Columns » Ernest Dumas

South Carolina and us



Arkansas followed South Carolina out of the union 150 years ago in a fit of sympathy over the attack at Fort Sumter and we have been yoked to the Palmetto State ever since. After South Carolina's political behavior the past year, especially in the primaries that we shared with the state last week, it is time that Arkansas re-examined the relationship. At a minimum, the Legislative Council should do a study.

Arkansas reveled in the careers and escapades of Bill Clinton, Wilbur Mills and Tim Hutchinson, so sex has not been absent from our politics. Neither has random ignorance. But South Carolina has taken them beyond where Arkansas needs to follow.

For much of our shared history, where South Carolina went Arkansas was sure to follow: out of the union although with some reluctance and tardiness, into the Southeastern Conference. Jim Johnson lifted from John C. Calhoun of South Carolina the idea of interposing the state government to stop the United States from integrating our schools and Arkansas voters, to their regret, ratified it. Whenever South Carolina comes up with an economic-development model Arkansas imitates it. Arkansas stole the idea of having a lottery for college scholarships from South Carolina, copied its lottery law and finally just lifted its overpaid lottery executives and paid them lots more. We will be lucky if we do not imitate its results: 12 percent unemployment and a declining college-going rate.

Arkansawyers have always fared better when we eschewed the South Carolina example such as in 1948, when young Sid McMath persuaded us to shun Governor Ben T. Laney's love affair with South Carolina's Strom Thurmond and vote big instead for Harry S. Truman, or a dozen years earlier when our own Joe T. Robinson, the majority leader of the U. S. Senate and the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, called a black preacher to the podium at Philadelphia to give the invocation, in defiance of South Carolina. Cotton Ed Smith, the state's great race-baiting senator, stomped out of the hall just as the preacher started intoning.

How much better off would we — and everyone else — have been had we listened to James L. Petigru, the former South Carolina attorney general, who mourned after his state seceded from the United States that South Carolina was too small for a country but too big for an insane asylum.

Petigru's wisdom has been tested the past year by the escapades of South Carolina politicians and voters. Exactly what is the optimum size for an insane asylum?

First there was Governor Mark Sanford's lie that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail when he actually was on another tryst with his Latin lover in Buenos Aires on the taxpayers' tab. Sanford, who was going to be the family-values and limited-government candidate for president in 2012, resisted impeachment and his Republican colleagues let him off the hook. Then there was Rep. Joe Wilson who broke 200 years of decorum and shouted "You lie" when President Obama was saying something truthful (his health-care reforms wouldn't include illegal immigrants) in his address to Congress in September.

The national pundits were breathless last week over the victories of women in the big races in Arkansas, South Carolina and a couple of other states. They equated the triumphs of Arkansas's prosy and circumspect senator, Blanche Lincoln, and Nikki Haley, South Carolina's tawdry Republican star.

Haley, the beautiful daughter of Punjabi immigrants, fell just shy of the votes to win the Republican nomination for governor over a bunch of opponents. She overwhelmed the field in spite of confessions by two GOP political operatives that they had recent affairs with the wife and mother, and Republican attacks upon her ethnicity and Sikh religion. (She says she attends both Sikh and Methodist services.) One Republican colleague in the legislature said both she and President Obama were "ragheads." Haley, who is a protege of Governor Sanford along with one of the confessed adulterers, denied the affairs and said the accusations were just more Republican dirty tricks of the kind that she and Governor Sanford had been trying to expurgate.

On the same day, South Carolina Democratic voters looking for someone to run for the Senate against the extremist Jim DeMint, nominated an unemployed man facing a criminal indictment on sex charges. Al Greene spent no money on the campaign except his $10,400 filing fee, which someone apparently sneaked to him illegally. He had signed an affidavit as a pauper to get a public defender for his trial.

In post-election interviews, which was the first time most people heard or saw him, Greene's replies consisted almost entirely of the words "no," "yes" and "no comment." The suspicion is that Republicans put him in the race in hopes that African-American voters, who make up half the vote in Democratic primaries, would confuse him with Al Green, the legendary soul musician from Forrest City, Ark., where he started a popular blues band. They apparently did, although the returns indicated there were other problems. In many precincts Greene got far more votes than people who actually went to the polls.

The loser has asked the South Carolina Democratic State Committee to hold a new primary. The Federal Election Commission is investigating Greene's nimble financing.

We can appreciate South Carolina's honoring an Arkansas legend because we typically disdain the great African-American icons from the Delta. We should recognize South Carolina's greater cultural sensitivity but let's keep everything else separate.

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