By now everyone who cares (and many who don’t) knows about the collision between the honourable Ron Paul and the vulgar demagogue Giuliani at the Republican presidential candidates "debate" in South Carolina. (These events are not really debates at all but more like joint press conferences.) Mr. Paul raised the question of whether Americans might be targets for terrorists in part because of actions of the U.S. government. The grandstanding New Yorker demanded a retraction and apology. How could anyone be allowed to doubt that everything the U.S. government has done has always been noble and good? How could anyone think that foreigners could ever have cause to hate us except for perverse resentment of our very goodness?
When the South Carolina audience applauded Giuliani’s tantrum I was not surprised at all, but felt a sting of shame. How far Calhoun’s “gallant little State” has fallen. There is no excuse for my State, but I can perhaps offer some explanation in expiation.
Remember that since 1965 our elections have been controlled by commissars from the U.S. Justice Department — an oppression carried by the votes (several times repeated) of "conservative" Republicans. One of the highest comedic points of 20th century American politics came in the mid-sixties when the windbag Republican leader, Senator Dirksen of Illinois, announced his support for the second Reconstruction of the South. It seems that during a lonely midnight stroll in the deserted Capitol, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln appeared to the Senator and instructed him how to vote.
A great deal of national force has been exerted in the last half century to make Dixie give up its peculiarities and join the American mainstream. It seems to have worked only too well.
Then too, our State has been the final destination of many, many people from elsewhere. In fact, we seem to have replaced Florida as the favourite resting place for well-heeled persons from colder climes. Half our people, nearly, are from out-of-state — which means that even a higher percentage of Republicans are and a yet higher percentage of the Republican donors likely to be invited to such events. Many of our new citizens are fine folks, but it is a sad fact that the Democrats, white and black, are more native-born than the Republicans.
Further in our defense, I might point out that Southerners came out of Reconstruction as the stepchildren and whipping boys of a corrupt and cynical national politics. The only way to get ahead was to beat the crooks at their own game — ergo, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. And thus the most important cause of the present degradation of South Carolina: the evil legacy of Strom Thurmond. Thurmond’s masterpiece of a self-centered career left us with the simple visceral reflex that politics consists entirely of two things: booty and patriotism, the latter being defined by support for the military. Unlike John C. Calhoun, no present-day South Carolina politician would ever leave the side with the patronage to dispense merely on a matter of principle or policy.
Grandmother, who was always right, said you should always have something good to say about people, even if you could not avoid calling attention to their shortcomings. To their credit, I think my Carolinians are motivated by a basically healthy instinct of loyalty. Some bad guys hurt us. Honour requires that we hurt them back. Under such circumstances, it is bad form to criticize the home team, especially if there is a losing season because the coach is something of a dunce.
We should never underestimate the power of inertia and cultural lag in public life. Most folks had their formative political experiences in the Vietnam era when opposition to the war usually looked like disloyalty in word and deed. (The real reasons for opposing the war made little impact on the people at large at the time.) The trouble with such virtue, of course, is that unguided by intelligence it can attach itself to very unworthy objects. To sum up, my people, alas, suffer from the same maladies that are epidemic among Americans in general — shallow and myopic perspective due to the scarcity of intelligent, honest, and far-sighted leadership.
Dr. Wilson [send him mail] has always tended to agree with Burt Reynolds in one of his movies, when he remarked of the local crime boss that he was a murderer, a thief, and a pervert, but worst of all he was from out-of-state.