Compassionate Fake Conservative

Stephen Colbert testified today at the House judiciary subcommittee hearing on immigration and farm labor. Or was it "Stephen Colbert" testifying? The whole thing was a preview, perhaps, of the dueling "rallies" of Daily Show and Colbert Report fans planned for next month in Washington -- comedy and political commentary conjoined in ever more confusing ways.The hearing was focused on a proposed agricultural jobs bill designed to improve the poor conditions for migrant workers. Colbert's testimony was linked to a stunt from The Colbert Report where the host spent a day doing farm work as part of the United Farm Workers of America "Take Our Jobs" awareness-raising campaign. He testified in the character of his blowhard television persona -- although he had submitted a far more irenic text [PDF] ahead of time. And he got off a few very good lines. "I'm not a fan of the government doing anything," he said, "but I've gotta ask: why isn't the government doing anything?"The New York Times's Ashley Parker has a writeup, which notes that Colbert broke character when questioned after his testimony:

Near the end of the hearing, Mr. Colbert turned sincere, giving a serious answer when asked a serious question by Representative Judy Chu, Democrat of California, about why he had chosen to donate his time to the plight of migrant farm workers out of all possible causes.Mr. Colbert paused, scratched the back of his head and sounding almost surprised at himself replied, I like talking about people who dont have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but dont have any rights themselves, he said. Migrant workers suffer and have no rights.

The response was a little more detailed than Parker's transcript. What he said was:

I like talking about people who don't have any power, and it 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...

Alex Pareene at Salon included another interesting detail from Colbert's response to that question:

He quoted the Bible, as he often does: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers ... these seem like the least of our brothers."

C-Span has video of the whole hearing online. Skip to 56:00 to see Colbert testify, and then again to 1:09 for some questions from Lamar Smith of Texas -- Colbert assures him, "I endorse all Republican policies without question." Skip ahead again to 1:49 to see Steve King of Iowa burnishing his well-earned reputation for mean-spirited pettiness. Finally, the exchange with Chu begins around 1:58.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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