Yesterday, a person asked me what I thought of "Stephen Colbert's sister's" chances of winning "that congressional seat she is running for." I responded that they were decent because her likely opponent (former Gov. Mark Sanford had yet to win his runoff) has a lot of baggage. I paused, then asked why this person cared. "Because I like Stephen Colbert and dislike people that cheat on their wives."
Fair enough, I suppose. But as I reflected on the comment, it dawned on me that despite the fact that following politics is literally my job, I knew nothing — and I mean nothing — about Stephen Colbert's sister, other than that she is Stephen Colbert's sister and the Democratic nominee in the race to represent South Carolina's 1st Congressional District in the House.
My ignorance, of course, was not an accident. The editors of the scores of newspapers and political blogs that I scour every morning for story ideas realized long ago that no one much cares about a woman named "Elizabeth Busch," but that lots of people will read stories about "Stephen Colbert's sister." Hence, to give you a sampling of the headlines: "Why Stephen Colbert's sister could beat Mark Sanford"; "Sanford unveils 'Appalachian Trail' fiancee, will face Stephen Colbert's sis in special election"; and "Can Stephen Colbert's Sister Beat Disgraced Ex-S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford?"
Of course, Mark Sanford — who has stopped hiking on the Appalachian Trail and is now back on the campaign trail — has also noticed that no one appears to know anything about Stephen Colbert's sister beyond the fact that she is Stephen Colbert's sister. This morning, he made a point of highlighting this fact on Morning Joe:
"She's not held office. Right now, the one thing that people know about her is that she is Stephen Colbert's sister. Well, at the end of the day, Stephen Colbert is a very popular, well-regarded comedian, but at the end of the day he's not on the ticket."
Sanford is right on the substance, but he is making light of it in the wrong way. Right now, Stephen Colbert is his opponent, and the best way to address that fact is to employ the comedian's tactics: Mock the absurdity of the coverage and, frankly, of her candidacy. He should put out a spoof ad that compares his political positions to those of "Stephen Colbert's Sister." Run that for a few weeks, and he will have made the point without having to whine on television. In non-satirical moments, the Sanford campaign needs to refer to his opponent only as Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
This is a congressional race that no one should be proud of. Its two candidates represent some of the worst features of American politics. The fact that Mark Sanford was even considered for, much less might win, a congressional seat after his little trek into the wilderness reminds us just how few of our leaders are burdened by shame. On the other hand, "Stephen Colbert's sister's" candidacy represents the utter frivolity that too often characterizes the way citizens pick candidates.
What is going on in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District is the political equivalent of a freak show. It is certainly amusing to watch, but we should all be ashamed of it.