Category Archives: Character

The missing word in Cindi Scoppe’s column today

I refer you to the ending of Cindi Scoppe’s column today, which explains that while we do need to spend more to upgrade our roads, their condition is not the greatest contributor to traffic fatalities in our state. She lists some of the other factors:

… The biggest problem: The Legislature refuses to treat drunk driving the way it treats other highway safety laws and the way all the other states treat it. Rather than making it illegal per se to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent, it practically begs jurors to conclude that a driver with a BAC of 0.08 percent, or higher, didn’t really look that drunk.

To understand how absurd our law is, imagine being clocked at 90 mph in a 55 zone but being found not guilty because you convinced a jury that you were in complete control of the vehicle the entire time. Our laws don’t even give you a chance to try that sort of defense — unless you’re charged with drunk driving.

Of course, drunk driving isn’t our only problem.

Distracted driving is a huge problem, but we don’t restrict cell-phone use — even among drivers who are so inexperienced that we don’t let them drive at night or with friends in the car.

Our death rates are high for motorcyclists, but we don’t require adults to wear helmets.

Elderly drivers are more dangerous than all but the youngest drivers, but we don’t require road tests or more frequent license renewals for older drivers. (We do require a vision test every five years, rather than the normal 10 years, but the 10-year standard is just asking for trouble for everyone.)

We prohibit the use of traffic and red-light cameras.

We don’t have particularly tough penalties for speeding in work zones.

And the list goes on.

It’s all an outgrowth of our resistance to anyone telling us what to do. And it all contributes, a lot more than the condition of our roads, to our deadly highways.

She left a word out of that penultimate sentence. She should have said, “It’s all an outgrowth of our childish resistance to anyone telling us what to do.”

Maybe she thought it would be redundant. Or maybe she didn’t want to unfairly malign children by using that modifier to explain the hard-headed, self-destructive, don’t-care-what-harm-I-do-to-others attitude that infects our politics, and keeps us from having sane, sensible laws that would help us be healthier, wealthier and wiser.

Why do I say “childish?” Because of my extensive experience with 2-year-olds, and then later with teenagers, whose insistence upon doing what they want to do, and doing it their way, without adult interference, is such a danger to them and others.

My grandson is 2, and up until know he has been a compliant child, receptive to adults’ caring influence. Now, he’s a sweet as ever, but his favorite word is “Me!” As in, he wants to fasten the straps on his car seat himself, which is worrisome. Fortunately, it hasn’t yet occurred to him to go without such a restraint — which makes him more mature than the sort of adult voter who keeps us from having reasonable laws in South Carolina.

Catching up with Chris Verenes, now a bank CEO

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Some of you — the ones involved in state politics or media at the time — may remember Chris Verenes, the young executive director of the SC Democratic Party back in the late 80s.

I had sort of lost touch with Chris after those days, when I was governmental affairs editor at The State. I knew he had gone to work for Westinghouse at Savannah River, which sort of placed him in that area, but I was totally surprised to run into him at an event several months ago, when Midlands Fatherhood Coalition introduced itself to community leaders in Aiken. (The Coalition would formally open its Aiken office in July.)

Chris was his same genial, unassuming self. I had been feeling bad because I hadn’t worn a tie to the event — the ad game has had that casualizing effect on me, so that I don’t wear one most days now — and most men at the event were better-dressed than I.

Chris made me feel better because he was in a golf shirt, giving the impression that he’s doing something really laid-back these days.

But it turns out he’s a bank president – even though he neither dresses nor acts like Milburn Drysdale. He’s president and CEO of Security Federal Bank. His golf shirt had the bank logo on it. That’s the way executives dress every day at Security Federal, a community institution that started in Aiken back in the 1920s, but has grown and expanded into Richland and Lexington counties over the past decade.

In fact, he had to write a memo to himself to wear a coat and tie today, since I had invited him to lunch at the Capital City Club. As you see in the photo above, he remembered.

I enjoyed hearing from him about Security Federal, which he said differentiates itself by offering very customer-oriented services, from late hours and being open on weekends to offering financial advice that’s more about maximizing financial advantage to the customer than to the bank. The bank also has several employees devoted entirely to providing individualized coaching in financial literacy — a service he made a point of offering to the Dads who are helped by Midlands Fatherhood at the grand opening.

That kind of human-scale, community-oriented approach seems to fit Chris Verenes to a T, and I can see how he has thrived in that environment. As he tells it, he found a great bunch of people to work with.

But what I want to share with y’all is this: As we were heading to our cars in the garage after lunch, Chris was remembering his days in politics, and he shared this: He has been blessed by working with some superlative people in leadership positions at Security Federal, people he admires for their intellect, their community spirit and their selflessness.

But, he remembers, he also got to work with people like that in SC politics. He felt privileged to get to know people like John Spratt and Butler Derrick. And he noted that while, for multiple reasons, he found himself supporting Nick Theodore in his successful bid for the 1994 Democratic nomination for governor, he has the greatest respect for Joe Riley, who just barely lost the runoff to Theodore that year (which to me, is one of the saddest election results in my time covering SC politics, a huge missed opportunity for our state).

Y’all will recall that I tried making that point — that politics features a lot of really admirable people, and that most pols, even the more ordinary ones, are people who sincerely want to do good, according to their notions of “good” — on the radio recently. Only to draw heavy scoffing from Will Folks.

Of course, that’s a point I’ve tried to make fairly regularly, in one way or another, here on this blog, only to hearing multilateral scoffing from our more cynical friends.

But there are, and have always been, a lot of good people in politics. People like Chris Verenes, to name one — a guy many of you may not be familiar with, but who was involved in politics for the right reasons, trying to make a positive difference. And still strives to do the same today.

Nikki Haley’s progression from backbench bomb-thrower to Establishment figure

Kristin Sosanie over at the state Democratic Party resurrects this from the archives today:

Well, this could be awkward. Today Nikki Haley is holding campaign events with the SC Chamber of Commerce, but take a look at how she slammed them less than four years ago:

‘The state Chamber is a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare, so it’s no surprise that they would prefer a liberal like Vincent Sheheen over a conservative like Nikki Haley,’ Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said earlier this week, according to the AP.”

Question of the day: Do Nikki Haley and her staff still think the state Chamber is “a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare.”?

Well, we know that she doesn’t. Or at least, wouldn’t say so now. And that has implications that extend far beyond her relationship with business leadership, and point to why the incumbent is a more formidable opponent for Vincent Sheheen than when she barely squeaked by him four years ago.

That petulant statement from Rob Godfrey was standard operating procedure for the Haley team back then. She was all about being the darling of the Tea Party, the Southern answer to Sarah Palin, “going rogue” by slapping at the Establishment as much as at perceived “liberals.”

She’s learned better since then. The successes of Bobby Hitt’s Commerce Department (for which she can legitimately claim credit, since she chose Bobby) has more than persuaded her that embracing the economic development community is her best path to continued electoral success.

Along with that shift from the fringes to the establishment has come a significant shift in communication style.

I touched on this in a post a couple of days ago, one which y’all seem to have utterly ignored (whine, mutter, moan). That mature, professional, focused op-ed piece was a real departure from the style of the Nikki Haley who threw red meat to the Tea Partiers. It stands 180 degrees from that Godfrey quote four years ago, which accurately reflected the attitudes of the Haley camp at the time.

I urge you to go look at it again. Yes, I know I’m reading a lot into style and tone, but that’s what I do. And I’m telling you, this new mode of expression reflects a strategic shift for Nikki Haley. And this is significant…

Our governor’s mature, calm, professional op-ed piece

During my vacation last week, I saw Nikki Haley’s op-ed piece taking issue with an editorial that took issue with her, shall we say, lack of precision with facts and figures. An excerpt from the Haley piece:

The State newspaper’s editorial board recently reminded its readers that they should verify the things I say (“There she goes again,” July 22). I couldn’t agree more. It’s a good reminder, and I encourage the editorial board to verify the statements of all public officials. The people of our state deserve an honest, open and accountable government that serves them, not the other way around. It’s something I’ve fought for every day of my administration….

If The State editorial board believes that I meant to imply that all 3,000 regulations the task force reviewed were recommended for extinction, then either I misspoke or the members of the board misinterpreted what I said. Either one could be the case — I am not always perfect in the words I choose, and I’d guess that The State editorial writers are not perfect either….

Here’s what struck me about the piece: It was lucid, mature, and to the point.

While it verged on sarcasm in one or two spots, it was considerably less defensive than I expected it to be, based on the topic and the author and her usual tone when complaining about being mistreated by the press.

She made effective use of her opportunity to get her own message out, rather than wasting a lot of her words and energy whining about the newspaper being mean to her.

I considered it to be a very grown-up, professional response. And it made me wonder who is behind this shift in style of communication.

And yeah, I know that sounds really, really condescending. But I don’t mean it to be. This governor has shown a tendency to be thin-skinned, and has lavished little love on the MSM, but based on my experience with op-eds from thin-skinned politicos in the past — not just her — this was a departure.

I’ve been in this situation enough to know when someone departs from the pattern, which goes like this: A politician or other public figure who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the paper asks for space to rebut something said about him or her or something he or she is involved in. You indicate openness to running such a piece. It comes in, and it’s nothing but an extended whine about how mean the paper is, and the writer’s defense gets lost amid the moaning.

At that point, I would delicately suggest that the writer was doing himself or herself an injustice, and wasting an opportunity. I would suggest bumping up the parts that actually rebut what we had published, and leaving out all the unsupported complaining that was beside the point and bound to make the writer look petty and turn off a disinterested observer.

The writer’s hackles would rise, and I’d be accused of suppressing legitimate opinion and just wanting to leave out the stuff that made the paper look bad. When what I was honestly trying to do was help the writer avoid looking bad, and help him or her make the most of the space. To help the reader focus on the actual difference of opinion, rather than the acrimony.

Anyway, I started reading this piece expecting one of those experiences. But it wasn’t like that at all. The governor did a good job of fighting her corner, and looking cool and above the fray — and managed to spend some paragraphs getting her own message out beyond the immediate point of contention.

It was a very smart, professional job, and I was impressed.

Weigh in and say WHAT, Eva?

Regarding all the things said about Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin in the recent Pinson trial, Eva Moore has this to say in Free Times:

Yet there seems to be some discomfort in Columbia about either condemning the mayor or letting him off the hook. The usual mainstream pontificators — The State’s editorial board, blogger Brad Warthen, WIS General Manager Donita Todd — have yet to weigh in on the mayor’s role in the Pinson trial.

This was brought to my attention by my daughter, who said it doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m employed by the MSM or not; the Free Times will always label me that way.

I guess.

As for the rest of it — weigh in? Weigh in and say WHAT, Eva?

As she points out, we’ve been treated to the unusual spectacle of a lot of loose talk ABOUT the mayor in open court, but no charges brought. Makes you wonder if there’s another shoe, and if so, when it will drop.

Improper financial dealings. A sex-tinged anecdote. Some back-and-forth about whether the mayor should have reported the trip or not — one of those “ethics” issues we natter about when we don’t know how to get at the actual scandal, if there is one.

And frankly, I don’t have any opinions about that. At least, none that are busting to get out of me. If you ask me, I’ll say that I prefer that the mayor of Columbia not have this cloud hanging over him. The city needs a good mayor with good ideas who is in a position to lead. And a clouded mayor can’t lead much. So the city sort of drifts. Or it can. We’ll see.

But folks, I don’t know enough either to call for his head or to defend him against all comers. I just don’t. Do you? If so, have at it…

Benjamin to take a position on issue of refugee children

I received a text this morning at 9:52 from Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, responding to my earlier post about the children from Central America:

Brad, Thank you for speaking up for the unaccompanied minors/children. I plan to take a formal position and to ask council to join me too. Steve

I responded that that sounded to me like a fine idea.

I was reminded of what happened 10 years ago, when a tide of resistance in Cayce rose up against the Somali Bantu moving here, and then-Columbia Mayor Bob Coble made it clear that they would be welcome in Columbia.

I have this vivid image in my mind — which unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find on the web — of Mayor Bob embracing the father of a Bantu family arriving at the airport, with the rest of the family standing by.

What a great message that was, and it washed away the earlier, uglier impression that our community had given.

It would be great to see the city of Columbia similarly distance itself from our governor’s ungracious reaction.

I hope the council can see its way clear to do just that.

The pettiest thing I’ve ever heard Nikki Haley say

I refer, of course, to this quote regarding the unaccompanied Central American children, part of the flood that has precipitated a crisis on our southern border, who have been placed with relatives in South Carolina:

“You want me to educate them, right? And you want me to pay their health care, right? It does cost us something”…

First, let me say this: Since it upsets you so much, governor, let me assure you no one’s asking you to pay for this. The rest of us, the people of the United States (and if you’re right, of South Carolina) will pick up the tab. Don’t get your wallet out. And while I know there are plenty of people in our state who resent the children’s presence as much as our governor lets on to, I for one don’t mind the spare change that will be my share.

Second, those 350 children — if they stay, which remains to be seen — can be absorbed into a state of 4.7 million so completely as to be unnoticed. The federal government placed them here quietly and discreetly — which was the proper way; these kids have been through enough — and you likely wouldn’t know they were here had the feds not told you.

Third, I’m especially embarrassed that my governor said this at an RGA meeting in Colorado. It was bad enough for her to say it at home, much less in front of outsiders.

Now, in defense of Nikki Haley, she did say, in the midst of a bunch of other stuff expressing her great irritation at having these children underfoot, “We do care about these children. We do want them to be safe.” I like to think that’s the real Nikki Haley talking — or at the very least, someone who knows what is right, despite her real feelings, and feels compelled to give lip service.

But that just makes the rest of it sound that much worse, sets it in sharp relief. If you know better, how do you say such things?

Here’s how: It’s something you do when you have made a strategic decision to cater to the worst impulses in your constituency — the pettiest, most grasping, most miserly, least caring about the distress of a stranger. She is appealing to qualities that are the opposite of those exhibited by the Good Samaritan.

Reading her comments, a word popped into my head that I hadn’t thought of in years — niggardly. It’s a word people avoid today, because of its unfortunate resemblance to our language’s worst epithet. But it states the case.

Another point: I’m distressed that the governor is pressing the feds to tell where these children are. I heartily endorse this statement:

A note on Health and Human Services’ website says that the children’s privacy and safety are of “paramount importance. We cannot release information about individual children that could compromise the child’s location or identity.”…

Speaking of things I endorse, I’ll just end with what The State ended with:

“Why are we not recognizing that these children are facing imminent danger and families are doing what they can to get them out of that dangerous situation?” said Sue Berkowitz, director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “I’m astounded that America is behaving this way.”

God bless Sue Berkowitz, who day in and day out does whatever she can for the least of these. If only more of us were like her.

Haley doesn’t want those children fed and sheltered in SC

Gov. Nikki Haley is walking a very fine line.

On the one hand, she decries the “humanitarian crisis” of those thousands of children, driven by desperation we can’t even imagine, who find themselves alone on this side of the border. We are told that “As a mother (emphasis mine), Republican Haley said finds it ‘disturbing’ that the migrant children would be left ‘to fend for themselves’ as they attempt to cross the border.”

Which, you know, suggests a modicum of compassion.

On the other hand, she wants to make sure that, as the government figures out what to do about this crisis, none of those children are sheltered here in South Carolina — not even on federal reservations such as military bases, which to my mind would be none of her business.

This sort of dims the halo of her compassion, to say the least.

What — no red M&Ms? Hillary Clinton’s list of demands

I wasn’t that interested that Hillary Clinton was paid $275,000 to speak at the University at Buffalo. What grabbed me was her other demands:

The potential 2016 presidential candidate’s agent requested that the university provide “a presidential glass panel teleprompter and a qualified operator,” that Clinton’s office have “final approval” of her introducer and the moderator of any question-and-answer session, as well as “the sets, backdrops, banners, scenery, logos, settings, etc,” and that the topic and length of the former secretary of state’s speech would be at her “sole discretion.”

These requirements are spelled out in a nine-page contract between the University at Buffalo and Clinton’s representatives at the Harry Walker Agency. The contract was obtained through the freedom of information law by the Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit research and educational group….

What? No bowlful of red-only M&Ms? I guess every rock star has a different set of demands…

Ravenel’s two press releases today

ravenel media

First came this one:

EDISTO, SC – Lowcountry businessman and independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel issued the following statement regarding his decision to participate in a second season of Bravo’s ‘Southern Charm’ reality television show: 

“I struggled with this decision in light of the political campaign I am undertaking,” Ravenel said. “Ultimately it came down to this: It doesn’t make sense to turn down a platform that enables you to spread your ideas to a bigger, more diverse audience. If America is ever going to turn things around, we’ve got to get rid of this notion that cookie cutter politicians with their blemish-free backgrounds are the way to go. The truth is those are the very politicians who are driving this country into a ditch. That’s never been who Thomas Ravenel is – and so owning a part of my life that doesn’t fit the typical political mold is fine by me.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Heekin…

Then came this one:

RAVENEL: “PUPPET” LINDSEY GRAHAM MUST CUT THE STRINGS TO MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, LIBERAL ESTABLISHMENT

EDISTO, SC – Lowcountry businessman and independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel called on U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to publicly disavow a $250,000 contribution made by former New York Mayor and notable anti-Second Amendment zealot Michael Bloomberg to a “Republican” political action committee that’s supporting Graham’s reelection.

Ravenel also challenged former S.C. “Republican” Party chairman Katon Dawson to send the money back to Bloomberg.

“Lindsey Graham is nothing but a puppet of the far left – and he’s never going to cut the strings. In fact his silence on contributions like this means he’s just fine with the gun-grabbing efforts of politicians like Michael Bloomberg – and with liberal special interests bankrolling his reelection effort,” Ravenel said. “This is why the Republican brand is dying – because politicians like Lindsey Graham are bought and paid for by this country’s liberal elite.”

Ravenel added that this wasn’t the first time liberal money had washed up in South Carolina on Graham’s behalf.

“When Lindsey Graham joined John Kerry in pushing for a new energy tax hike in 2009, the far left flooded South Carolina’s airwaves with ads defending him,” Ravenel said.  “They’ve been holding the purse strings – and pulling his strings – for years. He’s nothing but a puppet.”

Ravenel also called out the state’s “Republican” establishment for its hypocrisy.

“This week the SCGOP attacked me on Lindsey Graham’s behalf – but now we learn the party’s former chairman is getting a quarter of a million dollars from Michael Bloomberg to defend Graham’s liberal policies?” Ravenel said. “And they have the audacity to call me an ‘embarrassment?’ The only embarrassment here is a so-called Republican establishment, led by Lindsey Graham, that would rather go to bat for the far left than stand up for you – the tapped out taxpayer.”

For more information, please contact Kevin Heekin…

My question is, how does the campaign expect anyone to pay attention to the second one after they’ve read the first one?

Toby Ziegler didn’t get it, but Jed Bartlet did

Here’s my third post on my “people (even politicians) are people” theme…

Two nights ago, as I was still thinking about my arguments on Cynthia Hardy’s radio show in opposition to the cynical approach to politics, I saw an episode of “The West Wing” that illustrated my point.

It was the 10th episode in the 5th season, “The Stormy Present.” Here’s a synopsis:

Bartlet clears his schedule to attend the funeral of a former President whose conservative views often clashed with his own while he monitors a potential firestorm in Saudi Arabia as freedom protesters threaten civil war and surround a worker’s compound that includes dozens of Americans. Elsewhere, Josh mediates a post-Civil War fracas between a representative from North Carolina who demands that her Connecticut counterpart return her state’s copy of the Bill of Rights — stolen long ago by a Union soldier — and C.J. is flustered after meeting a Pentagon scientist whose security innovations could threaten privacy. En route to the funeral, Bartlet shares sobering thoughts with two other men who appreciate the weight of the Oval Office — Speaker Walken and ex-President Newman.

Toby Ziegler is on the plane carrying the president, along with officials from the administration of the former president, to the funeral. Toby is tasked with writing a eulogy for Bartlet to deliver at the funeral. Toby is a basket case. He’s deeply appalled at being on the same plane with these people he regards as dangerous wing-nuts. He spend most of his time on his cell complaining to his colleagues back in the West Wing about what hell it is to be in the company of such people. He’s sincerely stressed out. He gets into Air Force One’s liquor supply and gets too wasted to be much good in writing the speech. (Looking back, I’m not entirely sure who DID write it in the end.)

But there are a couple of good scenes in which Bartlet reveals that, while his overly partisan staff may see the previous GOP administration as the embodiment of evil, he has learned to get over that. He has come to value his predecessors as the only human beings on the planet who understand what he is experiencing as president. He has come to see past the ideological differences and political competition between the parties. He, and especially the former presidents, are past that.

There is a good scene with a former Democratic president who’s along for the ride who talks about how furious he was at Bartlet, and was going to call him up and chew him out… until he was talked down by their conservative Republican predecessor.

I got really disgusted with Toby watching this, as he seemed to embody everything that was bad about hyperpartisanship today — he was so wrapped up in his hostility toward the opposition that he couldn’t function, which made him a metaphor for everything wrong with Washington today.

But the human connection and understanding between the current and former presidents held out hope of a way our system could work, if the parties, staffs and interest groups could just shut up for awhile, and let people listen to each other and work together, deliberately…

If you have Netflix, I recommend you go back and watch this episode.

An old column elaborating on the ‘politicians (like Soylent Green) are people’ theme

Following up on this post earlier today, here’s a column I wrote on a similar subject, back in 2007.

The point, then as now, was that politicians are generally neither devils nor angels, which can be easy to miss, since the parties are all about painting everything in black and white terms. Here’s the pertinent part:

… Rent a movie, and watch it. Specifically, this one: “Journeys with George,” a documentary about George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign for president, made by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter.

No, really, it’s good. I was worried, too. I had ordered it from Netflix in late November, thinking it was something I ought to see. Then I let it sit on top of the TV until last week.

Bush according to Pelosi, I thought each night. Too much like work. Tired. Watch “House” episode for third time instead.
I broke down last week, at the behest of one of my daughters. Two minutes into it, I called another daughter who was upstairs, told her she had to see this, and started it over. It was that good.
What was so good about it? Well, certainly not the production values. It was shot with a camcorder by Alexandra Pelosi as a home movie of her year as an NBC producer, traveling with the Texas governor as he sought the presidency. You’ve seen YouTube? Like that, only longer.
What was good about it was that everybody in the film came across as a human being. If you don’t find that surprising, you need a quick unreality check: Put this down, watch a couple of hours of TV “news,” then visit a few of the more popular blogs.
See what I mean?
In this movie, the president-to-be is neither the warmongering demon nor the stalwart defender of all that’s right and true.
He’s just this guy. The joshing, never-serious, somewhat condescending uncle to the young woman who keeps sticking a camcorder in his face for reasons that aren’t entirely apparent. A little on the goofy side, but no idiot.
And Ms. Pelosi is neither the Spawn of the Liberal She-Devil nor what you think of when you say “NBC Nightly News” either. She’s not the former because, brace yourself, Nancy Pelosi is actually a human being, too. She’s not the latter partly because she’s a producer, not the on-air “talent” you’re used to. Producers are the ones behind the scenes who get actual work done — arranging travel, lining up interviews, soothing hurt feelings — while the ones you know are checking their hair. Think Andie MacDowell to Bill Murray’s weatherman in “Groundhog Day.”
She comes across as what she apparently is — a bright, friendly young woman who is very tired of getting up at 6 a.m., herded to airplanes and fed turkey sandwiches all day.
The two of them are practically friends. When she gets interested in a smiley guy from Newsweek(who later turns out to be a cad), Gov. Bush teases her, then offers semiserious advice. When she reports a little too accurately on her fellow media types and they all refuse to speak to her, George steps in to make peace.
In other words, they act like people. Likable people, no matter what you think of their politics. So do the others on the bus, including some familiar faces. Nobody took the camcorder girl seriously, so they forgot to put their masks on. Sure, the candidate is deliberately trying to charm the press. What will surprise his detractors is that he’s so good at it. Karl Rove still comes across as a creep, but that’s because it’s real life.
This brilliant little ditty of a film reveals a deep, dark secret: Like Soylent Green, politics is actually made of people. Real people, whom you are not required by law either to hate or to love. You just hang with them, and see them as they are in the tedium of daily coexistence. People, living their lives. Not symbols, not abstractions, not caricatures.
I ordered the movie because Columbia attorney Jim Leventis, a perfectly normal guy who belongs to my Rotary Club, is Alexandra Pelosi’s godfather. He describes the speaker of the House as “just a wonderful mom and just a wonderful friend.” Really.
You should see it if you can, and remember the lesson it teaches. It might ground you enough to preserve your faith in people over the next 12 months.
I’ll try to remember it, too, as those 18 candidates posture for the extremists in their respective parties. If I forget, remind me.

 

The importance of understanding politicians (and media types) as people

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks...

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks…

Having heard my limit of cynical statements bordering on paranoia, I resolved, on live radio over the weekend, to do The Most Daring Thing a Journalist Can Ever Do.

I decided to stick up for politicians. And for the media, for that matter.

I learned long ago, well before I started blogging, that the surest way to be the target of derision and contempt — from the public, and even one’s peers — is to praise someone in politics. It’s way more damaging to your reputation than criticizing people. We’re expected to do that. And those of you who know me know that I do my share of that. (In fact, some of you claim, hyperbolically, that it’s all I do, when the subject is Mark Sanford or Nikki Haley.)

But just let me say something laudatory about a politician — say, Lindsey Graham, who I believe is more deserving of such defense than anyone in high office in our state — and here comes the tsunami of cynicism. (Try to say “tsunami of cynicism” several times really fast.)

Journalists tend to relish the criticism that comes from being critical. It means we’re tough, and hard-hitting. Nobody pulls the wool over our eyes! We’re no saps. Cutting remarks make us sound like John Lennon. Saying nice things makes us sound like Paul McCartney. And everybody knows which one was the cool one, right?

Anyway, as Sunday’s show wore on, I endured a number of cynical remarks about media, politics and politicians, letting them pass by because of my long experience of knowing how hard it is to change people’s minds when they say things like, “They just stress all that negative stuff to sell papers,” or, “You can’t trust the MSM because they take advertising and are in the grip of corporate America,” or “He’s no different from all politicians; they’re all crooks.” (These are reconstructions; I wasn’t taking notes. But I’ve heard these kinds of comments SO many times.)

But finally, I couldn’t sit still, and I explained:

  • People who think advertisers control content in a newspaper have probably never worked at one. In my 35 years in newspapers, most of it as an editor, I never once was involved in a decision that was in any way influenced by money considerations, either involving advertising or circulation. (The only way money affected what we did was that the lack of it prevented us from having the people we needed, or to pay for travel, to do everything we wanted.) I DID find myself making decisions that I knew made life miserable for the ad people, and even lost the paper money. I mentioned a situation in which we took, and maintained (and the newspaper maintains to this day) an editorial position that cost the paper hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years. That didn’t make me happy or anything, but it had no impact on our position.
  • As for Will Folks’ assertion that we were supportive of lawmakers he despises because of the newspaper industry’s sales tax exemptions, I had to ask how he explained our ongoing repeated calls, year in and year out, for comprehensive tax reform that would put all exemptions on the table? (Doug likes to talk about that one, saying we should have called specifically for eliminating the newspaper exemption. But the truth was, I’ve never seen that one as in any way more egregious than the rest, and I would have been lying, and grandstanding, to say otherwise.)
  • Those who say this or that gets published because “it sells newspapers” don’t understand what makes journalists tick. There CAN be the temptation to be sensational, and we’re always trying to grab your attention, but not for anything so normal and sensible (the way most people see the world) as selling papers. What we wanted, what we want, is to be read. In terms of indulging my deep-seated need, no one had to buy the paper. They could steal it, just as long as they read it. Bryan loved that. After he wrote about it on his blog, I felt compelled to explain a bit. It’s not that I was advocating stealing the newspaper, mind you…
  • People talk about there being too much “bad news.” Well, I’m sorry, but to a great extent, the definition of news is something that has gone wrong. You don’t report on the 10,000 cars that pass a certain intersection safely in the course of a day; you report on the fatal wreck that occurred there. You don’t write about the thousands of buildings that didn’t catch fire; you report on the one that burned down. And you don’t write about the vast majority of politicians who are honest and doing their best; you write about the ones who are derelict and/or have their hands in the till — because that’s what people, as voters, need a heads-up about.
  • On that last point… I blame my profession, and particularly my generation of Watergate-influenced journalists, for the cynicism about government and politics that infects so many in our society today, from Will Folks and many other bloggers to the Tea Party to some of our best friends here on the blog. Maybe that’s one case where we DID overemphasize the “bad news.” We were so adversarial toward public officials and public institutions, so aggressive in chasing after scandal — and (seemingly sometimes) nothing but scandal — that we created an indelible impression among the reading and viewing public that government is a bad thing full of bad people. When it isn’t. We’re just trying to let you know about the bad parts that need addressing.

When I stated that probably 90-something percent of politicians were good people trying to do the best by their lights for their communities (even though they might, in my opinion, be really wrong about what’s best), Will erupted in derision, both on the air and on Twitter:

But I insisted it was true. I might think most of the things lawmakers try to do is stupid sometimes, but I don’t doubt their sincerity or honest intentions. As for the idea that people go into public life to enrich themselves monetarily — well, they’re really have to be stupid to do that, because the greater potential is definitely in the private sector, and the chance of getting caught is a lot lower than in public office.

Not that there aren’t some politicians for whom the pathetic renumeration that legislators receive is the best job they ever had. We had some people like that in the Legislature in the late 80s and early 90s. Lost Trust caught people selling their votes for pathetically small things, such as a new suit or some such.

Lost Trust was the low point in South Carolina, leading to indictments of 10 percent of the Legislature. But I turned that around to say that, when an aggressive federal prosecutor did his best to catch every lawmaker open to bribery or some other form of corruption… he could only get 10 percent. Which fits my 90ish-percent thesis.

Bottom line, people in politics are people, like any other. Oh, they may be more extroverted and given to exhibitionism of a sort, but they are not worse than other people. They might not be the wise solons that they should be — and I, for one, would prefer that they were a good deal wiser than average — but they’re just people.

So are journalists, for that matter, just to come full circle…

ICYMI: The Thomas Ravenel announcement

FILE PHOTO: Ravenel during 2006 interview.

FILE PHOTO: Ravenel during 2006 interview.

Still catching up on stuff I saw over the long weekend, and was too lazy to comment on then.

Did you take note of Thomas Ravenel’s formal announcement of his independent candidacy for U.S. Senate? Here it is:

THOMAS RAVENEL ANNOUNCES U.S. SENATE CANDIDACY

“Southern Charm” Star To Challenge Two-Party Status Quo in South Carolina

Businessman, reality television star and former South Carolina State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel will run as an independent for the United States Senate seat currently held by liberal “Republican” Lindsey Graham.  Ravenel made his Senate candidacy official prior to attending a Fourth of July rally in Greenville, S.C.

“It’s time for voters across our state and this country to declare their independence from a failed two-party system – one that no longer represents their interests or the interests of Americans to come,” the star of Bravo’s ‘Southern Charm’ said.  “Election after election of choosing the lesser of two evils has our economy and our freedoms on a downward slide – but there’s still time to change the road we’re on.  To do that, though, we need a real debate and a real choice – candidates who are offering real ideas to turn things around.”

Ravenel, 51, said his campaign would offer specific policies aimed at redefining the relationship between citizens and their government – something neither major party is willing or able to do.

“Government doesn’t belong in your boardroom, your bedroom or your email inbox,” he said.  “But its presence in every aspect of our lives continues to grow.  Democrats keep dictating choices in our marketplaces and Republicans keep telling us who we can and cannot love.  And both parties want to keep spending like there’s notomorrow while they spy on us to make sure we don’t step out of line.  All of this leads to less prosperity and liberty – and more dependency and fear.”

In declaring his candidacy, Ravenel spoke frankly about his past – including the ten months he spent in a federal prison following a 2007 drug arrest.  He said he expected to be attacked over the issue – and was ready to defend himself.

“I’m an imperfect messenger, I know that – but somebody’s got to stand up for the message,” Ravenel said.   “Also, the last time I checked there are plenty of ‘perfect’ messengers out there who are bankrupting our Treasury, destroying our economy, and sending our sons and daughters off to die and be disfigured in places we have no business fighting.”

Ravenel said crafting a new foreign policy would be a centerpiece of his campaign.

“Ill-conceived interventions and this constant flip-flopping of allegiances between terrorist organizations does not make us safer – it only makes another attack on our homeland more likely,” Ravenel said.  “We absolutely must have the world’s strongest military to protect our borders and secure our national interests – but our national defense is weakened by politically motivated pork projects, failed attempts at nation-building and picking up the tab for wealthy countries that won’t defend themselves.”

Ravenel will submit his signatures to appear on the November 2014 ballot to the S.C. Election Commission (SCEC) next week.

-###-

Several observations…

  • He certainly isn’t shying away from his negatives. In fact, in at least one instance he’s embracing them. Note that the release identifies him as a “reality television star,” both in the subhed and in the lede, before mentioning that he was state treasurer — and then reiterates it in the next graf. In fact, it emphasizes this to such an extent that I wondered whether the TV production company is somehow involved in this campaign, perhaps even helping with drafting releases. Bravo is certainly promoting the idea of his candidacy.
  • This probably won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t write for a living, but the release is slightly unusual in that it is written as a mock news story, even making observations about the manner of his announcement, as though it were written by a neutral third party: “In declaring his candidacy, Ravenel spoke frankly about his past…” That’s a slightly odd voice. It’s not unique; I’ve seen the device used before. But it struck me.
  • If one were inclined to take this candidacy seriously, that would be undermined by this, in the first graf: “liberal ‘Republican’ Lindsey Graham.” One thing Lindsey Graham most certainly is not is a liberal. And it takes the kind of gall that few besides Thomas Ravenel can muster to refer to the actual nominee of the Republican Party — a distinction that Ravenel did not seek — as a “Republican,” in quotes.
  • He calls himself “an imperfect messenger,” but he may be the perfect messenger for the message he bears. He may be the most Randian figure in South Carolina. He is self-admiring (watch this video to get a sense of the Ravenel ego, or this one), self-centered, self-indulgent, and presents it all boldly as a philosophy instead of as evidence of a flawed character. Mark Sanford has always been about Mark Sanford, but even he would not dare to flaunt his egomania the way Thomas Ravenel does.
  • Speaking as the founder of the UnParty, why is it that any time someone does run as an independent in South Carolina, it’s someone who’s too extreme, too ideological, for the UnParty? OK, so maybe Tom Ervin is a bit of a centrist (too soon to tell). But the rest of the time, independents seem to be people who are, to use one of my favorite early-19th-century expressions, not quite the thing.
  • Finally, whom is Ravenel helping, and whom is he hurting by running? I was chatting with a former Graham staffer recently who thought Ravenel would take votes from Brad Hutto, who can ill afford to lose them. I’ve assumed the opposite from the first rumors of this ego trip. Ravenel is likely to appeal to the less discriminating Paulistas, and other elements from the libertarian segments of the Republican coalition, ranging from the elitist Club for Growth/Wall Street Journal crowd to the far more populist Tea Party (although more from the former than from the latter). He doesn’t fit perfectly with any of those groups, but he overlaps enough with them to pull some of the folks who voted for Graham’s opponents in the primary.

Anyway, those were my first thoughts. What were yours?

Suarez takes public apology genre to new depths

Speaking of having a way with words

Just so you know that politicians have no patent on the use evasive language in public apologies, you’ve got to check out this one from footballer Luis Suárez:


Somewhere, Mark Sanford and Bill Clinton are envious. And Ronald Reagan’s “mistakes were made” just seems amateurish compared to the towering passivity of “suffered the physical result of a bite.” That’s just poetry by comparison…

NYT rehashes Sanford farce, but adds a new (to me) insight

My first reaction was this:

And indeed, much of the 5,000-word magazine-profile-style piece (it took me three separate chunks of time today to read it) was a painful rehashing of a story we know far too well here in SC, and yet another case of the world affirming Sanford in his conviction that yes, indeed, it’s all about him.

(Sometimes it seems Sanford moves in a bubble that is like an incident in a Douglas Adams novel: Zaphod Beeblebrox steps into a Total Perspective Vortex, which should cause his mind to implode with the realization of how insignificant he is in the grand scheme of things. However, he does so within the safe confines of a custom-made universe. Since that artificial universe was, indeed, made for him, he is the most important thing in it. So he steps out of the machine feeling confirmed in his outsized self-esteem. All he got from the machine was this: “It just told me what I knew all the time. I’m a really terrific and great guy. Didn’t I tell you, baby, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox!” Very Mark Sanford.)

But I did eventually get to some things I didn’t know about. For instance, I’ve seen little about what has happened since the voters of the 1st District decided to sent him back to Washington. And Lord knows I haven’t been up to Washington myself to check on him. So I read this with interest:

Sanford wound up as a lower-ranking member of the Transportation and Homeland Security committees. When he arrived, the congressional Tea Party rebellion was well underway. And, as an enthusiastic renegade nearly 20 years earlier, Sanford could have easily joined it. But he decided instead to prove useful where he could to Boehner and Boehner’s second in command and expected successor, Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor initially had misgivings about Sanford but came to appreciate the new, less confrontational version of him. And Sanford came to appreciate what Cantor might ultimately do for him. Now, despite Cantor’s loss in the primary earlier this month to the more strident conservative David Brat, Sanford says he’ll stick to his plan and work with the leadership when possible.

Huh. Mark Sanford, the guy for whom Newt Gingrich wasn’t radical enough, working with the leadership, within the Establishment? For that matter, Sanford working with anyone other than himself?

This bears watching…

When you play villains as well as Oldman, you HAVE TO apologize this graciously, and then some

Would you accept an apology from this guy?

Would you accept an apology from this guy?

Gary Oldman has apologized abjectly, completely and graciously for offensive comments he made about Jews in a Playboy interview:

I am deeply remorseful that comments I recently made in the Playboy Interview were offensive to many Jewish people. Upon reading my comments in print—I see how insensitive they may be, and how they may indeed contribute to the furtherance of a false stereotype. Anything that contributes to this stereotype is unacceptable, including my own words on the matter. If, during the interview, I had been asked to elaborate on this point I would have pointed out that I had just finished reading Neal Gabler’s superb book about the Jews and Hollywood, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews invented Hollywood. The fact is that our business, and my own career specifically, owes an enormous debt to that contribution.

I hope you will know that this apology is heartfelt, genuine, and that I have an enormous personal affinity for the Jewish people in general, and those specifically in my life. The Jewish People, persecuted thorough the ages, are the first to hear God’s voice, and surely are the chosen people.

I would like to sign off with “Shalom Aleichem”—but under the circumstances, perhaps today I lose the right to use that phrase, so I will wish you all peace–Gary Oldman.

I don’t know whether Oldman or a publicist wrote that apology, but it’s a good one. It holds nothing back, unlike many other public apologies we’ve seen (such as the Mark Sanford “I’m sorry, but I’m like King David, and God forgave King David, so you’ve gotta forgive me — what, do you think you’re better than God?” approach).

Of course, when you play villains as chillingly convincingly as Oldman does, you’ve got to go all-out, because a lot of people wouldn’t consider it a great leap to picture him as a neo-Nazi. And even when you DO apologize, they’re quick to point out that you didn’t apologize to other groups you may have offended.

All of that said, what person with any class does Playboy interviews any more? What does he think this is, 1970?

... or this one?

… or this one?

The most significant, positive thing you can do as a voter today is make sure Lindsey Graham wins outright

A still from a campaign video.

A still from a campaign video.

Where I live, I normally take a Republican primary ballot, because that’s the only way I get any choices, especially on local races.

But four years ago, I broke with that pattern because of one race: I wanted to vote for Vincent Sheheen. I was so disappointed by the whole Republican field for governor (even Henry McMaster, whom I had expected to like for the job, but hated the campaign he ran), and I wanted to have the positive experience of voting for somebody for governor, rather than trying to pick the least of evils on the GOP side. I did this even though it meant I was disenfranchised, unable to state a choice as a voter in several races in which the GOP primary was the election (and again, it is SO wrong that a voter has to make a choice like that — we should get a say on everyone who represents us).

Today, I went back to the GOP, so I didn’t have that problem. But still, as in 2010, my mind was on one race and one race only. Even if there had been compelling contests on the Democratic side that I wanted to weigh in on (there weren’t), I would have taken a GOP ballot simply to vote for Lindsey Graham. On this day, that was the best and highest use of my right and responsibility as a voter.

Totally apart from the fact that he deserves re-election and is a far better candidate than his challengers, the contest for his seat has much broader implications for our state.

The worst thing that can happen to South Carolina in today’s primaries would be for Graham to lose, and the second worst would be for him to get into a runoff.

If he loses (and a runoff makes it more likely that he might actually lose, if all the Graham haters unite behind one candidate), don’t ever expect to see a South Carolina Republican take a political risk in order to do the right thing for a long, long time. He would be the cautionary example of what happens if you think for yourself and stick your neck out.

Conversely, if he wins decisively today, it affirms the kind of thoughtful, principled representation of which we all know he, unlike his opponents, is capable.

The crowd of people running against him all smell blood in the water. Some are just dangerous extremists (Lee Bright) and others are opportunists willing to benefit from his vulnerability — and willing to cater to that same extremism in order to conquer. That must not be rewarded.

All sensible, moderate South Carolinians, regardless of party, should be asking for a GOP primary ballot today, and voting for Graham. And yet I know so many will find excuses not to.

One of my best friends, who for several years constituted the “liberal” wing of The State‘s editorial board (as he would tell you, though, more of a New Republic liberal than a Mother Jones liberal), wrote for a lot of Democrats and independents yesterday when he said:

“If those things happen, don’t EVER expect to see a South Carolina Republican take a political risk in order to do the right thing for a long, LONG time.”

When was the last time that actually happened? Has Lindsey Graham done anything in public during his current term that I actually am thankful for? I’d like to be wrong about this, but I can’t think of one thing in the last six years that I actually approve of. Anything?

It only took me a moment to come up with three good answers to that question:

1. He was the only Republican from SC to vote to reopen the government last fall — even as he was bracing himself for the current onslaught from the right.

2. Voting to confirm Kagan.

3. Voting to confirm Sotomayor.

The list of things that please me would be longer, but I was looking at it from Mike’s perspective. (The second and third points are particularly important, because they illustrate Graham living up to the principle he so often states — that elections have consequences, and unless a president’s nominees are simply unqualified, they should be confirmed. This is an incredibly important principle to the healthy functioning of our system of republican government, and all too rare today — it’s something that the ideologues of the left and right can’t even wrap their heads around. It’s the kind of thing that separates a statesman from a hack.)

It is SO easy for moderates (and the very few liberals in SC) to be turned off by Graham’s recent emphasis on messages that appeal to the hard right — opposition to Obamacare, going on and on about Benghazi, etc.

And of course, some of our friends — Bud and Doug come to mind — find that two-faced and deceptive. They’re wrong. And moderates (or liberals) who see only the things they don’t like, forgetting the things that they do like, are wrong as well.

There is absolutely nothing wrong, or deceptive, or duplicitous about stressing positions that you honestly hold that appeal to people who might vote for your opponents. An honest politician has not only a right, but an obligation to let voters who might be heavily critical of him know that he actually agrees with them on issues that are important to them. Graham has been a vocal opponent of Obamacare from the start; he and John McCain have been the main critics of the administration on Benghazi. And he is, just as he claims, a social conservative.

And moderates and those few liberals who may be turned off by this kind of campaign need to stop and think — this is the only way a guy like Lindsey Graham gets re-elected in this state. Your alternative is not Elizabeth Warren (God help us), or whoever you like out there. Your alternative is Lee Bright, or someone who in office would act like Lee Bright.

The kind of courage and thoughtfulness and sense of responsibility that Graham exhibits, at great political risk, on issues such as judicial confirmation, foreign aid, fiscal issues, immigration and energy are rare qualities. And no one else running for this office exhibits them.

For someone as high-profile as Graham to be brought low by the extreme Lilliputians of the Tea Party would be a tragedy for South Carolina, because nothing could be more guaranteed to make sure we don’t see his kind of courage in the future.

We can’t afford to lose this one guy who puts his country before party doctrine. We can’t afford to lose Lindsey Graham.

Another still from the same campaign video.

Another still from the same campaign video.

Vincent Sheheen’s new Web video

The first thing you’ll notice is the length of this: At 1:44, it’s too long for a TV ad; this was made to distribute on the Web.

Perhaps because it’s as long as it is, it’s more effective than other things I’ve seen from this campaign — the slow march of headlines appearing as you hear Nikki Haley say how proud she is of Lillian Koller has a cumulative effect.

Of course, I still can’t honestly know how many of these horrific tragedies can in any way be laid at the feet of Ms. Koller or anyone else in the agency. Deciding whether children should remain with questionable parents has always been a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t proposition. There were deaths before Ms. Koller joined DSS, and there will be deaths after. If I’m wrong about the latter, I’ll be overjoyed, but I’m speaking from the base of what I’ve seen.

The larger point is about leadership and judgment. Was the governor right to so adamantly defend her director?

It’s perhaps instructive, to Democrats, Republicans and the rest of us, to compare this to the V.A. scandal on the federal level. President Obama stuck by Gen. Shinseki, up until the time he didn’t. And when Shinseki bowed out, the president used almost identical language to what the governor did — he praised the retired general, and said he was merely accepting the resignation so that Shinseki would no longer be a “distraction” from the task of solving the problem.

If there’s a difference, it may lie in tone. No-drama Obama was cool and dispassionate in standing by the general as long as he did. There was none of the this-is-personal touchiness that we get from Nikki Haley, particularly when she takes to her Facebook page.

Somebody pointed something out to me that I hadn’t picked up on — that during the session just ending, the governor’s staff kept her out of the State House for two of the three days a week the Legislature is in town. The purpose being to keep her from interacting with lawmakers in ways that would reflect badly on her in this election year.

I don’t even know if that’s correct or not — I haven’t studied the governor’s schedule. But if it is, it points to the thing as I said above is the key element to consider as voters. The last thing you want is a governor who stays away from the State House when the laws are being made, who doesn’t trust herself enough to stay cool and stay out of trouble. When I said that to the Republican who was making the observation, he smiled slightly and said what we know, that this governor isn’t all that interested in governing.

Which is another problem. But it’s tough to make punchy campaign videos, much less bumper stickers, that point these things out.

Koller 2