Why Stephen Colbert is the Most Influential Voice Not Running for Office in 2012

Stephen Colbert made his triumphant return to Comedy Central on President's Day, after a short absence to care for his ailing 91-year-old mother, Lorna. Now, now Grand Central Publishing has announced it will release his children's book “I Am a Pole (And So Can You!),” according to the Associated Press

Colbert's children's tale of a flag pole searching for meaning in life will be released on May 8 (Grand Central Publishing will also publish his next work, America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t in October). See Colbert discuss his book in a two-part interview with famed author of Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak below.

What's clear from Colbert's latest announcement is that the popular satirist is on a public relations roll, and he may command outsize influence in the 2012 election.

Consider this: In the two days that Colbert canceled his popular comedy show the Colbert Report last week, his name was all over the media. Not only was he among the most popular Google searches on Thursday and Friday of last week, he also sparked widespread conversation and speculation on Twitter. Colbert even joked on Monday night about the frantic way his fans reacted to the news of his absence, saying, "I can understand why the machinery of this great nation ground to a halt last week when you were denied this,” he said, pointing to himself. “Now I’m sure you felt the same way I do when I’m in room with no mirrors."

Judging from the sheer level of media attention Colbert commanded over the past several days, it is becoming clear that he may be the single-most influential political voice who is not running for office in 2012, particularly amongst young people. On any given night, Colbert grabs the attention of 1.5 million viewers, particularly young men in the 18-29 demographic. In addition, Colbert’s super PAC has raised over $800,000 after adding $219,000 last month, almost entirely from small donors.

Colbert started his super PAC "Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow" Inc. as a joke to highlight the impact of Citizens United on the electoral process. But, the super PAC has managed to raise enough dollars to launch ads as the 2012 campaign progresses.

In his home state of South Carolina, Colbert mounted a gag presidential bid against the GOP challengers in the S.C. primary. Although few voters actually came out to support Colbert (he could not get on the ballot so asked supporters to vote for Herman Cain, who had already backed out of the race, as a joke), Colbert's rally drew thousands of young people at the College of Charleston.

Colbert has the attention of our generation (and the media) in his hands, now he must decide what he wants to do with it. One easy option would be to endorse a candidate and publicly rally to support him over the course of the year on his show. Another far less likely choice would be for Colbert to enter himself into the conversation to run as vice president on the GOP ticket.

Still other opportunities available to Colbert would be to use his position of influence to continue to rally against super PACs and Citizens United, though he risks exposing himself to charges of hypocrisy now that he has used his own super PAC to raise so much money. Colbert could make headway with Americans Elect's third party system. Or he could just settle for using his influence to make a lot of money in 2012 (by releasing more books, a movie, etc.).

The hot topic for election pollsters today is which candidate (President Barack Obama vs. the likely nominee Mitt Romney) can capture Independents and the youth vote. Perhaps the better question is who can capture the Colbert generation?

Photo Credit: DVIDSHUB


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