It seemed to start with so much promise. A marching band, borrowed from Coastal Carolina University, began drumming the thunderous beats of LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem." And then the song repeated. And then it repeated again. And then the band finally made its way into the College of Charleston's Cistern Yard, along with a group of CofC cheerleaders and Stephen Colbert.
I didn't actually see any of this. I was standing a dozen or so people in from the walkway, and two or three dozen or so from the stage, where a gospel choir was beginning to sway. Where I was positioned among ball-capped students and aging politicos, girls sitting on their friends' shoulders (plus one guy with a dip cup), and at least two dogs, I didn't get a glimpse of Colbert (or, technically, "Herman Cain"), until The Colbert Report host grabbed a microphone and sang along with the choir on "This Little Light of Mine."
I arrived on campus — by which I mean the bricked sidewalk on Calhoun Street — a little bit after 11:30 a.m. on Friday. The line to get into the Cistern Yard for the Rock Me Like a Herman Cain: South Cain-Olina Primary Rally had wrapped itself around the school all the way to the busy intersection at St. Philip, which provided a perfect view of the monstrous Herman Cain party bus parked on the block. It was a pretty orderly process all things considered, and while the line appeared intimidating, there was no problem getting into the yard when the gates officially opened at noon. Luckier CofC students and staff were able to stick their heads — and political signs — outside of classrooms and office windows.
Since there was a 45 minute or so wait before the rally began, I decided to take an informal poll. I found 10 college-aged kids around me and asked them if they were registered to vote in the state of South Carolina. Six said no; two of those had come all the way from Ohio, purposely planning a visit to their Charleston-based friend to coincide with the Colbert appearance. Out of the four others who were registered to vote, none of them planned on doing so tomorrow. The kids from Ohio and their Charleston friend didn't even realize it was an open primary. The irony of this group's attendance at a political rally didn't seem to matter to any of them: They were there for Colbert.
Standing next to me was Cammy Kennedy, an older, wiser woman who came to Charleston from Columbia to see Stephen as well. She at least had a grasp on the U.S. political system. She's an independent and is enthusiastically voting for Herman Cain in tomorrow's election (but not that Herman Cain. She did not seem to like that one one bit). "I think that all of the candidates for the Republican party are liars and hypocrites and terrible, terrible people, and I think Stephen Colbert is doing a brilliant thing. He's calling our system, which is totally corrupted, out for what it is."
Kennedy may be registered to vote in North Carolina by November, in which case she'll vote for Barack Obama, since it's a close election in that state. She doesn't think the sitting president has a chance here (she says S.C. is too racist), so if she stays she's going with the Green Party. But what she really wants is for Colbert to stay in the race as an independent. It might get more disenfranchised people involved, even if it meant splitting the Democratic vote and ensuring Obama's failure. "I think our system is so corrupt that we almost need something like that to shake things up. We really do need a revolution."
After the introductory theatrics, including Colbert's duet with the choirmaster on the national anthem, the TV host stroked our most-attractive-town-in-America-egos and introduced the other man of the hour, the legally named Herman Cain. The former candidate for president riffed on how Colbert couldn't get on the ballot and he couldn't get off of it, but from there launched into a stodgy speech on his views on our country. "America needs to lighten up," he explained as his reason for participating in this satire. But it didn't really seem like he was in on the joke. He went on and on about how Washington needed to be revolutionized, that we needed to take back D.C. Valid points, but not what the audience wanted to hear. Until he started babbling about Pokemon. Then he started singing.
With the spotlight returned to Colbert, the comedian had to reign in Cain's comments, using his time to lampoon the broken PAC system, which had let him accomplish as much (and raise as much money) as he has. If corporations are people too, he reasoned, then we need to protect their civil rights to influence the political process.
When Cain spoke, he told the audience that a vote for him would be a waste; Colbert was left to contradict him. He said the most important thing any of us in the audience could do is vote. "I share his beliefs and you [the audience] share my beliefs, so by the transitive property, he shares your beliefs," Colbert promised. And a vote for Cain in particular proves just how fractured the system really is. I wonder what he'd think about the 10 kids I talked to.
The rally will air as part of the Mon. Jan. 23 episode of The Colbert Report.