Widgets Magazine


Girl You Know It’s True: What Stephen Colbert Has In Common with Elmo

Stephen Colbert testified before Congress on Friday on the matter of farm labor and immigration. Very serious people such as David Corn of Mother Jones raised objections along the lines of “Colbert is making a mockery of this hearing.” Though Corn is probably most upset that Colbert claimed “‘corn-packer’ is a derogatory term for a gay Iowan,” others have taken up the argument as well.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA)—a man who was once the lone vote against acknowledging the role of slave labor in building the Capitol—took a few minutes to turn up the heat on Colbert and demand that he answer whether he was packing or unpacking the corn and described the whole affair as “an insult to the time, an insult to the intelligence of the American people.” Reporters from National Review, The Washington Post and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) all labeled the affair a mockery as well.

But let’s drop some R. Kelly-style Real Talk here: nobody would ever, ever care about this particular hearing if there weren’t a famous person there. Even with Colbert there, at least one congresswoman—I’m looking at you, Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) —was seen texting during the hearing.

So, if it takes Lil’ Wayne to spice up a hearing on the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (“Mr. Carter, what exactly do you mean by ‘make it rain?’”) by all means, go for it, attention-starved congressmen. Pulling some random celebrity to testify on an issue where they lack expertise is nothing new. In fact, I have four examples of even less dignified moments in legislative history.

Novelist Michael Crichton testifies before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on climate change, 2005

The late author of such works as “The Andromeda Strain,” “Congo” and “Jurassic Park” and onetime member of People Magazine’s list of the “50 Most Beautiful People” was called to testify on the matter of climate change in large part due to his 2004 novel “State of Fear,” which chair James Inhofe (R-OK) made required reading for the committee. Considering the novel is the story of a bunch of evil eco-terrorists operating under the umbrella of organizations with such bizarrely un-menacing acronyms as NERF and ELF getting ready to kill large numbers of people in a tsunami they’ve created to raise money for environmental causes, it may come as no surprise that Crichton was there to talk about how fake global warming is.

The Brookings Institute described “State of Fear” as “notable mainly for its nuttiness,” which is surprising, since it is, you know, called “State of Fear.” Though he did have some credentials, being a Harvard Med School graduate and all, Michael Crichton was a climate expert in the same way that Dr. Phil is a podiatrist.

Rapper Hurricane Chris Performs “Halle Berry (She’s Fine)” on the Floor of the Louisiana Legislature, 2009

Remember that song, “A Bay Bay”? No? It was a thing in 2007, I swear. Anyway, the Louisiana House of Representatives saw fit to honor its creator, Shreveport-native Hurricane Chris, by giving him the floor for a few minutes, during which he performed a classily self-edited version of his song “Halle Berry (She’s Fine).”

That said, this cannot be regarded as that big of a disgrace on the Louisiana legislature because 1) Mr. Chris was wearing a suit, and 2) as Rep. Billy Tauzin, who left to work as a pharmaceutical lobbyist promptly after overseeing the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill of 2003, once noted, “Half of Louisiana is under water, and the other half is under indictment.” And for what it’s worth, New Orleans isn’t exactly Vatican City, either.

Muppet Elmo testifies before the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, 2002

Say what you will about Stephen Colbert, but he’s not a puppet made out of red felt that speaks in the third person. And Elmo was asked to testify by Randall “Duke” Cunningham, whose corruption and bribery convictions stemmed in part from an illegally obtained yacht named the “Duke Stir.” If “Convicted Bribe Recipient Invites Puppet to Give Expert Testimony” is no longer an obvious sign of bad governance, perhaps we’re getting too jaded.

Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson testifies before Senate Subcommittee on Environment and Public Works, 2002

Backstreet’s back to testify about the damaging practice of coal mining in Kentucky? Alright! Not surprisingly, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) described calling on Mr. Richardson’s expertise as “a joke.” Richardson, who was always the socially conscious one, noted “I am not a scientist, but I do know what I’ve seen in flights over the coal fields.”

Want to say something without being sworn in? E-mail Jordan at jcarr1@stanford.edu.