The appearance of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert at a congressional hearing on immigrant farm workers was as advertised: he was in the character familiar to viewers of his Monday-Thursday half-hour program.
The hearing was called “Protecting America’s Harvest,” and as usual, Democrats and Republicans had entirely different views on the topic – and they had entirely different views on Colbert’s presence. One thing is for sure, however – Colbert brought the hearing vast amounts of publicity it would never in a million years have gotten otherwise.
And while Republican members generally found his presence to be a distraction, Democrats were no doubt pleased to get the extra attention.
Colbert used his character, which we would describe his idea of a parody of a conservative political talker, to satirize the issue in a way that can only be seen as favorable to the Democratic position.
Acknowledging the controversy on Colbert’s presence at the witness table, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) actually asked Colbert to leave and rely on his pre-submitted written testimony to make his views on the topic known. Colbert said he was there at the invitation of House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and would honor her wishes. She said to testify, and Conyers later withdrew his early exit request.
Colbert had worked for one day alongside farm workers as part of a Take Our Jobs event at which he met Lofgren and agreed to later appear on the Hill.
He said that one day of working with fresh produce was enough, concluding, “At this point I break into a cold sweat at the sight of a salad bar.”
Colbert’s oral testimony could easily have been a five-minute segment on his program. His prepared testimony had no relationship to it whatsoever. In fact, it was quite serious. Discussing his decision to accept the offer of UFW leader Arturo Rodriguez to participate in “Take Our Jobs,” he wrote, “As a comedian and satirist, the temptation of subjecting my character to manual labor proved impossible to resist. I offered to be the fourth. Joined by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren — longtime advocate for farm workers’ rights — I traveled to upstate New York where I spent ten hours picking beans, packing corn, and learning about the stark reality facing American farms and farmers. I learned that many farms are closing, growers are planting less or switching to other crops, and the production of fresh foods and vegetables is moving abroad. I learned that American farmers have moved at least 84,155 acres of production and 22,285 jobs to Mexico, and that between 2007 and 2008, 1.56 million acres of US farmland were shut down. 1.56 million acres is about twice the size of Delaware. At the request of Congresswoman Lofgren, I am here today to share my experience as an entertainer turned migrant worker, and to shed light on what it means to truly take one of the millions of jobs filled by immigrant labor. They say that you truly know a man after you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, and while I have nowhere near the hardships of these struggling immigrants, I have been granted a sliver of insight.”