Stephen Colbert: Great presidential candidate, or greatest?

The buzz about satirist Stephen Colbert’s entry into the South Carolina Democratic primary overwhelmingly focuses on one question: Is this guy serious?

Former “Good Morning America” reporter and former correspondent for “The Daily Show,” Colbert has enjoyed fame since the creation of his show, “The Colbert Report,” on Comedy Central. The “Colbert Nation,” as he calls the following of devoted supporters his show has developed, have swayed polls to have a Canadian Junior League hockey team mascot and a Hungarian bridge named in his honor (Hungary apologetically declined to use the poll results).

Colbert seems to be used to getting his wants, and now he’s decided to try his luck at our country’s highest office. Though Colbert filed paperwork to be in the Democratic primary, many see it as a publicity stunt.

Colbert cleverly prefaced his presidential run with a book release and used promotional appearances to build anticipation for the announcement, a standard political formula.

He played coy for a few months, but what most assumed was a joke became very real as Colbert finally announced on his show that he would “seek the office of the President of the United States.”

Colbert made some comments on his show that appear to have started a good-natured feud between Colbert and the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

After Colbert claimed John Edwards abandoned South Carolina when he was a year old, Edwards’ campaign issued a press release disputing the claim and calling Colbert’s campaign tainted by an advertisement made on his show.

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Edwards’ official spokesman stated in a press release, “As the candidate of Doritos, Colbert’s hands are stained by corporate corruption and nacho cheese. Edwards has never taken a dime from salty food lobbyists and America deserves a President who isn’t in the pocket of the snack food special interests.”

But seriously, who isn’t influenced by Doritos’ nacho cheesiness? Apparently not Edwards.

According to Radar Magazine, Edwards received campaign contributions this year from former Frito-Lay executive Joyce Duesman, current vice president of Pepsico.

Anyone unfamiliar with Colbert’s irreverent stance on politics might wonder why so many people are directly attacking the validity of his candidacy. This is not the first time an entertainer, even a comedian, has sought public office. Some called Colbert’s decision a bad joke, or something that could potentially harm other candidates. I suggest it is neither.

If it’s nothing but a joke, Colbert’s candidacy is definitely a good one. Colbert’s onscreen character claims to be the most patriotic man in the entire country; his book is titled “I Am America (And So Can You!)” Can you think of a better candidate? As for his foray into politics being harmful, Colbert could actually “generate the kind of cynicism that encourages people to believe that no one running can be trusted,” said Paul Lewis, author and Boston College professor, in an ABC news interview. A little cynicism in politics can go a long way. Is it possible anyone doesn’t yet understand that all politicians are actors?

When Internet petitions began to circulate last year about a form of Jon Stewart / Stephen Colbert ticket for the presidential elections, I found the idea entertaining and almost bought a Stewart / Colbert ’08 T-shirt. However, I knew the probability of it actually happening was microscopic. I reasoned that if such a thing was attempted, even as a joke, the Democratic vote would be undermined and the race would be won handily by a Republican.

Colbert’s entry in the primary seems like more than a simple joke. The term “satire” comes to mind again, and the great thing about satire is it’s one of the most intelligent forms of humor. Satire forces a person to make connections between the thing being satirized and how and why it’s funny.

So why is Colbert’s candidacy funny? Because he’s accused of having separate professional and personal personas. This is not just helpful but necessary in the world of politics. Perhaps because it’s possible he could either win the South Carolina primary or make such a strong show that people will be forced to recognize the validity of his message: Modern political races are nothing more than an extension of the media – essentially entertainment.

I admit, I’m a moderate Colbert fan. Though not as much lately, there was a time when I followed his antics religiously. Let’s just say he still has a fairly high priority on my TiVo.

When Colbert spoke at the White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner, openly and publicly mocking every flaw of the administration that seemingly everyone talks about and no one acts upon, I felt as if the world stood still. I knew this man was going to change politics.

If you haven’t watched that speech, it’s a must-see for anyone curious about Colbert.

The fact that he is a comedian means little. A person’s sense of humor is often a fairly accurate meter by which to judge them. The comic persona of Colbert, his “character,” refers to sound ideas and practices as absurd as he sarcastically lauds things he knows are ridiculous and his audience laughs at him. If Colbert didn’t find the things he satirizes ridiculous, he wouldn’t bother joking about them.

Do you really know as much about what other candidates believe versus what they say?