Well, the guy who speaks Chinese is out, and the guys who talk trash showed up in force.

Debate #16. Which I’m not going to belabor here today. I’m going to use this post to belabor something else instead.

The debate was full of arguing. Real, acrimonious, barely civil arguing. (I don’t care what you think politically about Newt Gingrich; the man is a condescending, sanctimonious, know-it-all pr–k. And that’s not a word I ever use. Ever.) The stuff that’s been happening up until now? That was just warm-up. And I think it’s going to be worse this year than ever, because of two relatively small words.

Citizens United.

It sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? Citizenship and unity? Kumbaya. Ha. Yeah. Not likely. Citizens United was the legal case that wound up in front of the Supreme Court in which that illustrious body decided that corporations were people and would be allowed to donate as much money as they wanted to support a candidate indirectly (i.e., not going straight into the candidate’s campaign coffers).

I thought only “liberal” judges were “activist.”

Legal lecture

This was the decision, you may recall, that led to President Obama’s eyebrow-raising hand-slap of the Supreme Court during last year’s State of the Union speech. (That was the one in which a United States Congressman did not yell “You lie!” The You Lie speech was the year before.) But the reason the president upbraided the Court for making the decision is becoming oh, just so crystal clear now.


The Super-PAC. It’s going to become the thing you hate most about Campaign 2012, whether you know it or not.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be a critical enough consumer in the next ten months to read that little print at the bottom of the TV commercials for or against any one candidate or the other. If it says “paid for by” anybody other than the name of a candidate, you’re being snowed by a PAC or a super-PAC. If you have to choose the more evil of the two, it, predictably, is the super-PAC. That’s the one that’s built of ridiculously high donations and contributions, largely from companies that won’t be listed at the bottom of the screen.

Running on principle

Comedy Central standout Stephen Colbert was not invited to last night’s debate in Myrtle Beach, hosted by Fox News Channel (again). But he is running for “president of South Carolina.” He saw a poll that said, even without his name in the race, he was ranked ahead of poor, sad Jon Huntsman in South Carolina. Recognizing the patent ridiculousness of that particular situation, and some other stuff, Huntsman dropped out of the race officially yesterday. I’m sad about that, because even though there was no chance he’d be the nominee, I’d enjoyed watching him develop as a campaigner and yelling at him to please, for the love of all that is holy, drive the point home about China owning so much American debt already. Alas, it is not to be. But Colbert (who is telling media outlets he’s formed an exploratory committee to be on the SC ballot) is doing his thing not to make a mockery of the system, but rather, quite the opposite. He’s doing it to make a point that super-PACs are damaging the already mangled political system in a big, big way.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you check out his breakdown of how a super-PAC, full of money and its own misguided virtue (regardless of whose side it’s on), can be run in veeeeerrrry close proximity to a candidate who is not technically allowed to talk to it. Like when your brother would stand with his finger an inch from you and chant, “I’m not touching yoouuuuu…” (First you have to understand that Colbert created his own legitimate super-PAC as the beginning of this point he’s making. And you have to know that some super-PACs are run by candidates’ former staffers.) It may be comedy, but it’s an accurate explanation of how it can legally work. And yes, that guy on the left really is Colbert’s lawyer.

Super-PACs can now do stuff like this. But worse. (This was from the Bush campaign.)

Upshot: super-PACs can say anything they want, about anyone they want, while giving the candidate they purport to back a complete pass on responsibility for the content because they’re not legally allowed to be involved in the ad. And when I say “anything,” I don’t just mean they can put a nasty negative spin on true stuff. I mean they can literally say whatever they want. They can make it up entirely, should they care to court libel law. And nobody can stop them. Even if they did draw a lawsuit, the message would have already been out – that’s the only way the lawsuit could be filed. Begging forgiveness instead of asking permission. And the stations and channels that run the ads are prohibited by FCC law from altering the ads. Remember the anti-Dukakis Willie Horton ads of 1988? It’ll be worse than that.

Are you pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down, here?

Super-PACs are awful. Regardless of who the ad is for or against. Nothing is off-limits. The only thing that reins them in is the judgment of their own people.

And whose fault is it? Not the candidates’. Not really. We all know they’re in it to win, but they don’t totally love the concept of these groups because A) it makes them look like terrible people when an ad from one of their super-PACs runs; and 2) they don’t want to see anyone else run an ad like that against them. They have already – all of them – spent so much time explaining or defending or disavowing what a given super-PAC ad says that it drove a major portion of last night’s debate. Mitt Romney said flat-out that he’d love to get rid of super-PACs entirely. Everyone has said (publicly) that if an ad contains falsehoods it should be removed – but they can’t demand the removal because they’re not allowed to coordinate with the super-PACs. So it’s really not their fault.

It’s the Supreme Court’s fault.

“Corporations are people.” This is what that means.

This is why it’s increasingly important to be informed. Watch the real candidates and listen to what they say. C-SPAN TV and radio are great for this. It’s unedited, so you get the full context. Check out the candidates’ websites, but remember they’re biased and spin-crazy. Read credible sources instead of just the first thing that pops up on Google. Read a lot of stuff, so you get a better overall sense. Read my Political Snark category for all my posts since the dawn of time (aka long-ago beginning of this campaign season). Most of them contain direct breakdowns of debates and candidates’ positions, even if I do use humor and snark here or there. (I make it a serious priority to tell you what the candidates truly said – and in some cases did not say – about a given topic, so you really will know where they stand.)

In case you haven’t figured it out yet… I’m never going to stop telling you it’s important to be active in your citizenry.

The transcript from last night’s debate:


11 thoughts on “Superbad

  1. I’m with you all the way on this point! Love Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Bill Moyers has a new show on PBS called Bill Moyers & Company. He had excellent guests on his first show. They wrote a book about money and politics. He also did an excellent commentary on the 99%. It’s well worth a watch and an excellent viewpoint to add to the mix. Political Snarks unite!

    • Yes! I’m familiar with Moyers’ new show. I find him brilliant but I understand it’s basically syndicated for public television, so it’s not on a consistent distribution or schedule. I’ll have to see if it’s available in my area.

  2. Let’s see. Listen to Stephen Colbert? Leprosy? I’ll have to think it over. Still, I agree you 100% about Super-PACs. They are making an already nasty political system worse. But then again, for the most part, I think it’s impossible not to be misinformed by most political advertising, so I skip it. Staying informed is increasingly difficult for someone who can’t bring himself to sit through long debates where most of the questions are questionable and most of the answers duck them. I admire your resilience. In the end, I like to find a commentator (written) or two that I respect from each side of the aisle and read what they have to say about a candidate, trying to separate opinion from fact. Not easy.

    • Oh, surely Stephen Colbert is not as bad as all that. Have you given him a chance? I do think you’re absolutely right about political advertising; its purpose is essentially to mis-inform. It can be hard to find reliable people, but we also have to challenge ourselves to find people we might hate to listen to because we perceive them as leaning counter to our opinions. Really, try C-SPAN. Dry as it is, it’s a great resource.

  3. I am in the middle of the United States of South Carolina right now, and it’s not pretty. I’m with you that I’m sorry Huntsman dropped out, and I think what Colbert is trying to do is inspired. Maybe the American public will actually pay attention if you try to entertain as you educate. One can only hope. Super PACs are evil.

    • I think that’s exactly his hope, and the hope Stewart has, as well – using their pulpits to explain some things a little more. I think it’s a great service, actually. The disadvantage is that they’re preaching to the converted, since most of their audiences are a little more aware of these things anyway. (As are most people reading this blog.)

  4. Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially embittered, I feel like “This can’t really be the best political system we can come up with…” It’s just so easy for the people to be tricked into believing that things like this are in their interests. I know the concept of democracy works on a longer time-frame, but seriously… when people are deluded into supporting unlimited political access of the extremely powerful, into believing that someone like Gingrich cares at all about their lives…

    • I respect everyone’s belief about what’s best for them and the country – provided that belief comes from a real education on the subjects at hand. I too sometimes feel like we’ve screwed it up intractably, and I do think that a lot of that comes from money, as well as people who just want to be in power. But I still believe there are public servants who truly want to do good, who really want to fix what’s wrong and honestly want to protect the country’s best interests. We have to find a way to let their voices get through, and super-PACs only drown them out further.

  5. The first episode of the new Bill Moyers show was excellent. I highly recommend watching it. Thanks for offering further insight into the super PACS. I don’t think the average voter truly understands how they will impact our political system. It is very easy to become cynical and feel hopeless about the direction our country is headed. Everyone needs to stay informed about the election and what is happening with our economy–and how we got here in the first place and what needs to change. Thanks for doing your part with the political posts!

    • Thank you for appreciating the posts. I really do have an interest and I know that not everyone does – it IS hard to take. For me, politics is a sport, which is how it holds my interest. Not everyone sees it that way! But it is vitally important. As Bud at Older Eyes pointed out, most political ads are misleading one way or another, so it’s often best to ignore them all completely, but that’s hard to do sometimes. They creep. And at least if people are better educated about super-PACs, they’ll know what all the fuss is about if they do come across something related to it. Thanks again!

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