Colbert Nationalism
January 26, 2016

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was on The Late Show Monday night, and Stephen Colbert was very careful with his questions. Rumsfeld was on to promote his new solitaire app, but all anyone ever wants to talk to Rumsfeld about is the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Colbert was no exception. He started out by asking if the current situation in Iraq and Syria, including the rise of the Islamic State, was "a worst-case scenario, or a beyond-worse-case scenario" when the George W. Bush administration was planning the Iraq War. "I think the disorder in the entire region, and the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shia, is something that, generally, people had not anticipated," Rumsfeld said.

Then Colbert got a little more direct. "The top two Republicans and the top two Democrats, none of them thinks going into Iraq was the right choice to make," he said. "Do you still think it was the right thing to do, 12 years later?" Rumsfeld said that when Bush made the decision, Iraq had disregarded several U.N. resolutions, had used chemical weapons on his citizens and Iran, and "it seems to me the president, given the facts he had from the intelligence community, made the right decision. In retrospect, they didn't find large caches of chemical or biological weapons."

Colbert turned to Rumsfeld's "known unknowns" formulation and introduced a fourth option, "unknown knowns," gently suggesting that the Bush administration misled the American people by asserting that Iraq was a threat to the U.S. when the intelligence was too murky to back that up. "The president had available to him intelligence from all elements of the government," Rumsfeld said. "And the National Security Council members had that information; it was all shared, it was all supplied. And it's never certain. If it were a fact, it wouldn't be called intelligence." Colbert looked taken aback. "Wow. I think you answered my question." You can watch the strange, nearly 10-minute conversation below. Peter Weber

December 8, 2015

The Late Show was on break last week, and Monday night was Stephen Colbert's first opportunity to address the shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernardino. He started by offering his thoughts and prayers for the victims.

"Of course, these days, even thoughts and prayers have become controversial," Colbert noted, holding up a copy of the New York Daily News from last Thursday, with "God Isn't Fixing This" on the cover. "First, I'd just like to defend thoughts and prayers, as someone who occasionally thinks and prays. The reason you keep people in your thoughts and prayers is admittedly not to fix the problem, but to try to find some small way to share the burden of grief." Still, he said, "the Daily News is right that if we really want to fix it, we can't just stop there." So what to do? Colbert didn't really have an answer, but he did have some questions. Like: "Why is it so easy to buy bullets when I have to show three forms of ID to buy Sudafed?"

President Obama called the San Bernardino shooting an act of terrorism on Sunday night, and motive matters, Colbert said. When it is terrorism, the U.S. does something about it, "sometimes too much about it," but "when it's not a terrorist attack, we do nothing. Why can't there be anything in between?" Watch below. Peter Weber

October 28, 2015

Hillary Clinton spent her 68th birthday on Monday much like you might wish to — sleeping in late, lazing around, binge-watching House of Cards with Bill Clinton, she told Stephen Colbert on Tuesday's Late Show. But Clinton didn't only discuss TV during her first interview with Colbert — though she did mention she's a little jealous Madeleine Albright got a cameo on Madame Secretary and she hasn't. They mostly talked politics and running for president, which Clinton said is actually a fun experience sometimes.

Clinton came from a politically mixed house, and she started out in college as a Republican, taking her father's side, she said. That didn't last long, and she is definitely running for president as a Democrat. "I'm not running for my husband's third term, I'm not running for Obama's third term, I'm running for my first term," she said, "but I'm going to do what works, and we have an understanding of what works." What works aren't Republican policies, she added. When President Obama took office, "look at the mess he inherited," she said. "I love it when you have Republicans on here, and they act like we all have amnesia." Bill Clinton left office with a budget surplus and 23 million new jobs, but Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, she said, not explicitly mentioning George W. Bush.

If there is another financial meltdown under a President Hillary Clinton, the U.S. would let the banks fail this time, Clinton said. And if the banks are too big to fail, they may have to be broken up. The audience cheered. "That's a cheap trick, saying things people like," Colbert quipped. But Clinton declined to say whether she would prefer to face Donald Trump or Ben Carson in the general election. "I'm going to leave that to the Republicans," she said. Colbert asked if she could see either one of them in the Oval Office, and she paused a second. "Well, I can picture them in some office," she deadpanned, to a big laugh from the sympathetic audience. You can watch the entire interview below. Peter Weber

October 15, 2015

Tuesday night's Democratic debate was "different," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. Unlike the Republican debates, "nothing really outrageous happened," he lamented. "There were no personal attacks, no salty language — except from the back wall, which for some reason kept repeating 'f CNN'" (the debate was cosponsored by Facebook). Colbert spent the next few minutes recapping the debate, anyways, and he trotted out some pretty dead-on impersonations.

The best was his first one: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). After playing a highlight reel of Sanders yelling out percentages, Colbert said, "I would not want to split a check with Bernie Sanders!" — then proceeded to hilariously imitate Sanders complaining over a brunch bill. His Hillary Clinton was a matronly figure telling Wall Street bankers they would have to go to bed without any cocaine if they didn't shape up. Jim Webb was represented by a lawn sign complaining about how little real estate it had, and Lincoln Chafee... well, his Lincoln Chafee was brutal. Martin O'Malley, for some reason, got left out of the recap, and honestly, he's probably fine with that. Watch Colbert in action below. Peter Weber

October 13, 2015

Monday's Late Show audience was pumped about Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate. "You just made the people at CNN turgid," Stephen Colbert said after their cheers. He introduced Tuesday night's lineup — well, at least two of the five candidates — then noted that CNN is really hoping for a sixth: Vice President Joe Biden. "They've got an extra podium, just in case Biden drops by, like you do," Colbert said. "You know, this year's presidential debates are basically an open-mic night — could be Biden, could be Carrot Top."

But CNN isn't just hoping Biden will drop by — reporter Jim Acosta spun a pretty elaborate fantasy involving Biden, aviator glasses, and a yellow Corvette. As long as "we're reporting breaking, up-to-the-minute fan fiction," Colbert said, why stop at Biden making a surprise appearance? For the next minute or so, Colbert poked fun at Acosta and one-upped him, unveiling his own podium for Biden and fantasizing about who else might show up at the Democratic debate. The "bizarro world" Donald Trump might give you nightmares. Watch below. Peter Weber

October 7, 2015

China is the world's second-largest movie-watching nation, after the U.S., and Hollywood regularly panders to Beijing so its movies will be allowed into China and win over its audiences, Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show, citing The Martian as one example. Well, two can play at that game. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get a piece of that sweet — and sour — renminbi," he said, kicking off "Stephen Colbert's Pander Express," his "long-running first attempt to suck up to the Chinese censors."

And pander he did, mixing praise for the Chinese with loaded barbs, some of them in questionable taste (see Square, Tiananmen). How dedicated is Colbert to the sucking up? He almost died, choking on lamb face stew, just so a special guest could come out and save him... before urging the Chinese to watch The Late Show in Mandarin. Watch, learn, and occasionally cringe below. Peter Weber

September 24, 2015

The 2016 presidential race is so overstuffed, Stephen Colbert told Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Wednesday's Late Show, "are you sure you're not running for president?... You might have done it in your sleep." Warren assured Colbert, "I'm sure I'm not." Well, Colbert said, "can you tell us why you'd be such a terrible choice to be president of the United States, why we shouldn't be clamoring for an Elizabeth Warren presidency?"

Warren started out by explaining that she's out there every day trying to fix the government. "The game is rigged," she said, and when Colbert pressed her about what she meant, Warren launched into a rousing... well, campaign speech? It got thunderous applause. "Well, you don't sound like you're running for president, I'll tell you that," Colbert deadpanned. Watch below. Peter Weber

September 22, 2015

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) faced a generally unfriendly crowd on Monday's Late Show, but Stephen Colbert didn't allow things to get ugly. ("Guys, guys — however you feel, he's my guest, so please don't boo him," Colbert said when talk turned to gay marriage.) But Colbert started out by asking Cruz about President Ronald Reagan, held up as a role model by Cruz and other Republican presidential candidates. "Reagan raised taxes," Colbert noted. "Reagan actually had an amnesty program for illegal immigrants. Neither of those things would allow Reagan to be nominated today."

When pressed, Cruz said "of course" he didn't agree with either of those actions by Reagan, but that he is a fan of Reagan's huge tax cut and deregulation. "When conditions changed in the country, he reversed his 'world's largest tax cut' and raised taxes, when revenues did not match the expectations," Colbert pushed back. "It's entirely possible that your plan might be the right one," he told Cruz, but "if it turns out not to be the right one, would you be willing to compromise with the other side, change your mind, and do something that the other side wants, and not feel like you've capitulated with the devil?"

Cruz said that he's careful to not throw verbal stones when he's attacked by either Republicans or Democrats, and that he's fighting for "simple principles" that rise above partisanship: "Live within our means, stop bankrupting our kids and grandkids, follow the Constitution." That's when Colbert brought up gay marriage. You can watch the interview below. Peter Weber

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