Thou shalt remember the Ten Commandments

I’m a massive fan of Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. First he launches an entire show based on impersonating Bill O’Reilly, then he takes the piss out of President Bush at the White House Correspondents’ dinner right in front of his face. Now he’s made headlines with a brilliant interview embarrassing the guy who must be the dumbest politician in America, even including the President – Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland.

The interview reveals not only that Westmoreland has no idea about Colbert even after the Bush incident made national headlines, but that his media advisers clearly don’t either. Under Colbert’s faux-Republican questioning, the Congressman admits to being the “do nothingest” in a do-nothing Congress, having introduced no legislation whatsoever – along with “one other do nothinger. I don’t know who that is, but he’s a Democrat.”

He’s asked what he would get rid of to balance the Federal Budget, and immediately replies “Department of Education” – and fair enough, it clearly never did anything for him. Then Colbert baits him into saying he’d cut social security, running rings around him to the point where he says he just has no idea. I’ve never seen so many confused looks.

Then Colbert asks him about the one policy he has actually supported, a measure to display the Ten Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate because “it’s not a bad thing for people to understand and respect”, because “if we were totally without them, we may lose our sense of direction.” So Colbert asks him to actually name the commandments, and he gets up to about three before running out of steam.

By now, Westmoreland’s next re-election bid would have been on the skids, if anyone actually watched Comedy Central in the States. And reading the desperate attempts of his team to spin their way out of the embarrassing situation is almost as funny as the original interview. On the charge that he hadn’t authored any legislation, Westmoreland’s press secretary said that he “didn’t come [to Washington] to make government any bigger.” Which tries to hit the Republican hot-button of big government, but sounds far more like an argument that he didn’t go to Congress to actually do anything. Republicans hate big government because they think it wastes their precious tax dollars. And there may never have been a bigger waste of tax dollars than this guy.

And the defence to the Ten Commandments stuff-up, a hugely embarrassing failure for someone who presents themselves as a conservative Christian? He claims to have actually gotten to about seven, but Colbert edited that footage out. Which, of course, doesn’t in any way address the problem of having been caught out. He should have started by posting them in his office, just off camera.

What I like most about Colbert’s piece is the way that it attacks Westmoreland’s attempt to blur the separation between church and state – a key principle in the US Constitution that’s regularly ignored by vote-seeking Republicans, even as they insist that the amendments on guns are sacrosanct. Colbert asks Westmoreland if he can’t actually think of a better building to display the Ten Commandments in than Congress – like, duh, a church; making the point that they aren’t allowed to be displayed in government buildings – but unfortunately the Congressman is floundering so heavily that he doesn’t bite.

Lynn Westmoreland may refuse to be labelled a “Georgia Peach”, but this sure is a peach of an interview.

(While we’re looking at political video clips, check out the footage of Bush alongside an impersonator at the same dinner Colbert spoke at. For all his faults, the President certainly has a great sense of humour. And far better gags than his impersonator, what’s more. Can you imagine John Howard doing this?)

Dominic Knight