Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Here is the video of Herman Cain singing the Pokemon theme song on Friday afternoon at the College of Charleston, as part of the “Rock You Like a Herman Cain” rally with Stephen Colbert:
Speaking before a fully packed quad of students, faculty, and press, Cain was, for the most part, a harmonious prop to Colbert’s larger point. Colbert used a friendly audience to launch an extended attack on what he considers to be a badly broken campaign finance system—staying in character, of course. The Comedy Central star offered a quick crash course on Citizens United, and then began to speak in sentences constructed entirely of political outfits: “We had finally arrived at the American crossroads to restore our future priorities, USA, and make us great again. Because freedom works.” That would be American Crossroads (Karl Rove); Restore our Future (supporting Mitt Romney); Priorities USA (supporting Obama); Make us Great Again (supporting Rick Perry); and FreedomWorks (Dick Armey’s advocacy outfit).
“I’m the Martin Luther King of corporate civil rights,” he said at another point. “The Lockheed Martin Luther Burger King, if you will.”
As Colbert put it, after outlining the process by which he had passed off the super-PAC he founded (Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) to his good friend Jon Stewart, “If that is a joke, then they are saying our entire campaign finance system is a joke! And I don’t know about you, but I am being paid to be offended by that. We fought a civil war to ensure that all people are created equal. As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, ‘Give me some money.’ They don’t teach that in school anymore; they replaced it with Gay Mexican History Month.”
Kay Smith, an English professor at the college, had taken part of the afternoon off to watch, like many of her colleagues. “It seems to me that actually, Colbert was making a very real point about campaign finance that we need to think about,” she says.
But what about Cain? Will Freeman, a senior at College of Charleston, couldn’t quite make sense of the former pizza baron’s appearance. “Being a former supporter of Herman Cain, I kind of found it strange that he’s up there advancing serious issues in that kind of manner,” he says. “It’s confusing to me.” Cain’s speech was frequently interrupted by the audience, from random shouts of “Pokemon!” (throughout the speech), to laughter when he implored the crowd to take his advice and stay informed. (Colbert had given attendees a crash course on Cain’s lack of foreign policy knowledge, noting in his monologue that they had agreed to disagree on the number of “bekis” in “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan”).
Colbert is doing his part to educate viewers on the nature of the campaign finance system through mockery. But will it matter? Consider this: The biggest hit at Friday’s Herman Cain–Stephen Colbert rally—other than Cain’s rendition of the Pokemon theme song, that is—may have been the black hats, handed out by Americans Elect, with “Party Crasher” emblazoned on the front. It wasn’t that C of C students are particularly infatuated with the idea of an Evan Bayh—Joe Lieberman presidential unity ticket; most of them just wanted a free hat. The same might be said for the “Rock You Like a Herman-Cain Rally.” They came for a free comedy routine—the Citizens United critique just came with package.