"History is a nightmare from which we are trying to awaken." —James Joyce
The nightmare South Carolina has been sleeping through for most of its life shows signs of ebbing. The fever, the convulsive tossing and turning, and the occasional cries of terror seem to be subsiding.
For generations, the Palmetto State's nightmare has taken the form of florid demagogues and angry white people bent on punishing and controlling the state's black population. The age of overt racial politics is over. Ben Tillman, "Cotton Ed" Smith, Albert Watson, Strom Thurmond, and the other old screamers and haters have left the stage. They've been replaced by a bland coterie of officeholders who talk about cutting taxes and getting the government off our backs and out of our pockets.
Some of the new class of politicians, like Sen. Jim DeMint, can still whip a crowd into a frenzy with his vague and rambling diatribes about freedom and socialism. That is not Sen. Lindsey Graham's style.
Graham, more than any major Republican on the South Carolina stage, seems to not be haunted by any nightmares, historical or otherwise. He appears to sleep well at night. He must get his rest to stay as busy as he has been on Capitol Hill in recent weeks.
July 4 saw two major profiles of our senior senator in the national media: one by Howard Fineman in Newsweek, the other by Robert Draper in The New York Times Magazine.
Draper gives us the image of a practical man and politician: deadpan and plainspoken, loyal to his friends, accessible and respectful to his adversaries, with his eye always on the big picture of national security, whether the threat be terrorism, illegal immigration, or climate change. Graham also has a pedestrian taste in food, drink, and furnishings. In short, he is almost too bland to hate, yet many of his detractors — including Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — manage to work themselves into a lather regularly. So do many of his constituents in the Palmetto State.
On matters of amnesty for illegals, climate change, and the where and how of dealing with captured terrorist suspects, his positions strike many conservatives as too ... too what? Liberal? Soft? Accommodating?
Graham does not apologize. He genuinely enjoys the give and take of politics. He likes to cut deals. He has friends in the Democratic Party and is not ashamed to be seen with them in public. For this he has been reviled and disparaged. He has been dubbed "Lindsey Grahamnesty" by talk radio. And none other than GOP gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley has called for his censure by the party. In fact, several county GOP committees have taken that step.
But Graham does not seem to be backing down on any major issues. He has pulled his support from the Democratic immigration reform bill in favor of the more modest Republican effort, but he says he did that because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid double-crossed him on the bill.
The senator from Seneca is equally blunt when it comes to the Tea Party, telling Draper, "The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out." And he added: "We don't have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats. Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today."
Therein lies the future nightmare for the state and perhaps for the country. Pragmatic leaders like Graham and Reagan are being pushed out of the Republican Party. How many remember that Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million illegal aliens in 1986? What would happen to him if he did that today?
And look at what happened to Bob Inglis. When he was first elected to Congress from the Greenville-Spartanburg area in 1992, Inglis was the most conservative member of the state delegation and one of the most conservative members of Congress. But that is no longer good enough for Upstate GOPers. They put him out in last month's primary in favor of Trey Gowdy, who out-flanked him on the right. Is there room today for compromise or reason in the Republican Party?
Our old nightmare of racial politics seems to be over, but now we have walked into a nightmare of blind ideology. In a time of collapsing infrastructure and corrupt corporations run amok, all Republicans can talk about is cutting taxes and deregulating everything.
Nothing could be more dangerous than rigid adherence to a philosophy that makes no sense. But that's where South Carolina is heading. And it looks like we are about to trade one nightmare for another.
See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.