With Spanish moss framing the backdrop of a campus that not only looks like an Old South movie set but has served as one many times, the Comedy Central host bounded onstage, sang “This Little Light of Mine,” with a gospel choir as backup, then gave a history lesson.
Calling himself the “Martin Luther King of corporation civil rights,” Colbert said that in a time maybe not everyone in the audience could remember — two years ago — corporations were sadly limited in the amount of money they could pour into political campaigns.
But that changed, he said, when “five courageous justices” on the Supreme Court ruled in the 2010
Citizens United decision that “corporations are people,” that people are entitled to free speech, that free speech equals money and that corporations should thus be entitled to dump as much money as they like into the political water table, provided they don’t coordinate with the campaigns they’re funding.
It’s the super PACs that are funding the flood of negative ads that the candidates all say they hate, even though the Citizens United decision was widely praised by Republicans.
Then Colbert asked the crowd, which included people of all ages and political persuasions, to send a message about super PACs by voting for Cain, who is still on the ballot here, though he suspended his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. And, somehow, both Republicans and Democrats were charmed.
Joe Wright, a college sophomore and a Republican who said he was torn over whether to support Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, said that while super PACs “are not a good thing,” the main point of the rally, for him, was that “Colbert makes the campaign a little lighter” and less nasty.
“I love that he’s making such a mockery of Republican politics and the super PACs,” said Cookie Washington, a Democrat who grew up in the District but has lived here for 25 years. “But this is South Carolina, so I’m not 100 percent sure people know it’s satire.”
Eleven-year-old Avi Goldschmidt, whose mother had driven him here from their home in Myrtle Beach, was not in that camp: “I like the way he’s pretending to be a Republican and is really a Democrat,” he said. (“He’s in the gifted and talented” program at school, said his mother, Natasha, who said she saw his day off from class as a “social studies field trip.”)
The event — dubbed the “Rock Me Like a Herman Cain South Cain-olina Primary” — began with a gospel rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with Colbert harmonizing, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and the crowd shouting, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”