Tonight on MSNBC’s Countdown Keith Olbermann took a unique angle to discussing Stephen Colbert’s congressional testimony today, by actually discussing the poignant message behind all the jokes. Olbermann called Colbert’s testimony, “Along with being funny, he was also serious, even eloquent when testifying about the plight of America’s migrant farm workers.”
Here is the video:
Olbermann opened the segment by showing us that he got it, “After the breathless lead up to comedian Stephen Colbert’s testimony to Congress today, the knee jerks got what they wanted, Stephen Colbert as the demented pundit he plays on TV did a few minutes of shtick at a meeting. Then there is the rest of the story that few bothered to cover, the truth he spoke, not the truthiness. Along with being funny, he was also serious, even eloquent when testifying about the plight of America’s migrant farm workers. This week on his program Colbert aired a two-part series about the migrant workers. Colbert spent a day alongside some of them at a farm in upstate New York. He was asked to testify today at the meeting called protecting America’s harvest.”
After playing the predictable Fox News freak out and Colbert’s in character opening statement, Olbermann did something different. He played the end of Colbert’s testimony when the Comedy Central star broke character and spoke seriously. When asked why any American worker would take these jobs, Colbert answered, “I don’t know if Americans would or would not want to work on jobs like this. I believe that Americans are tough, I agree with the congressman, Americans are tough and they do tough jobs. It is not a job I want to do and not a lot of people took Mr. Rodriguez up on his offer, and it seems from the statistics that my researchers found that there is a lack of labor in parts of the united states and that seems to say that Americans don’t want to take the jobs, but I don’t want to say definitively that they won’t.”
Colbert was later asked why he chose to speak up on this issue. He replied, “I like talking about people who don’t have any power. and this seems like one of the least powerful people in the united states are migrant workers who come and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result, and yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave, and that’s an interesting contradiction to me and, you know what so ever you do for the least of my brothers and these seem like the least of our brothers right now, a lot of people are least of the brothers right now because the economy is so hard and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them, but migrant workers suffer and have no rights.”
Perhaps if Keith Olbermann sees Chuck Todd in the hallway, he might want to clue Chuck in, because while hosting Hardball today it was clear that Todd did not get it.
Colbert’s appearance today was designed to get publicity for a low level committee hearing about an issue that gets zero attention. Beyond the jokes, Colbert offered a powerful message. The media showed up at that hearing to see him in character but he also spoke intelligently about a dirty little secret of the agricultural sector. Colbert was correct. We tell these people to come here to do a back breaking job. They are paid slave wages, and for their efforts, they get demonized by a group of racists who while enjoying the “always low prices” at the local Wal-Mart moan and groan about how “the illegals” are ruining America.
I don’t believe that Americans won’t pick fruit, or do any other labor intensive job. Americans will do it, but the catch is that no American would do the job under the current working conditions and at the current pay rate of a migrant farm laborer. Agribusiness and their Republican allies don’t want to pay a living wage to these people, but they want to enjoy the literal fruits of their labor, and when pay rates or working conditions are discussed, they automatically invoke the excuse that improving pay and conditions would lead to higher prices for the consumer, but we all know that the higher prices boogeyman is really code for better pay and conditions would reduced profits.
Colbert and the Democrats may be taking some flak from the Right and the arrogant self important beltway media, but Stephen Colbert did a very heroic and patriotic thing today. He stood up for those who have no voice, and also the American value that an honest day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay. Stephen Colbert used his fame for good, and showed himself in and out of character to be a Real American.