With a limited number of shows before he goes off the air, conservative satirist and show host Stephen Colbert offered the coveted “Colbert Bump” to Bernie Sanders as they talked about whether the Independent senator was going to run for president. The longest serving independent in Congress and the only self-described socialist, Sanders demurred on whether he was really launching a campaign, but did confirm that he is thinking about it. While the question of 2016 remained unanswered, the two men did discuss government and what it should be doing and whether Sanders was really the boogeyman of Congress.
Sanders’ socialist perspective was evident during the interview, particularly around the issue of healthcare, which he said should be treated as a right. He was adamant in pointing out that the United States is the only country in the world that does not guarantee healthcare to its citizens and he had compliments for Denmark on that point. When Colbert pressed him on whether America had the best healthcare system in the world, the senator agreed it was, but only if someone was rich enough to afford it, which many people are not. While Obamacare does not guarantee healthcare to everyone, he told the show’s host that it did help millions of people and that was a good thing.
Colbert then moved on to the midterms where the Democrats got hammered by the results. Colbert asked Sanders what his take was on that, considering the fact that socialists did not lose any seats at all. Sanders laughed at that, but he offered his opinion of what really happened on midterms night. “What I think really happened,” he intoned, “is about 64 percent of the American people rejeted the two-party system.” Sanders’ comments were informed by the lowest voter turnout in decades which meant that only 34 percent of all eligible voters actually cast their vote in the election. As he sees it, that means that people are dissatisfied with how the government is run and who it really represents, which is not the people, but the billionaires, at least according to him.
The billionaires were a particular group that the Vermont senator took aim at, claiming that as a self-avowed socialist he was there to scare the “billionaire class.” This was a theme Bernie Sanders picked up on again when Stephen Colbert talked about whether he was going to announce his run for president in 2016. While he did confirm that he was thinking about it, he noted that there is a lot of groundwork to do before he makes a real announcement. After the chant of “Bernie” died down from the audience, he talked about a grassroots movement willing to fight the billionaire class and about how difficult it would be to campaign against people with almost unlimited money. Sanders seems to be realistic about the challenges that exist for a possible campaign and is proceeding with that in mind.
While The Colbert Report is a comedy show at heart, there are moments when it brings to light serious issues and news stories. Many people may not have been aware of Sanders’ possible presidential campaign before that show, but judging from the audience’s reaction there is at least some support for it. In fact, there seems to be support for his views about the role of government and who it should represent. His comments about the super-rich and the way that government seems only to work for them brought cheers from the live audience. The question really is whether more than just a studio audience would support Sanders’ bid. That is perhaps why Colbert offered him the famous “Colbert Bump.” Because it is not going to be an easy thing if the Independent does throw his hat into the ring.
Bernie Sanders’ presidential hopes may not have made for a lot of humor on Colbert’s show the other night, but at least it was revealing. The self-proclaimed socialist clearly iterated his middle class agenda in a way that many people in the audience supported. He seemed able to tap in to the dissatisfaction that many people feel about their government and the fact that many middle class people feel left out. Thankfully, he approached the idea with a realistic attitude, but he had to be gratified by the reaction of the audience, even if Stephen Colbert did give him a hard time about being the boogeyman of Congress.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury