Stephen Colbert Is Now a “Neoliberal Shill” for Making Fun of Guess Who

August 15, 2019

By Al Giordano

There is a popular expression here in Mexico, “El que se enoja, pierde.” It means, “He who gets mad, loses.”

There’s a lot of truth to that. People who walk around looking for the latest outrage to get angry at don’t often make good tactical decisions while losing their heads, especially not on the electoral battlefield. To be hopping mad might provide a little adrenaline buzz but it always knocks those who choose to feel such constant rage off balance.

As Bernie Sanders’ 2020 nomination aspirations have steadily sunk from frontrunner to second and now third place nationwide (and in some key states there are recent polls where Sanders now comes in fourth or fifth among the Democratic candidates), while at the same time a steady bleed of his 2016 voters are moving away from him (including many ideologically close to him, toward Elizabeth Warren), Sanders himself feels aggrieved. That led to his outburst this week against the Washington Post and its owner, Jeff Bezos.

“You know, if you look at the Washington Post, which is owned by the wealthiest guy in this country, a guy named Jeff Bezos… Amazon made $10 billion in profit last year. You know how much they paid in taxes? Zero! And you wonder why the Washington Post is not one of my great supporters. I wonder why!”

This week on his late-night TV show on CBS Stephen Colbert showed that clip and reacted with a smile. “He’s stealing Trump’s thing!” He launched into a pretty good imitation of Sanders, hunched forward with the wagging finger in the air and in a Brooklyn accent carried on:

“Yes, the Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post is I think, and I’m coining this phrase, it’s fake news, sad, it’s a witch hunt. A witch HUNT!”

It was hilarious. The studio audience loved it, burst into laughter and applause. That’s Colbert’s job, after all, to entertain them – and us out here in TV land – while he informs. He continued:

“Bernie went on to say why he’s worried about corporate media saying, ‘Large corporations own the media in America by and large and I think there is a framework about how the corporate media focuses on politics.’ Okay, Bernie. That’s ridiculous. I, Stephen Colbert, work for a major corporate media. But I’m free from corporate influence and I can say whatever I want, which reminds me: ‘ALL HAIL THE GLORIOUS MERGER OF VIACOM AND CBS!’”

One would like to think that the last bit, poking fun of himself and his bosses at CBS, would have made Sanders supporters happy, right? But nooooo. The social media meltdown in response to Colbert was quite the reveal of how a certain sector of his fans are dealing poorly with the Sanders’ campaign’s lack of success this cycle.

“#Colbert’s a #SELLOUT #shill. Sold his soul for some coin,” tweeted one Twitter user. “Now he’s spouting any garbage they put in his earpiece. His former satire was brilliant & inspired. This neutered version is abysmal. CAN’T watch this trash.”

Wow, I’m just glad the dude hash-tagged “#sellout” and “#shill” or otherwise I would have never seen his clearly must-read tweet while doing my thrice-daily search for those hashtags! (And what kind of joyless person searches for such cliched hashtags anyway?)

“As funny as Colbert might be, and I do like him, seems corporate interests have him by the short and curlies,” ringed another (and notice it’s yet another strange obsession with Colbert’s manhood and genitalia, which is quite revealing about the psychology of much of this cohort). “You’d have to be profound imbecile or corporate shill to attack Bernie Sanders prior to the 2020.”

“What do you expect from a corporate guy who’s net worth is nearly $45 million? Bernie is a threat to his money as well,” chimed another.

One bro who names his account “JesusWasAltLeft #Squad Member,” lamented, “@StephenAtHome is officially dead to me.” (I guess he missed real-life “Squad member” Ayanna Pressley getting in some great and positive airtime on Colbert’s show this week, eh?) “Cannot watch him anymore, or any other talk show hosts.” (Aha! So they’re all dead to him! What will any of them do without this guy’s viewership?) “@StephenAtHome is really disappointing, and all of them with their passive aggressive Bernie jokes re age or hand waving make me sick.”

“So once again you’re dissing Bernie when you know he’s the only one that can beat Trump. Why Stephen? Is it because you’re rich?” typed another. “You backed Shillary and look what that got us. I have been a faithful watcher but you’re definitely losing me. Smarten up!”

“I am fed up with Stephen Colbert’s disrespect of Bernie Sanders. I have been a fan of Colbert but no more!” tweeted another. “He is rude and acting ignorant about Bernie. I have better things to do than get angry at his shitty attitude and lack of appreciation of the danger of big conglomerates.”

I’d stop here because I know you already get the point but frankly it’s too much fun to continue! There hasn’t been an open bar of cold-brewed Bernie bro tears flowing from the tap like this one since the Pope refused to meet with Sanders after being ambushed by him in the Vatican during the 2016 New York primary. After all, when it comes to poking fun of media corporations, Stephen Colbert is the Pope. Let’s enjoy a few more of these frosty libations. This round is on me!

“What an absolute disappointment you’ve become,” one bro tweeted at Colbert. “You’re conflating Bernie and 45?! Seriously?” Can you guess where this one is headed with his commentary? The part where he makes a threat? Oh, yes, of course you can. It’s such a predictable and routine part of the script: do as I say or you and your children will be hurt. “You must really love tRump so much you want him for another 4 years. That’s what you’re going to get you know. Oh wait, it’s what you want isn’t it?”

“Colbert is mad Bernie wants to tax him and his rich friends though,” noted another with the familiar refrain that if someone even pokes fun of Sanders, even if it’s his job as a comedian, he must be corrupted – and he’s also now called that academic word nobody but the college grad elites ever uses in the US, neoliberal: “He wants another neolib to keep things the same, only being polite about the horrors of our world instead of being a dick like Trump.”

“Why don’t you have Noam Chomsky on as a guest?” wrote one who thinks he is of the pay grade to produce a top-rated late night talk show to Colbert. And he reassures, “He will go on your show if you ask.”

Wading through hundreds of these kinds of comments – so that y’all don’t have to – I found one, just one, who appeared to have a sense of humor. This one said: “Camon ya’ll, I love Bernie, but this is just gentle satire, and I would argue good exposure. Let’s not go all ‘everyone who does explicitly agree is out to get us.’”

Too late, bro. That horse done left the barn already.

Sanders himself triggered his fans to react this way when he blamed his not getting puff-piece coverage out of a major daily by insinuating the Washington Post newsroom was taking orders from its owner. That led to a sharp rebuke from said newsroom, which labeled his claim a conspiracy theory and Sanders then backpedaled with the equally stupid but more vague quote about how “the corporate media” covers politics (a phenomenon that Colbert himself has been far more effective at parodying and exposing over the years, which is related to the over-the-top humorless reaction from the Bernie stans).

But now because America’s top-rated late-night funny guy has dared to make some, gasp, jokes (the nerve!) about Sanders’ finger-pointing and finger-waving – and, worse, the audience laughed at Bernie with him! How could they? – Colbert is receiving those tired old 2016-style complaints alleging the same financial motives, corporatism and “neoliberal” corruption that many other good people stilcapable of free thought have received before him.

But what’s really going on here, both with Sanders’ outburst and the sad reactions of a certain cohort among his fans, is they can feel and see their 2020 hopes falling apart. They’re in the throes of cognitive dissonance. How can this be happening? We got 43 percent in 2016? Aren’t we entitled to that in a 20-horse race, too?

 It doesn’t seem to occur to them that there are rational reasons, from Sanders being old news to Warren being more palatable to many progressives who really do want to win, to there being twenty other candidates in the race and none of them named Hillary Clinton, and so Sanders doesn’t get the Clinton-shy voters this round.

To acknowledge that is what happened – and it is in fact all that happened the last time Sanders ran – seems to be causing some people a feeling of personally being wounded, of what the professionals call narcissistic injury. They cling to an illusion that Sanders’ 2016 voters felt exactly as they did about him (and about his labeling of some, in reality, pretty mild social-democratic policy planks as somehow being “democratic socialism” and as meaning a majority of the alleged American masses also identify with Sanders’ self-proclaimed “socialist” identity even though all survey research indicates otherwise).

But rather than wake up and face the clear reality, that 2020 is not going to be a rerun of 2016 in which Sanders got to be the sole Brand X to the frontrunner, they now need somewhere to point the finger and blame.

Increasingly in recent weeks the most diehard Sanders cohort has published article after article claiming the news media is treating him unfairly by not building him up the way much of it did in 2016 (hint: that was when propping him up brought ratings to prolong the Democratic primaries). They believe their candidate is entitled to exalted and heroic coverage of the kind he gets in marginalized white left magazines and websites. And that Noam Chomsky must be put on the Colbert show, because what could possibly be better for ratings than that? That Sanders is not getting the same free ride he got in 2016, to them, is the reason he’s not doing well in the polls.

They can’t consider a truer narrative: That Democrats were never that into Bernie in the first place – but that 43 percent of them were uneasy enough about Hillary Clinton as the nominee that he became the vehicle for their protest vote.

They thought Sanders’ getting votes from 43 percent of Democrats then meant “socialism” had arrived. But it was the same predominantly young and white protest vote that Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Howard Dean and others got in years when enough Democrats were not fully on board with the eventual nominee. (That’s long been Tad Devine’s bailiwick, but he grabbed one of the first lifeboats off the SS Sanders this cycle.)

And while that kind of frontrunner-unease does in some parts of the party base cast doubts on Joe Biden’s candidacy this round (and also, and they’ll never “get” this part: there is even more discomfort around Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for 2020, which is why he instantly fell from being considered the frontrunner the moment Biden entered the race), there are other and better receptacles for those kinds of voters today, starting with Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and perhaps others will get to their altitudes in these primaries as well.

The diehard Sanders cohort – a tiny but loud fraction of his 2016 support – can’t believe it. And so they will continue to lash out bitterly and blame everyone else but themselves and their candidate for why they haven’t persuaded enough voters to support him this time around.

Welcome to the club, Stephen. You’re in good company. And those of us who still have our sense of humor intact continue to adore you, big guy. Keep us laughing, please, so we don’t become as humorless as, well, those guys.

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