"Whichever party best combines noble causes and monsters and clinches its claim to the banner of God will win. Party labels may or may not be changed. In any case, I believe, the mind of the South will remain the same." —W.J. Cash
The people of South Carolina went to the polls last week to finish the business of nominating candidates for office in November's general election. Whatever else came out of this exercise in democracy, it demonstrates that the Republican Party is as intellectually and morally bankrupt as Enron.
Indeed, party labels have changed since Cash wrote those words for the American Mercury in 1929. The morally and intellectually bankrupt Democratic Party of 80 years ago is the Republican Party of 2006. The event that triggered this switch in party labels was the Civil Rights Movement and its resulting legislation, which was shepherded through Congress by the national Democratic Party. White Southerners retaliated by switching party allegiance from Democratic to Republican.
The great party label switch is now essentially complete. Fifty years ago, Democrats controlled every seat in the General Assembly, all nine statewide constitutional offices; both U.S. senators and all six U.S. representatives were Democrats. South Carolina was a backward little banana republic of corruption and political infighting, where black people were effectively barred from political power.
In 1994, the Republicans took control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction. With the November elections, it's a safe bet that the GOP will control all nine statewide offices, both U.S. Senate seats and four of six U.S. House seats. Today, South Carolina is a backward little banana republic of corruption and political infighting, where black people are effectively barred from political power.
In the recent primary campaigns, the Republican candidates repeated their relentless mantra, calling for tax cuts and school vouchers. Both of these programs are sublimated forms of the old racism that once held the old Democratic Party together as the bulkhead against segregation. And Republicans accept them just as mindlessly as they once accepted the old racist shibboleths — and for essentially the same reasons.
In a recent to trip to Horry County, I saw a sign for a local Republican candidate: "He Protects Our Pocket."
In all the political advertising I observed over the past few weeks, I did not see a single Republican boasting that he protects our environment, protects our civil rights, protects our schools. Those things cost money, of course, and apparently the white people of South Carolina care more about their money than they do about the commonwealth of our state. The result of this old and unchallenged behavior is that South Carolina perennially ranks near the bottom of the nation for such quality-of-life indices as education, life expectancy, crime, infant mortality, highway deaths — and the list goes on.
The utter predictability with which white people vote Republican can only be compared to some totemic ritual. As the Democratic Party was for generations of their ancestors, the modern Republican Party has become a near mystical bond of kinship for white voters and, in the South, kinship and mystical bonds trump common sense and sound public policy.
As a demonstration of how strong these white tribal bonds are, Lt. Governor André Bauer placed thousands of roadside signs around the state with the simple message: "André -- Republican."
Since he apparently stands for nothing (except lowering taxes, of course) and his political resumé could be written on a matchbook, he really had little to recommend himself except that he is white — in other words, Republican.
Perhaps no recent election better demonstrates white tribal instincts better than Bauer's first election as lieutenant governor four years ago. White voters elected him over Democratic challenger Phil Leventis, a leader on environmental and education issues in the state Senate and perhaps the closest thing to a statesman we have in the General Assembly today. He was also a decorated veteran of Gulf War I and a brigadier general in the Air National Guard.
Since becoming lieutenant governor, Bauer has regularly embarrassed himself and the state with his very public traffic offenses and knack for reaping a windfall from the sale of property to the state. Now he is about to be rewarded with a second term.
In a recent editorial, the Myrtle Beach Sun News opined: "Decades of backbiting, infighting, and arrogant behavior caught up with the Democrats in time, and they lost their power here and nationally ... The same will happen to the Republicans unless they figure out how to govern with a semblance of unity and humility."
I disagree. Republicans don't have to be unified or humble. They are white and whites are in the majority. And that's how democracy works in South Carolina.