College-Age Voters Thirsty for Candidate With Personality

About two weeks ago Stephen Colbert announced his plans to
run in the 2008 presidential election. Television-less, I didn’t find out until
the next day, when Facebook told me many of my friends had already joined the site’s
“1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T. Colbert” group, and that I too had been
invited to join.

I left the invitation unanswered and went on with my week;
the fires struck, school was closed and I soon forgot Colbert completely —
until today.

Thanks to Facebook’s stalker-level “news feed,” I was
notified that two particular friends recently joined the group. Now usually I
glaze right over notices like this, preferring to check out recently posted
photos or events (don’t judge, you do it too!), but this one actually caught my attention.

I met the first friend in high school. She attends community
college near our hometown and when she introduces herself to people she tells
them three things: her name, that she’s Christian and that she’s pro-life.
Obviously it’s no surprise that she identifies her political views as “very
conservative.”

The second friend I met in college. She has since graduated
and is now in the process of joining the Peace Corps. She likes good music,
getting krunk and doesn’t believe in God. This friend identifies her political
leanings as “very liberal.”

Though both girls are nice, they aren’t exactly on the same
political team.

But party loyalties don’t matter to Colbert, who said he’s
running both as a democrat and a republican. So despite severe ideological
differences, both friends have thrown their support his way.

Just 14 days after he
entered the race, Colbert’s Facebook support has mushroomed to an astounding
1.3 million young people, over 4,000 of whom registered to vote after hearing
of his campaign.

You’ve got to hand it to Colbert: Certainly no candidate in
my lifetime has been able to capture what political analysts call “the youth
vote” so well. The “Hillary Clinton for President — One Million STRONG” has,
despite its name, only just over 8,000 members. The “Barack Obama (One Million
Strong for Barack)” group is doing a little better with nearly 400,000 members.
The “Mitt Romney (One Million Strong For Mitt)” has about 15,000 members. And
poor Rudy Guiliani has only been able to woo 113 young people to his “million
strong” group. Keep in mind these candidates have been campaigning for months.

While Colbert’s campaign isn’t likely to actually threaten
them, these out-of-touch politicians deserve the scare they should be feeling.
Campy as the sentiment is, we college students are the key voting demographic
of the future. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to give us some attention.

It’s a vicious cycle: Young people can’t connect with
detached rhetoric-filled politicians, making it hard for them to get excited
about voting.

Politicians see that the youth vote is very small and don’t
take the demographic seriously. So they continue to think they’re safe ignoring
college students, and college students become even further disinterested in the
democratic process — choosing to focus attention on celebrity gossip instead of
life-changing governmental decisions.

(Like the Patriot Act, republican Supreme Court appointments
or jumping into an unjust and unprovoked war backed only by scare tactics, to
name a few.)

OK, so Colbert has the support of college students, or at
least more than any other major candidate. The question now is: What will he do
with this support? He’s famous for being satirical, and is a master at staying
in character — that’s why people love him.

He’s brilliant and hilarious, and while his gag crusade for
president is sure to be equally so, perhaps this time the joke has gone a
little too far.

I’m not convinced Colbert’s supporters are in on the joke.
Rightfully starved for a contender they can connect with, his followers see
Colbert as the light at the end of a vapid candidate tunnel and genuinely want
to see him win. (Hell, part of me feels the same way.)

But in a country desperately in need of strong new
leadership, he has the potential to be a dangerous wrench in the democratic
gears. What happens when millions of young people waste their votes on a
comedic version of Ralph Nader, splitting the vote and dooming the United
States to another four years of corruption, environmental destruction and
constitutional dismantlement?

Though the tremendous support Colbert has gained is
awesomely scary, I guess I might be overreacting. It has only been two weeks,
and election day is still over a year away.

And while I hope we see this joke-campaign’s punch line
soon, all we can do at this point is sit back and let the hilarity ensue.