Back in the first few years that I was back here in SC — I want to say it was about the time of the Lost Trust scandal in 1990; in any case, it was a time when we were struggling with some huge problem in Columbia — The Charlotte Observer ran a short, dismissive, truly snotty editorial asking what was up with South Carolina, and comparing us to the Three Stooges.
That was it. There was no serious analysis of the problem, and no recommendation (that I recall) on how to make it better. Just a setup for comparing South Carolina to the Stooges. Ha-ha.
Something crystallized for me in that moment. I had been a longtime admirer of the Observer before I came to work here. But since my return here in 1987, I had noticed that its coverage of my home state had a certain tone to it — a scornful fascination based in a concept of SC as the other; as a vastly inferior other that existed to make folks in that corner of NC feel good about themselves.
I fully realized what had bothered me as soon as I read that editorial. I felt that the Observer couldn’t care less whether things got better in SC, as long as we provided our betters with entertainment. (If I’m correct on the timing, this was at the time that I was conceiving of the year-long Power Failure project analyzing what was really wrong with SC, and offering a specific path to fixing the problems. So I had a markedly different attitude: I cared.)
Anyway, I was reminded of that Three Stooges moment when Celeste Headlee brought my attention to CREW’s second list of the nation’s worst governors. (CREW, by the way, is the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government.)
For those of you interested in such things, of the 18 governors on the list, only two — Andrew Cuomo and Steven Beshear — are Democrats (Scott Walker makes the list for being anti-union, and accepting contributions from people who are also anti-union — really; those are his “sins”). But I’m less concerned with the fact that CREW doesn’t live up to its self-professed partisan impartiality than the fact that, by publishing a list such as this one, the organization gives the lie to the “responsibility” part of its name.
Of course, our own governor makes the list. And that would be OK, if CREW had some helpful criticism. Here’s what it has to say about Gov. Haley. I won’t bother repeating it since there’s no news in it. She’s been roundly criticized for these things in this space. But I stand today to defend her.
My beef is with the overall way that this list is presented. Someone thought it would be cute to give the list a circus theme. The 18 governors are divided into three groups — the “Ringmasters,” the “Clowns,” and the “Sideshows.”
Nikki Haley is listed among the six “Clowns.”
I’m mystified as to the reasoning behind this equal division into three groups. What, our governor is a “Clown,” but Rick Perry makes “Ringmaster”? Really? If someone forced you to pick one of them as a “Clown,” how could you pick her over him?
Beyond that, there is no evidence provided of her clownishness. I didn’t see anything funny in any of the things said about her. It is simply not a defensible metaphor.
Let me say unequivocally that Nikki Haley is not a clown. She’s a perfectly serious, earnest young woman who governs as well as she can, according to her lights.
She does not deserve to be called a clown.
And if CREW really cared about responsibility in government, it would desist from this kind of immature, dismissive, unhelpful nonsense. This is the kind of destructive thing the political parties do — denigrate and demean and utterly dismiss all with whom they disagree, making it impossible for people wearing different labels to work together toward the common good.
On its About Us page, CREW moans,
Many Americans have given up on our political system, writing off our elected leaders…
Well, you know why? Because (at least in part) of dismissive junk such as this.
If you have something constructive to say, say it. If you have any specific, serious advice to offer the people of South Carolina, we’re all ears — really. Not all of us have “We Don’t CARE How You Did It Up North” bumper stickers on our vehicles (although, admittedly, some of us do). Let’s hear your prescription.
But if you have nothing more helpful to offer than to call our governor a “clown,” then just shut up about it.