For as long as anyone can remember, South Carolina has held a special place in the American political landscape. Ours is the state of Strom Thurmond, Dixiecrats, and the cradle of modern Republicanism. This rise to national prominence in right-wing circles shines through best in the fact that from South Carolina’s first presidential primary in 1980 up until last year’s primary, the winner went on to claim the GOP nomination. Last year, the streak ended as the state selected Newt Gingrich while the party opted for Mitt Romney, taking with it the notion that South Carolina is a weather vane for the conservative movement.
Thanks to Jim DeMint, Gov. Nikki Haley, and an almost herculean amount of hubris, South Carolina is again in the American political spotlight. Our collective cry for attention is taking the form of a special election for Tim Scott’s House seat that will likely see former Gov. Mark Sanford face off against Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Both have primaries to win, but only one of them has the distinct advantage of coming out of that primary with something to say.
The 16 Republicans running for Tim Scott’s vacated House seat have a hard road ahead of them. After all, the GOP’s refrigerator-magnet set of talking points contains a finite number of tiles and most of the good ones are gone. Still, when the dust clears and Sanford emerges to face off against the presumptive Democratic nominee, he will at least have positions — however asinine — to run on. Colbert Busch, on the other hand, hasn’t said much about her positions at all. This could be because the press seems reticent to ask her any question that does not involve more pressing policy issues such as the correct way to pronounce her family name.(For the record, she says it with a hard “T” unlike her brother, comedian Stephen Colbert, who drops the “T” sound entirely.)
Given that a large field of Republicans are busy debating whether we should be concerned with “socialism” or full-blown “communism” — and embarrassing themselves and the state in the process — the Democratic Party could take this opportunity to throw the national spotlight onto our state by running a powerful progressive voice for the Congress. Instead, they appear to be running a stealth candidate.
The national political media buzzed for days about her candidacy for Scott’s House seat, and most of it centers on her personal story as a Colbert in a large Charleston family that happened to produce a wildly successful TV personality, despite her continued insistence that her family history is not the focus of her candidacy. “People take me seriously,” she told Politico. For me, though, it is hard to understand why. Her policies, her beliefs, and her ideas on the role of government in the 21st century are completely absent and her credentials are suspiciously conservative.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch has not voted in a single Democratic primary in the last 20 years. She is on record contributing to an earlier campaign of her presumptive opponent when he ran for governor. Her “serious” candidacy has the serious flaw of containing very few solid policy ideas, and the few statements on policy in evidence so far are timid enough they could easily work for either party’s candidate in any race imaginable.
Colbert Busch told Hilton Head’s Island Packet “she’s hoping voters won’t get caught up on the ‘D’ or ‘R’ by candidates’ names. Instead, she’s hoping her experience in business, including with the maritime industry, international trade and shipping, and education, will make the case she’s the one for the job. ‘Growing jobs has no party. Education has no party.'” These are not policy positions anymore than declaring that humans need food and shelter to survive.
However, a recent Bluffton Today report notes that at a recent Democratic Party gathering of the Beaufort County Democrats, Colbert Busch declared that she was “pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage” and believes in universal background checks for guns and some sort of amnesty for America’s undocumented illegal immigrants. While it is all well and good for Colbert Busch to differentiate herself from her primary opponent Ben Frasier in front of a non-hostile audience at a Democratic candidate’s forum, they do not actually speak to any ideas about how to implement the policy. They are merely talking points.
Most disturbing is that her campaign is actually perpetuating this dearth of information on the issues and her past political leanings. They seem content to let others do most of the talking for the candidate, and most of the talking centers on anything and everything other than policy. The national press seems fixated on the Colbert family, particularly Stephen, and the campaign apparently sees nothing wrong with this.
Politico’s article on the candidate included several paragraphs about her family history, including 13 direct or indirect references to Stephen Colbert in a 1,000-word piece. That’s not a bad word count for what was a 15-minute interview, the same time she allotted to our very own Paul Bowers for his piece in the City Paper last week. (When Colbert Busch was interviewed by MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell recently, she spent four-and-a-half minutes of the six-and-a-half-minute segment discussing her family and, of course, her brother.)
Politico also noted that Colbert Busch “is trying to define herself on her own terms,” noting that “[i]n the interview, she resisted characterizing her politics.” The news organization’s assertion that she is doing this to distance herself from the opinions of her brother is particularly ironic, as her campaign’s continued refusal to discuss her political beliefs and positions leaves the press with very little to focus on but her familial connection to the Comedy Central comedian.
In addition to the press coverage, Colbert Busch has racked up a number of high-profile endorsements over the last few weeks, from Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. to U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and former challengers Martin Skelly and Bobbie Rose. And together they offer her “business experience,” “drive,” and “energy” as her only selling points. Again, there is hardly a mention of any policy in these endorsements. And frankly, her selling points are closer to a Republican’s credentials than a Democrat’s. Clyburn alone paints her as being in favor of worker’s rights (she also won the endorsement of the state AFL-CIO). He says, “I’m going to be endorsing Elizabeth Colbert Busch … because I think it’s important for us to get a nominee out on the Democratic primary that will have a chance at winning.”
Notably, Colbert Busch’s campaign website is equally bereft of where she stands on the issues, including her stances on immigration, same-sex marriage, and abortion, which she spoke about to that gathering of Democrats in Beaufort. Ostensibly, her campaign manages the information on the site, and they could provide more substantive information beyond the public relations veneer that thickly coats the candidate. Instead, her site offers little more than the information that has already been presented by the press. There is a lot of talk about her family and accomplishments with little to illuminate the policy underpinnings of her platform.
Apparently, for the players in the political-industrial complex, winning a seat and changing the letter of the seat holder from “R” to “D” is more important than putting someone in office who wants to represent a progressive voice for the community and the country. Running a “stealth” candidate is not smart politics for the Democrats, as it means that winning the District 1 race will automatically alienate the very people the party did not want to alienate in the first place. That’s not politics, that’s cold cynicism and extremely poor judgment. It is a long-term mistake. If the Democratic Party hopes to attain the same relevance that Republicans in South Carolina have held for over 30 years, it’s one they cannot afford to make.