law by being sponsored by that corporation. But if this goes through, if this court case, if they win, does that mean that I retroactively won the election?
TOOBIN: I don't think it means that.
COLBERT: But could you do that? Could I actually just wear a NASCAR suit and just have logos all over me and run for President as the sort of Gatorade Thirst for Justice campaign for President?
TOOBIN: You definitely could. No question.