Why can’t we be smart like our sister?

THINK OF South Carolina as a restless schoolboy. He doesn’t test well, but he’s got loads of potential; everybody says so. He’s a well-meaning kid, but has an attention-deficit problem. There he sits, as far to the back of the class as he can get away with. As the teacher drones on about science and stuff, he wonders whether he can get away with spending his lunch money on candy again. Then, just as he’s turned to calculating the number of days left until school is out and he can go to the beach (he’s very good at this sort of math), his reverie is rudely interrupted.
    The teacher stands over him, her eyes just boring into him over the glasses on the end of her nose. She speaks directly to him, demanding to know, “Why can’t you be smart like your sister?”
    The poor kid hears that a lot.
    My own rather feckless, aimless mind (I was born here, you know) has been running along these lines all week, as I’ve been repeatedly reminded of how well our smart sister has applied herself. Not my sister, personally, but South Carolina’s. Her name is Queensland, and she’s our sister state in Australia.
    Her former premier, Peter Beattie, spoke at my Rotary meeting Monday, although I didn’t realize it at the time because I slipped out of the meeting early (I’m telling you, I am that boy). Mr. Beattie is the one who suggested the whole “sister-state” economic development relationship when he was in office back in the ’90s. He got the idea after a visit here in 1996. He had come to study how our state had taken advantage of the Atlanta Olympics, serving as a training site and hosting the women’s marathon trials. He hoped his state could do the same with the Sydney games.
    As things turned out, though, our “sister” would go on to do some things we should emulate. As premier, he pushed a strategy that would lead to Australia’s “Sunshine State” getting a new alias: “The Smart State.”
    During a week when the S.C. Senate Finance Committee was reacting to tough fiscal times by cutting back on the endowed chairs program and letting K-12 funding slide backward, I kept getting my nose rubbed in the smartness of our sister despite my best efforts to miss the point. On Wednesday, someone sent me a copy of remarks Mr. Beattie — who has been lecturing at USC’s Walker
Institute of International & Area Studies recently — had prepared
for a speech this coming Tuesday to the Global Business Forum in Columbia. I skimmed over what he had written…

    Twenty years ago, Queensland was a traditional rocks-and-crops economy where education was not regarded as a priority. But with increasing globalisation, my government knew this was not enough to compete with the new emerging markets of China and India…. We publicly said innovate or stagnate were our choices.
    As a result we developed a strategy called Smart State. This involved a major overhaul of our education and training systems… the cutting edge of developments in biotechnology, energy, information and communications…
    The result has been… Queensland’s lowest unemployment rate in three decades… budget surpluses and a AAA credit rating. Our economic growth has outperformed the nation’s growth for 10 consecutive years and was done on the back of competitive state taxes. Our focus has been long-term and education reform was central.
    Since 1998, the Queensland Government has invested almost $3 billion to boost innovation and R&D infrastructure…

    … but I didn’t have time to read it all just then. Being that unfocused boy, I did find time to write a pointless post on my blog about how “For some reason, Queensland keeps coming up a lot this week for me….” That night, I was attending a lecture by Salman Rushdie, who had been brought here by Janette Turner Hospital, the novelist and USC professor, who as it happens grew up in Queensland.
    So guess who I ran into at the reception that night for Mr. Rushdie? Yep — Peter Beattie. (The coincidences were starting to get as weird and mystical as something out of a novel by, well, Salman Rushdie.)
    Cooperating with the inevitable, I introduced myself, and he told me eagerly about the exciting high-tech opportunities he saw here in South Carolina, what with the endowed chairs and Innovista, and our state’s advantages in the fields of hydrogen power, clean coal technology and biotech.
    Biotech, by the way, has been a big one for Queensland, employing 3,200 people, generating $4 billion a year in revenues, and leading to such concrete advances as Ian Fraser’s new human papillomavirus vaccine, which is now protecting 13 million women worldwide from cervical cancer — just so you know it’s not all pie in the sky.
    When I asked him about some of the less-than-visionary (in my view, not his) decisions being made by S.C. political leaders as we spoke, he insisted that was not his place: “I’m a guest here,” he said in that wonderful Down Under accent. “Queensland is like South Carolina. Manners are important.”
    He spoke instead about the opportunities we had in common, and about the fact that places such as Queensland and South Carolina “have to innovate or be left behind.”
    South Carolina, so used to lagging behind the other kids, truly does possess the potential to be a “smart state” like our sister. But too many easily distracted boys over at the State House keep staring out the classroom window…

17 thoughts on “Why can’t we be smart like our sister?

  1. mattheus mei

    Brilliant Metaphor, and one that couldn’t be any truer to describe our state. Perhaps the reason for our morose detachment and ‘looking out the window’ mentality is the sheer lack of political competition that imbues our leaders with this sense of self-servitude that creates a myopic and distorted view as to what true progress and success is – which is now manifesting itself in the notion of political infighting in the State’s dominant party – the Republicans as they seek to define who is more Republican.
    I don’t mention the democrats because ideologically they may say nice things and say that they’re for a different approach but they’re not, on paper (for the most part) they’re exactly like the majority of the current shade of Republicans. They only advance their agenda, if they really have one other than self preservation, by bending over backwards for their Republican overseers in an attempt to maintain the pathetic status quo.
    Geez, sorry to sound like a cynic on such a lovely Sunday morning in a beautiful state that at its core and in the hands of its people really does have a lot of potential. I just can’t bring myself to really see that potential in the current slate of political leaders.

  2. david

    On a national level there is no practical difference between the ways democrats and republicans govern. Republicans have proven in the last ten years or so that they are every bit as profligate and leftist as are democrats.
    On the state level, there appear to be pretty stark ideological differences between democrats and republicans in South Carolina, but I don’t think the crop of republican majority of rabble rousers and ne’er-do-wells we have presently are any sort of faithful representation of true conservative principle or practice.
    Brad is right: There is no defining vision held in the majority party in South Carolina. We get stilted and empty rhetoric from the governor…and disarticulated, unthoughtful tax cuts from the legislature. Apparently, these tax cuts are the only conservative artifacts that survive in the grotesque caricature of the republican party we have remaining in this state. And the legislature the republicans hold majority over is little more than a bunch of gangs that are beholden to vociferous pet constituencies and determined to keep each other from gaining meaningful power.
    What we have in South Carolina is antithesis of vision. We have many yammering miniature “visions” each of which is just strong enough to keep the others from gaining any ground or making any progress. In this environment, no one of these miniature visions is ever seen to be the correct one by a majority of people and so adopted as a true VISION. And our state legislators (bar scene in Star Wars comes to mind) keep this rabble alive. David

  3. Brad Warthen

    True. We don’t ever pick a direction.
    Government in South Carolina is “conservative” in only one sense (I don’t count tax cuts as conservative because they are classically liberal; I can be pedantic that way): It militates against doing ANYTHING in any concerted, thought-out way. And doing nothing preserves the status quo.
    That, of course, is what our form of government in South Carolina — weak executive, real authority diffused throught the legislative body — is meant to achieve. It made sense as a way for the landed, slaveholding gentry to keep things the way they were, because that benefited them.
    This scattered, unaccountable system serves no one well today. Nor does the political culture that fosters it, and is in turn reinforced by it.

  4. david

    Hmmm. How are tax cuts “classically liberal?” I don’t get that, although it is probably true somehow and I just don’t have the knowledge base to understand how.
    In any case, no matter what the “classic” definition of tax cuts may be, the ideas of limited government intrusion and interference in private life and closely controlled tax rates that appropriately reflect this limited government are core conservative values.
    If one accepts these as core conservative values, then I agree 100% with you that what we’ve seen in the last five years in all these disjointed, piecemeal tax cuts has been a slow motion car wreck. These tax reduction measures, while popularly welcome, have really been nothing more than payoffs to vocal and angry constituencies that have really furthered cratered what was already a dorked up system of government. I maintain that they are bizarre conservative relics which are unattached to present reality, not products of leadership or statesmanship. There is no courage in cutting property tax rates in the legislature and passing the resulting time bomb to local governments. And as always, with the present economic downturn, we are beginning to see the return of the body snatchers as cowardly legislators make across the board cuts and exercise no real leadership. This is fun…or at least I suppose it would be if it were happening in someone elses’ state. Unfortunately, it is happening again in mine. As it has four or five times in the last eleven years. David

  5. david

    You know, even the lowly amoeba learns to swim towards the light, surround food and avoid harm. Why can’t our legislators learn from the recnt past and not keep doing the same harmful things repeatedly?
    Swim towards the light Jake! Swim towards the light Gilda!

  6. Doug Ross

    If you don’t change the players, the game will always be the same.
    Until someone decides to either vote out or term limit the legislators, this is all a waste of newsprint.
    Incumbency is the root cause.

  7. david

    Incumbency is a twofold problem.
    Incumbents have spent a lont time engineering tremendous advantages for themselves against any challengers.
    The other part of incumbency is exactly what you say Doug: Voters must be essentially satisfied with the way things are, no matter what they may say. If they weren’t, I believe we could have term limits this fall.
    I don’t think we’ll get them. I do think we’ll get basically the same old stagnant, corrosive, expensive and ineffective government we’ve had for so long.
    If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. David

  8. Lee Muller

    If Queensland required tax increases for all this wonderful new spending, then their government was a failure. Really smart states have leaders who know how to replace wasteful, corrupt, useless, and outdated programs with better, more efficient ones.

  9. Doug Ross

    Does Queensland have an $18 million dollar slush fund for its legislators to use to fund parades, okra struts, etc.? Does Queensland have any Civil War era junk that the taxpayers are obligated to pay to support so that one politician can live out his Confederate fantasies?
    All the money required to do what is necessary and/or good for the entire state is already there in the SC budget. And more… too bad we allow power hungry politicians to have free reign.

  10. Doug Ross

    Today’s editorial in USA Today captures the cause of what’s wrong with American government today:
    “The sad truth about America’s current political culture is that it no longer looks at the tax code as a way of efficiently raising revenue to provide for the common good. If it did, it would not tolerate a system so complex and subject to manipulation. Rather, the income tax has morphed into a way of appealing to broad demographic groups and narrow lobbies to achieve political and policy goals. Groups that have influence get tax breaks. Groups that don’t end up paying, in dollars and time.”

    My view:
    Term limits + flat tax + privatized Social Security + mandatory balanced budget with no deficit spending + line item veto = a better America.

  11. Richard L. Wolfe

    Does Queensland, ( Even the name is pompous) operate under a written National Constitution like us? Does Queensland operate under an open border policy that allows millions of undocumented, unskilled, uneducated illgegals to flood their markets?Does Queensland have a large percentage of its citizens trying to catch up economically, socially and educationlly because they were second class citizens for hundreds of years.
    If you answered no to any of these questions then the comparision is invalid.

  12. david

    I tell you, I can just about tolerate undocumented Mexicans, but those illgegals? I hate ’em!
    I don’t really understand the rant about Queensland ~ certainly its’ name is no more pompous than Georgetown, Charleston, Maryland, Kingstree or any other of hundreds of names we have in our country derived from our colonial days. Sheesh! There may be valid reasons that the comparison between us and them doesn’t work, but not liking their name seems pretty silly.
    I’m just sayin. David

  13. david

    Then of course there’s the whole Virginia – West Virginia problem. Talk about your pomposity…David

  14. Jim

    Incumbency is only the tip of the iceberg.
    The reason why the people don’t vote out the legislators is because in this state, the voters don’t choose the legislators, the legislators choose the voters.
    Districts are carefully drawn to guarantee a victory for one party or the other. A Democrat will never win Jake Knotts’s seat. A Republican will never win Darrell Jackson’s seat. Considering the amount of power each individual Senator has, nothing will ever get done in this State.
    Our legislators don’t deal with the important issues because they don’t have to. Look at the Confederate flag issue. Glenn McConnell can keep the flag flying as long as he damn well pleases, no matter how much money it costs the state. He’s never going to lose.
    There are no consequences for bad behavior in the legislature. Therefore, there is no progress.

  15. cufflink smith

    So there we were under cover of dusk, waiting in the lobby while six school board members flexed their financial muscle behind closed doors to contract the services of an interim superintendent for four months.
    And did they ever. They’re giving the poor fellow, who’s already collecting retirement from 40 years of S.C. schooling, every bit of the $160,000 per annum they paid the guy they just fired, and they’re going to pay the new guy on top of his new salary to perform a search for a permanent superintendent.
    That’s triple dipping, but out in the lobby, the three of us — two who represent the public and the lawyer who does the school board’s administrative contracts — didn’t know what was coming. The lawyer brought up blogging, which he said he didn’t do. And somebody brought up Brad Warthen.
    Which prompted this comment from the lawyer: “Poor old Brad Warthen, he just can’t write anything without letting you know how smart he thinks he is.”
    And so it goes.

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