Why can’t the actual candidates be this grown-up?

Perhaps it was my intimidating, leonine "Sir William" visage that kept them in line: Nathan Ballentine, your correspondent, Bakari Sellers, Matt Moore, Amanda Loveday

Back in my fire-breathing days when I thought it was possible to completely transform South Carolina right NOW — say, the year that I spent directing the “Power Failure” project, 1991 — I used to rail against the politeness that characterized public life in our state.

Not that politeness per se was a bad thing. My beef was that people were so reluctant to confront each other about anything that nothing ever changed for the better. I was a sort of Rhett Butler railing against a culture that was too busy being gentlemanly to roll up its sleeves and improve our lot.

Now, we have other problems. In fact, too often these days our political problem is less that we don’t get up the drive to move forward, and more a case of being buffeted by all sorts of forces — many of them anything but genteel — that would push us backwards. Some SC politicians seem more intent on copying the behavior of Reality TV contestants than Ashley Wilkes.

In any case, I bring all this up to say that sometimes, I can value what remains of the gentility of South Carolina political discourse.

One of those times was Tuesday night, when I moderated a panel discussion over at Richland County Public Library.

The panelists were Rep. Nathan Ballentine, Rep. Bakari Sellers, state Republican Party Executive Director Matt Moore, and his Democratic counterpart, Amanda Loveday.

These people were there to argue for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, from a local perspective. All were eminently qualified to do so, and applied themselves to the task with gusto. No one missed a chance to score a rhetorical point, and no one was shy about strongly presenting his or her party’s position. Occasionally, they did so with humor.

But here’s the thing: They did it like grownups. They did not interrupt each other. They did not jab fingers at each other, or act like they were on the verge of throwing down. They did not make sarcastic remarks intended to tear each other down. When I told them their time was up, they cooperated.

Which should not be remarkable, but is so, in a world in which the men vying for president and vice president of the United States conduct themselves like five-year-olds who have consumed a whole box of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

These people were not shrinking violets. People who know their backgrounds might expect a free-for-all. Matt Moore used to be executive director of the S.C. Club for Growth, the purest expression of Mark Sanford ideology in our state. Amanda Loveday works for Dick Harpootlian, who seems to embrace a sort of lifelong quest to make our politics less civil. Nathan Ballentine is a very conservative Republican who was probably Nikki Haley’s closest ally when she was in the House. Bakari is the son of Cleveland Sellers, the activist famously scapegoated and jailed after the Orangeburg Massacre.

Not a wallflower among them, but all were perfectly courtly as they strongly made their points. (Wait a sec — can a lady, technically, be “courtly”? If so, Amanda was.)

At one point in the middle of it all, I paused to thank the panelists for conducting themselves better than the national candidates they were speaking for, the people who would presume to lead the world. The audience applauded.

25 thoughts on “Why can’t the actual candidates be this grown-up?

  1. Hal French

    Well, Brad, you and I will be discussing civility in public discourse soon, so I’m glad that you conducted these panelists in a civil way, and they comported themselves likewise!
    But I do think that for the popular media, Obama, after his first performance, had to be more forceful in the second and third debates.

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  2. Eternal Optimist

    Brad – that’s a good group.

    Nathan Ballentine is a conservative who actually wants solutions, instead of a protest movement.

    Matt Moore is a big thinker and probably the state’s most educated and polished Republican operative.

    Amanda Loveday drives Republicans crazy, and that’s something the SC Democratic Party hasn’t done in years.

    Bakari Sellers has a mountain of potential and will likely be a statewide officer or Congressman before it’s all said and done.

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  3. Steven Davis II

    “Bakari Sellers has a mountain of potential and will likely be a statewide officer or Congressman before it’s all said and done.”

    Riding on his daddy’s coattail…

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  4. Phillip

    @Steven: well, as a supporter of the party FIVE of whose last seven Presidential nominees have been the sons of either Presidents, US Senators, or Governors of a large state, you are well qualified to address the subject of a “daddy’s coattail…”

    The party that favors a frozen class system, hereditary retention of wealth and a reduction in class mobility lives out that credo in who it picks for its standard-bearers.

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  5. Brad

    I have no objection to well-connected candidates. I’ve long been appalled at the defeat of John Quincy Adams by Jackson. So much that is unappealing in our politics dates from that moment.

    It’s not that Adams was perfect, but he was QUALIFIED. He’d spent his life preparing for the job, having served at his father’s side, from about the age of 12, at the founding of the country…

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  6. Steven Davis II

    @Phillip – Like the Democratic candidates aren’t well connected. I love how Democrats argue using just half the information.

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  7. Brad

    I expected that from someone, and here’s the answer: The Adamses were NOT aristocracy, unlike, say, Jefferson. They EARNED their places of respect in this nation, helping bring the United States into being.

    John Quincy didn’t achieve what his father did, but he was his father’s right hand on critical diplomatic missions at the birth of the nation.

    It’s not breeding; it’s not about what his ancestors did. It’s about what HE did, and how it prepared him. That was my point.

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  8. Silence

    Brad – obviously the Adamses achieved what they did partially because of class – social connections, education and the innate ability that comes from good breeding.

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  9. Phillip

    @Steven: if we’re talking about Presidential nominees, you would be correct in identifying Gore (son of a Senator) and Kerry (mom was a Forbes, later married into huge wealth) as having those family/class connections. But looking back in general over that same time period, I don’t think the Dems can match the GOP “hereditary” record…let’s see, son of a farmer/small businessman (76 & 80), son of a minister & music teacher (84), son of Greek immigrants (88), and then sons primarily raised by single moms (92, 96, 08, 12).

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  10. Brad

    Yes, John Adams was in position to play the role he did because of his education combined with native intelligence, if that’s you mean, Silence. But he was not born with a silver spoon. He was solidly middle class. If he’d devoted himself to his law practice more than to public service, he might have been very well off. But as it was, the Adamses paid a price for service, and always had to watch their pennies when John Q was growing up.

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  11. Brad

    Oh, and Silence… I’ll have you know that I, Sir William Lucas, was not born into the elite. I was awarded my K after having gathered a considerable fortune in, um, trade. This, of course, is something that polite people don’t bring up in my presence — although in America at the same time, it would have been a source of pride.

    Of course, I picked up the habits of the landed gentry quickly enough, and I conduct myself like the born gentlemen of England (and Virginia), with little regard for thrift. I give two balls a season (and a good thing, too, for Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane and Bingley, or else they’d not have met), but am unable to provide for my daughter Charlotte, forcing her to accept the attentions of the execrable Mr. Collins. (Every night, in scenes when we’re supposed to be quietly chatting in the background, she gripes to me about it.)

    Two more nights, counting tonight. At Finlay Park, 7:30 p.m.

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  12. Silence

    2012
    R – Mitt Romney – son of MI governor/auto executive
    D- Barack H. Obama II – son of a PhD anthropologist and foreign graduaduate student. Grandson of bank VP.

    2008
    D- Barack H. Obama II – – son of a PhD anthropologist and foreign graduaduate student. Grandson of bank VP.
    R – John McCain – son & grandson of 4 star navy admirals

    2004
    R – George W. Bush – son of US president/CIA director. Brother of Governor. Grandson of Senator. – Skull and Bones.
    D – John Kerry – Son of a foreign service officer/UN attorney & a member of the Forbes family.

    2000
    R – George W. Bush – son of US president & CIA director. Brother of Governor. Grandson of Senator. – Skull and Bones.
    D – Albert Gore Jr.- son of a US senator.

    1996
    D – Bill Clinton – son of a travelling salesman & nurse. Grandson of grocery store owners.
    R – Bob Dole – son of a creamery owner

    1992
    D – Bill Clinton – son of a travelling salesman & nurse. Grandson of grocery store owners.
    R – George H.W. Bush – Son of US Senator/Wall St. Banker

    1988
    R – George H.W. Bush- Son of US Senator/Wall St. Banker
    D – Mike Dukakis – Son of an obstetrician

    1984
    R – Ronald Reagan – son of a salesman
    D – Walter Mondale – son of a methodist minister

    1980
    R – Ronald Reagan- son of a salesman
    D- Jimmy Carter – peanut farmer – son of a prominent local businessman and a nurse. Member of Sons of the American Revolution.

    1976
    D- Jimmy Carter – peanut farmer – son of a prominent local businessman and a nurse. Member of Sons of the American Revolution.
    R – Gerald Ford – son of a wool trader/banker – stepson of a paint company owner

    1972
    R – Richard Nixon – son of quaker rancher/grocery store owner
    D – George McGovern – son of a methodist pastor

    1968
    R – Richard Nixon – son of quaker rancher/grocery store owner
    D – Hubert Humphrey – son of pharmacist/politician

    1964
    D – Lyndon Johnson – son of texas legislator/farmer/rancher
    R – Barry Goldwater – son of prominent department store owners & prominent New England family

    1960
    D – JFK – Son of prominent democrat/ambassador/businessman/SEC commissioner/inside trader/bank president/bootlegger/movie producer & grandson of mayor/congressman
    R – Richard Nixon – son of quaker rancher/grocery store owner

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  13. Steven Davis II

    @Phillip – This coming from someone who’s defending the party the Kennedy clan belongs to. How many of them were elected based on something other than their last name or daddy’s influence?

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  14. Silence

    Also, don’t forget the Tafts, the Cuomos, the Longs and the Udalls.

    There’s more kinship connections in politics than we probably know.

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  15. Phillip

    I don’t dispute the humble roots of GOP standard-bearers of the past, especially Reagan and Nixon, to name two examples that come to mind. Then again, that was a different GOP than today’s is. Again, I was referring to the past quarter-century, just coincidentally (?) the period in which America has become less economically fluid, much more class-based society. I just thought it was interesting to note the unifying thread between 5 of the past 7 presidential candidates.

    “The Kennedys” were a dynasty perhaps briefly in the 1960’s when the 3 brothers were so simultaneously prominent. But after RFK’s assassination, really what are we talking about? A US Senator who served many many years and really only tried for the Presidency once, unsuccessfully. Then, what else? a couple of miscellaneous US Reps, and a Lt. Gov. of Maryland, and a prominent environmental activist. Am I forgetting somebody? That’s only a dynasty in the fevered paranoia of radcons. Bushes, with a Senator, two Presidents, and a Governor (who may yet become President) have them beat, easily, as a US political dynasty.

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