S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1010.bashing.htm

COMMENTARY
Southern Strategy 2.0 takes hold in South Carolina
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

OCT. 10, 2004 -- Picture a room filled with Republican strategists. It’s probably no longer filled with smoke. Instead, it smells like Old Spice and features a bunch of white guys in suit pants, white shirts, sweat stains and loosened ties.

One of them says, “Well, how about if we go after bald-headed folks?”

“Nah, that won’t work,” a balding guy says. “There’s too many of them on our side. But how about alcoholics? Or philanderers?”

A third says, “Nope, same problem.” He thought for a moment. Inspiration hit: “But we could go after gays.”

“Yeah, and lesbians,” the first guy adds.

“Heck,” the bald guy says with a smarmy grin, “We could even go after single pregnant women.”

RELATED STORY

In the Sunday edition of the Post and Courier, reporter Schuyler Kropf analyzes how gay-bashing isn't too uncommon in South Carolina politics.

OK, the conversation certainly never happened. But with recent comments by U.S. Senate candidate Jim DeMint and another elected GOP candidate from South Carolina, it seems like some in the party are up to old tricks of trying to win votes through dividing people by capitalizing on fears.

Now almost 40 years after the Southern Strategy of the late 1960s that preyed on white fears about blacks to win white votes for the GOP, there’s a new, more subtle version. Call it Southern Strategy 2.0. But at its heart, it’s the same old thing - - demonization of one group of people to touch a nerve with a larger group to win its votes.

Rumblings of the Strategy at work came in hate-filled campaign rhetoric a couple of weeks ago from surly S.C. Rep. John Graham Altman, R-Charleston. In a letter asking GOP friends for help, Altman wrote (among other things), “We’ve got to stop that ultra liberal Democrat crowd and the militant homosexual crowd before they do great harm.”

A few days later, a staffer of GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jim DeMint sent an e-mail to the wrong person that included derogatory comments about gays and lesbians. DeMint said the staffer was disciplined, not fired, for the “extremely inappropriate remarks.”

ALSO THIS WEEK

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CORRECTION: Committee, not conference

SCORECARD: Who's up and down

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Then came another attack on gays during the televised debate between DeMint and Democrat Inez Tenenbaum. Toward the end, DeMint unloaded a blockbuster – his view that gay teachers shouldn’t teach in the public school system.

Tenenbaum said DeMint’s comment was “Un-American.” And Republican columnist Michael Graham observed, “In a single moment - - in a single statement - - DeMint may have transformed himself from an ‘innovative conservative’ to ‘homophobic kook.’”

But DeMint then made everything worse. Two days later in explaining the answer, he poured salt on the wound by bashing another group. This time, he said single, pregnant women shouldn’t teach in public schools either.

Is there a pattern here? Many observers are stunned. After DeMint dropped two bombshells in a row, they wonder whether he had a reason to make the polarizing comments, or whether his true convictions just slipped out in an otherwise controlled, vanilla campaign.

Eventually, DeMint apologized for his comment about single, pregnant women. He said, “I clearly said something as a dad that I just shouldn’t have said. And I apologize.”

At best, it’s a half-hearted sentiment. It sounds like he doesn’t really believe it – that he still believes unwed pregnant women shouldn’t teach in public schools, but he knows he has to say something to turn around his campaign’s nosedive.

Unfortunately, neither DeMint nor Altman have apologized to gay South Carolinians. Their party should demand it. The longer these candidates refuse to apologize, the more it looks like they believe and peddle in the politics of division.

Let’s hope for something more than this cynical Southern Strategy 2.0. Let’s hope some politicians in our state aren’t embroiled in a cynical pattern of demonizing small groups of people based on their sexual orientation or some other label.

South Carolina cannot base its future on such division and discrimination. It’s only if people work together – Republicans, Democrats, black, white, gay, straight, haired and bald – that the state will move forward.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
10/10: Debatable

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:

CORRECTION
Committee, not conference

OCT. 10, 2004 -- In last week's column on how a new rationale is sweeping through SC politics (Statehouse Report, 10/3), we reported that an isolated wetlands bill got derailed at the last moment in a House-Senate conference committee. Actually, it didn't make it that far. It got sidetracked in a Senate committee that kept it from getting to the floor. We apologize for the error and thank a sharp reader who caught the error.


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The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Merrill. Hats off to S.C. Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, who was elected House majority leader this week.

Carolina Investors. It's good news a federal judge has approved a $41.8 million settlement in the fracas over Carolina Investors. While the investors won't get all of their money back, they'll get at least 18 cents on the dollar, compared to the dime on the dollar they were expecting.

Thumbs down

Sanford. The most unsafe place in South Carolina may be between Gov. Mark Sanford and the media. The fellow seems to have a pathological desire to hog the limelight, as highlighted below in Megaphone.

Hunley. The pressure is on S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster to look into some financial deals involving the H.L. Hunley. Likelihood it will happen before the November elections? Virtually none.

DeMint. Kudos to U.S. Senate candidate Jim DeMint for offending gay South Carolinians, then offending single, pregnant teachers, then apologizing to the teachers and then reoffending gay teachers for not apologizing to them.

Bailey. More resume questions are haunting S.C. Rep. George Bailey, R-St. George, in his tough reelection campaign.


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