Charleston, SC- Sanford’s victory in yestersday’s election reveals something in South Carolina’s character any serious student of it’s history can recognize, a deeply flawed civic character divided by deep racial and class animosity, manipulated past the point of embarrassment by a self indulgent ruling class. What we saw is no different from the self indulgent slave owners of 1861 who threw the South into the bloodletting and destruction of the Civil war, after a lifetime of sleeping with their slaves, drinking too much and gambling away the fortunes earned by sweat they did not shed.
This ruling class proceeded to arrange to have others fight for them, including men like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis who knew the war would be a disaster. They used the fear of their own slaves in the minds of hundreds of thousands of men who had little and would lose all in a Yankee reconquest of the South to drive regiments of them to places like Antietam and Petersburg. They would not pay the taxes President Davis attempted to collect. They would not feed the fighting men General Lee had in the field. They offshored their money away from the Confederacy. It was all about their rights.
After the war and reconstruction, this class of leaders perpetuated themselves within a culture of backwardness by driving generation after generation of our most energetic and intelligent citizens out of this state.
They were always shallow and self indulgent, but they generally followed an iron code that their sins should not be public because the understood popular awareness of their sense of entitlement would produce rage among their women, their employees and the people they pretended were their fellow citizens. Their class made sure they did not parade their mistresses on television. They co-opted leadership, dissent, business, the media and education. When African Americans were allowed to vote, they changed parties and reorganized the entire political system to keep power.
They might be condescending in the drawing room and randy at the hotel, but they appeared to be kind and decent in public. They were decent where it could be seen. They understood that the patina of discipline made the entire thing tolerable and allowed those without their sense of privilege to live out the ordered, productive lines which kept the system supportable.
For those of us on the losing side of elections, this hypocrisy and dishonesty allowed us to retain our pride and sense of dignity. We could pretend that we lived in a society where some morality and sense of character was respected and honored. Superficially, we honored the same values. We may have been deluded in this and even known it, but we were not embarrassed for running the PTA, raising money for the homeless shelter, helping fund the library or sustaining our struggling cultural and civic organizations. They sent the occasional check and we didn't point out how they rigged the tax system. It was dishonest, but tolerable. When we sat in Church hearing the gospels, nothing compelled us to admit that for the people who had an iron grip on the destiny of our state, religion, like all the rest was a charade.
Certainly there were those of us who saw through this and pointed out what was really going on, but most of them eventually left or drove themselves into alienated madness or its various, less acute variations. Some people simply drank or medicated their sense of dislocation away.
Since public outrage was not permitted, outright war between the classes, economic, racial, cultural and intellectual was avoided. This and the friction of leaving in many cases permitted the state to retain a sufficient number of people who were willing to devote their lives to maintain a coat of the paint of civilization on the rotting wood of South Carolina.
That enduring compromise, last represented by the Post and Courier’s plantation class decision to endorse Colbert Busch for Congress, probably ended yesterday. Mark Sanford presents the reality in a way so clear and painful, it can’t be ignored. Republicans, even many who voted for him, know this. The hatred, fear and ignorance they have cultivated to retain power is now completely out of control. They had ten decent candidates running for this office. None of them could win the primary.
The argument that our state possesses a culture of decent civic morality can’t be sustained any longer. Had a decent, conservative defeated Colbert Busch yesterday, it would have been no disaster. Everything could have gone on a while longer as it has for so long.
I worked with dozens of volunteers on a two month effort to make public transit an issue in an election where real issues, treated in meaningful detail were otherwise absent. I talked to hundreds of ordinary people at public events, at bus stops, on board buses and on the sidewalk. Sanford was the issue in this election, from the beginning. He dominated every conversation. Virtually no one could square what he was with how they needed to relate to their community or government. It was an impossible fit. Sanford won by focusing the hatred of the community on his opponent as a stand in for President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, who have attempted to force things like education, healthcare and economic development on a state which is poor, badly educated and unwell in ways which serve men like Mark Sanford and his billionaire friends, who see South Carolina as a model for the country.
Sanford won, but it came at a terrible cost. He will not disappear nor is he likely to advance beyond his current position. His sense of entitlement will lead to other disasters. He is the envy of every conservative teenage boy in the state. They’re not dreaming of growing up to become Larry Grooms or Peter McCoy, respectable Republican legislators, today. They want to be a Sanford, to live without rules and lie their way through conquest to conquest. The people, who pick up the trash, send in the donations and follow the rules look like fools today.
Neither those people, who have failed to prevent this, the decent Republicans who were desperately complicit in this nor Congressman Sanford, have the respect of the angry people of South Carolina. Throughout this state, elected officials are working every harder to insulate themselves from the public’s rising sense of disgust and rage. This is not a liberal uprising, but uncoordinated generalized disgust. It is uncontained now. It may be sufficient to advance the plan to destroy government here, which is the goal of the billionaires who feed money into the system. It’s not capable of anything constructive.
Ordinary people here, even many of those who voted for Sanford, are enraged this morning. Most can't explain why. Most don't want to think about it.
Those of us left here, who want something better, have to decide what to do now. We’re far too outnumbered for democracy or violence. Presumably, if we could leave we would already be gone. Experience indicates well thin our own ranks by attacking each other for a while. Such contests are the only fights we can win here. We’ll say goodby to our kids as they leave and plan long trips to visit our grandchildren.
Employers will complain they can’t find educated or skilled labor to work for ten dollars an hour. We’ll tax the poor some more and buy some more low paying economic development jobs, confident nobody will do the math. When they locals can't do the work, the billion dollar factory we paid for will be filled with out of state hires.
We won’t bother to write our congressman. More of us won’t bother to vote. In a year, the people at our meetings will be a year older and the group smaller. The people who don’t show up any longer will tell us to keep fighting. The distant Democrats in DC will send us pleas for money three times a day. Somewhere, a billionaire’s political consultants are dreaming of doing this to your congressional district.
You need to know that many good people tried. They worked around the clock. It wasn't a perfect effort. Our state is sick and we could not stop this. We are humiliated and sorry today.