Just when I thought I was about to settle in for a Colbert Report with Hillary Clinton as the guest, Stephen Colbert hits me with an additional trifecta of political force: Representative Patrick Murphy, Senator John Edwards, and Barack Obama himself. If it was supposed to be Clinton's night, it sure didn't end up that way. (Click here for clips.)

Tuesday night, Michelle Obama held her own on The Colbert Report. Of course, the interview was uncharacteristically dotted with soft balls--like "What do you think of these kids' drawings of your husband?" Not exactly the kind of parlor trick for which Colbert is known. Still, Michelle Obama scored some good points for her husband--all of which were obliterated Wednesday night when the country took a little tour of Mr. Obama's "issues." Suddenly, the conversation turned to fashion: to wear or not to wear the flag. Never has so much attention been paid to a brooch. It's the hot accessory for spring! But would Clinton capitalize on her Wednesday night victory in the battle of insipid questions (thank you George and Charlie, truly edifying stuff)? 

Well she sure tried. And it was going well at first. Instead of being introduced and then waiting as Colbert took the applause and walk of glory to the interview table, Clinton walked out on her own from back stage in what seemed to be a surprise appearance. After a little silliness, which did not include any of the usual awkward sparring with the tricky host, Clinton exited with the very funny line, "Call me anytime. Call me at three a.m." If only it had ended there. Just as I was realizing that Clinton was not a guest but a cameo, Colbert launched into a monologue aimed at demonstrating the ridiculous nature of the questions Obama has had to face lately. (Of course, this being Colbert, that meant declaring Obama a "secret Muslim" and pronouncing that "Barack Obama loves Hitler.") So far, the Clinton foofaraw was starting to feel a bit, well, mitigated. 

And that's when Colbert introduced the dreamy paratrooper-cum-congressman Patrick Murphy--who wasted no time endorsing Obama. "He's the most inspirational leader I've ever met in my life," said the white, male Pennsylvanian. And what did Murphy have to say about Clinton? She's a "very capable woman." Oof. But then, just in case we all thought that the Clinton cameo  was too much of a sop, Colbert says that Murphy should like Clinton; after all, "you volunteered to go to war, and she volunteered to vote to send you there." Double Oof.  

Next thing I know, Colbert says, "Politically he is no longer a factor to be reckoned with...," and introduces John Edwards, who delivers last night's "Word," or rather, the "EdWords"--which included this gem: "No white male voter is being courted more aggressively than this guy." And, in three minutes, the son-of-a-mill-worker seems to be doing everything he can to remind me that he was the best candidate in the race, and that health care and poverty matter, not lapel pins or sniper fire. Of course, the sneaky bugger doesn't endorse just yet; I guess he's still waiting to learn more about the candidates (don't all primary races go until June?).

So over all, Clinton's appearance is upstaged by the golden-boys twin set: one of whom has explicitly endorsed her opponent, and the other of whom has managed to say something earnest about real issues and be funny at the same time. Suddenly, Clinton's "Call me!" walk-on is looking a touch, um, weak. Which is why it's almost too much when Barack Obama appears on screen to chat with Colbert. And what does Obama do? He puts manufactured issues and political distractions "on notice." With a little help from Colbert, "distractions" are now lower than dirt--you know, distractions like the Clinton camp accusing Obama of plagerizing and talking to hippies.

When it comes to the Clinton cameo versus the Obama cameo, I think that Clinton's bit was actually funnier; but that's the battle not the war. As we used to say in law school (cough, cough, dropped out), it's the totality of circumstances that make the case. And, last night, in the court of Colbert, Obama was the victor.  

 --Sacha Zimmerman

 P.S. My favorite moment of the night: "I will only support the candidate who will make me a spy; that would be soooo cool." -John Edwards