I would assume that most people have had one of two reactions to comedian Stephen Colbert’s announcement that he will seek the presidency: They think it’s really funny or really stupid. Colbert is certainly an exceptional and popular comedian, but his decision raises a number of questions – all of them overshadowed by the possibility that he might not even be serious about running.

Skeptics need to look no further than Colbert’s own strategy: He is planning on running only in South Carolina, as both a Republican and as a Democrat. It could be argued that such reckless excursions by a fictional persona are disastrous for the credibility of the political process, succeeding only in turning democratic elections into a joke.

Unfortunately, for Michigan voters, the democratic process turned into a joke even before Colbert’s did his thing. As a result of Lansing’s reasonable decision to move our state’s primary forward to make a more substantial mark on the nominating process, the Democratic National Committee has instructed its candidates to boycott Michigan. Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson have all taken their names off the primary ballot in our vital swing state for the sole purpose of preserving Iowa and New Hampshire’s undeserved tradition of being the first caucus and primary.

Although Hillary Clinton has chosen to remain on Michigan’s ballot, she has pledged not to campaign here. Michigan voters – or at least Michigan Democrats – may now be angry enough with their party’s candidates and leaders to vent their frustrations by casting a write-in vote for Colbert.

Michigan has as much right to hold the first primary as any other state. It is absolutely ridiculous for the DNC to prohibit the Democrats from campaigning in Michigan just because of its blind adherence to tradition and its loyalty to the historic foursome of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. None of these states are relevant in the general election; there is no reason to enforce their relevance in the primaries. Combined, these states only sent 193 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The convention consists of more than 4,000 delegates, and Michigan alone sent 176 in 2004.

Michigan has been threatened with the prospect of losing partial or total representation at the convention. The great tragedy of the 2008 election is that many of the nominees, many of the other states and both the national committees are behaving like children toward states like Michigan. Our state did not commit an unforgivable criminal act by moving up its primary date; Michigan is important and the country’s leaders ought to know it.

The candidates and party leaders have responded by trying to negate Michigan’s importance altogether. But regardless of Michigan’s fate during the primary season, the state will still play a crucial role in the general election, as it always does. The party that ignores our voters in the primary should be ignored by our voters in the general election.

Michigan Republicans do not have quite as much to complain about. The Republican National Committee has not restricted its candidates from campaigning in our state, but the RNC has threatened to deprive Michigan of half of its delegates. So what can we do to make our voices heard during the Michigan primary? Colbert might have actually given us an excellent opportunity. He should have made his one-primary stand in Michigan, where we are starved for more attentive candidates. Colbert has encouraged his supporters in other states to cast write-in votes for him. Imagine the message that we could send to the Democrats who ignored our state if we put Colbert on the road to the DNC with some of our delegates in his hands.

Critics of Colbert’s candidacy will say that elections in this country are about choosing the next leader of the free world, and Colbert is taking a serious matter and turning it into a joke. It’s difficult, though, to take the primary season seriously when the national party committees won’t even let those votes count. There is no good reason for Michigan to lose half or all of its delegates.

The party elites have already made a mockery of the primary system by threatening and excluding states like Michigan. A vote for Colbert would send a worthwhile message to the candidates and parties that are ignoring us, yet still expect our support in the general election: We will have the last laugh.

Robert Soave can be reached at rsoave@umich.edu.

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