For conservatives in general and Tea Partiers in particular, South Carolina is often looked to as a model and a harbinger. 150 years later, the birthplace of secession was hailed as a forerunner of the Tea Party movement. Governor Nikki Haley, Rep. Joe Wilson and Senator Jim Demint (who hosted a GOP presidential forum on Labor Day) are national luminaries in the anti-government, anti-tax Tea Party movement. And with its fight against the National Labor Relations Board's Boeing ruling, the Palmetto State has become the poster child for union-busting Right-to-Work crusade.
Sadly for Republicans, two stories this week suggest something is rotten in their beloved state of South Carolina. As it turns out, along with other right-to-work states below the Mason-Dixon Line, South Carolina is now suffering from skyrocketing unemployment. And to preserve their Medicare and Social Security, Palmetto State Republicans would be more than willing to pay higher taxes.
But as McClatchy reported, in one area South Carolina's conservative voters had an unexpected and unwelcome message for their Republican overlords:
S.C. Republican and Republican-leaning voters do not want cuts to Social Security, Medicare or defense -- but they might be willing to pay more taxes to help balance the country's budget, according to a new poll from Winthrop University.
Seventy-three percent of S.C. Republicans who receive Social Security and Medicare benefits say they are not willing to cut those programs in order to balance the budget.
And Republicans now working, who don't yet receive those benefits? More than half say they still are not willing to see their future benefits cut or the retirement age raised.
As it turns out, 47 percent of Jim Demint's constituents "said they did not think it was possible to balance the budget without a tax increase." (That one million people, a fifth of the state's residents, receive Social Security, may have something to do with it.) And to the South Carolina GOP, those disturbing results can only mean one thing:
But Chad Connelly, chairman of the S.C. Republican Party, had another explanation: His party's faithful are being misled.
Connelly questioned if the poll numbers "were real." He also blamed the plurality of S.C. Republicans who say a tax increase will be needed on "the impact that media distortion and Democrat distortion" have had on public opinion.
If the Winthrop poll came as bad news to Republican mythmakers, a new report on the new geography of unemployment was even worse.
Despite their higher poverty, tougher working conditions, lower incomes, failing health care systems and lagging educational performance, the 22 Right-to-Work states have beentouted as the future of America by Republicans and their conservative amen corner. (Last week's Fox News GOP debate even featured a questioner from Hilton Head, South Carolina asking, "Would you support some form of a federal right-to-work law, allowing all workers to choose whether or not to join a union?) But as the New York Times detailed Monday, their employment picture has worsened even as other states hit hard by the recession slowly started to recover:
The once-booming South, which entered the recession with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, is now struggling with some of the highest rates, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.
Several Southern states -- including South Carolina, whose 11.1 percent unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the nation -- have higher unemployment rates than they did a year ago. Unemployment in the South is now higher than it is in the Northeast and the Midwest, which include Rust Belt states that were struggling even before the recession.
For decades, the nation's economic landscape consisted of a prospering Sun Belt and a struggling Rust Belt. Since the recession hit, though, that is no longer the case. Unemployment remains high across much of the country -- the national rate is 9.1 percent -- but the regions have recovered at different speeds.
Of course, there is no gloating or satisfaction in this data. For Democrats and Republicans, union-members and union-busters - for Americans - these are grim numbers that tell a tale of economic suffering seemingly without end.
But to demand a balanced budget and that the Bush tax cuts be made permanent, as Jim Demint does, isn't only bad math. It flies in the face of what his own Republican constituents in South Carolina are telling him. As for his fellow Palmetto State Tea Partier and co-sponsor of a national Right-to-Work law Joe Wilson, there's only one response to his message to employers looking to set up shop in the United States that "you must locate in a Right to Work state."