Stephen Colbert steals Obama's 'mission accomplished' moment on Iraq

President Obama celebrated the end of the Iraq war with all the pomp of a pizza delivery boy, Stephen Colbert quipped. So Colbert's trying to do the thing right. Is it a dig at Obama?

Steve Manuel/USO/AP/file
Comedian Stephen Colbert recorded four shows of 'The Colbert Report' at Camp Victory in Baghdad in June 2009. He will now celebrate the return of US combat troops with a two-show special.

Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert knows how to milk his moment in the limelight.

While thousands of his fans are clamoring for him to host a parody of the Glenn Beck rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial next month, the mock conservative talk show host last night punted, coyly playing with the idea without saying yea or nay. What he did was redirect attention to a special event he already had announced: a celebration of the troops returning from combat duty in Iraq.

So, while the bid to “draft Colbert” for a "Restoring Truthiness" rally continues to grow online, Mr. Colbert can count on his own “Colbert Nation” troops to tune in night after night awaiting his final answer.

It’s a sly move that gives even more attention to a two-part show beginning Wednesday night, dubbed, “Been There, Won That: The Returnification of the American-Do Troopscape.” The shows will feature an audience of active duty servicemen and women as well as veterans.

Colbert came up with the idea in August after being underwhelmed by the Obama administration's handling of the end of US combat in Iraq.

Sure, Obama couldn't well take to an aircraft carrier and proclaim "mission accomplished," but the formal end of the war occurred with only a few cameras rolling as the last US combat troops crossed into Kuwait. One of the reporters covering the moment, NBC's Richard Engel, quipped that his report was as close as the Pentagon would come to an official declaration of the end of combat for troops in Iraq.

That was followed by the president’s own description of the war’s end being “as promised and on schedule.” Colbert, turning to his audience, declared that that was no way to end a war. “That,” he added, “is a pizza delivery slogan.”

And so, while the president shifts his political message to job creation for the midterm elections, Colbert will deliver the TV ticker-tape parade the White House did not provide – a subtle dig at Obama, to be sure.

Given the growing importance of the comedy circuit to the popular political discourse, this could hardly have come at a worse moment for President Obama, says Mark Stevens, a branding expert and author. Mr. Obama’s personal brand is at a historic low, he points out.

For many of the younger voters who came out in record numbers to support his election in 2008, their hero is getting tarnished. “The hero to the younger demos, who see Colbert as ‘the news,’ is less and less a hero. To have Obama diminished by ‘one of them’ is brand disaster. The last thing the president needs is the very people who were once his strong supporters undercutting his image and decisions," he adds.

On the other hand, viewers may be savvier than some think, says Clark University political scientist Mark Miller.

“The White House might appreciate these shows talking about topics that need to be addressed, such as honoring the troops, at a time when they have to focus on other issues such as jobs and the economy,” he says.

It’s not clear who wins or loses from the show’s poke in the president’s eye, he says. On the one hand, the character Colbert plays is already a parody of a right-wing entertainer, so his audience is attuned to that sensibility. By bringing the war’s end to the table, the administration gets credit for the drawdown. On the other hand, it reminds people there are still soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a negative for Democrats.

But, Mr. Miller adds, it is useful to remember that Colbert is not a candidate. Satirists can do things politicians cannot, he says, “and most people understand that.”

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