This morning I had a very pleasant breakfast at the usual place with Philippe Boulet-Gercourt, the U.S. Bureau Chief for Le Nouvel Observateur, France’s largest weekly newsmagazine. I forgot to take a picture of him, but I found the video above from 2008 (I think), in which I think he’s telling the folks back home that Obama was going to win the election. That’s what “Obama va gagner” means, right? Alas, I have no French, although I’ve always felt that I understand Segolene Royal perfectly. Fortunately, Philippe’s English is superb.
It was my first encounter with a French journalist since I shot this video of Cyprien d’Haese shooting video of me back in 2008, in a supremely Marshall McLuhan moment. If you’ll recall, I was interviewed by a lot of national and foreign journalists in the weeks and months leading up to the presidential primaries here. (You may also recall that a lot of them came to me because of my blog, not because I was editorial page editor of the state’s largest newspaper. Philippe, of course, also contacted me because of the blog, although he was aware of my former association, and expressed his kind concern for my joblessness.)
He had come to Columbia from New York, which has been his home for 14 years, to ask about “this summer uprising among the conservatives, peaking with the Joe Wilson incident,” as he had put it in his e-mail.
Well, to begin with, I disputed his premise. I don’t think there has been a resurgence of conservatives or of the Republican Party, which is still groping for its identity in the wake of last year’s election. What we’ve seen in the case of Joe Wilson — the outpouring of support, monetary and otherwise, after the moment in which he embarrassed the 2nd District — was merely the concentration of political elements that are always there, and are neither stronger nor weaker because of what Joe has said and done. Just as outrage over Joe’s outburst has expressed itself (unfortunately) in an outpouring (I’m trying to see how many words with the prefix “out-” I can use in this sentence) of material support for the unimpressive Rob Miller, the incident was a magnet for the forces of political polarization, in South Carolina and across the country.
What I tried to do is provide historical and sociological context for the fact that Joe Wilson is the natural representative for the 2nd District, and will probably be re-elected (unless someone a lot stronger than Rob Miller emerges and miraculously overcomes his huge warchest). It’s not about Obama (although resistance to the “expansion of government” that he represents is a factor) and it’s not about race (although the fact that districts are gerrymandered to make the 2nd unnaturally white, and the 6th unnaturally black, helps define the districts and their representatives).
In other words, I said a lot of stuff that I said back in this post.
We spoke about a number of other topics as well, some related, some not:
He asked about the reaction in South Carolina to Obama’s election. I told him that obviously, the Democratic minority — which had been energized to an unprecedented degree in the primary, having higher turnout than the Republicans for the first time in many years — was jubilant. The reaction among the Republican minority was more like resignation. Republicans had known that McCain would win South Carolina, but Obama would win the election. I explained that McCain’s win here did not express a rejection of Obama (as some Democrats have chosen to misinterpret), but simply political business as usual — it would have been shocking had the Republican, any Republican, not won against any national Democrat. I spoke, as I explained to him, from the unusual perspective of someone who liked both Obama and McCain very much, but voted for McCain. I think I drew the distinction fairly well between what I think and what various subsets of Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina think…
That got us on the topic of McCain-Bush in 2000, because as I explained to Philippe, I was destined to support McCain even over someone I liked as much as Obama, because I had waited eight years for the opportunity to make up for what happened here in 2000. Philippe agreed that the world would have been a better place had McCain been elected then, but I gather that he subscribes to the conventional wisdom (held by many of you here on the blog) that the McCain of 2008 was much diminished.
Philippe understood 2000, but as a Frenchman, he had trouble understanding how the country re-elected Bush in 2004 (And let me quickly say, for those of you who may be quick to bridle at the French, that Philippe was very gentlemanly about this, the very soul of politeness). So I explained to him how I came to write an endorsement of Bush again in 2004 — a very negative endorsement which indicted him for being wrong about many things, but in the end an endorsement. There was a long explanation of that, and a short one. Here’s the short one: John Kerry. And Philippe understood why a newspaper that generally reflects its state (close to three-fourths of those we endorsed during my tenure won their general election contests) would find it hard to endorse Kerry, once I put it that way. (As those of you who pay attention know, under my leadership The State endorsed slightly more Democrats than Republicans overall, but never broke its string of endorsing Republicans for the presidency, although we came close in 2008.)
Anyway, when we finished our long breakfast (I hadn’t eaten much because I was talking too much, drinking coffee all the while) I gave him a brief “tour” of the Midlands as seen from the 25th floor of Columbia’s tallest building, then gave him numbers for several other sources who might be helpful. He particularly was interested in folks from Joe’s Lexington County base, as well as some political science types, so I referred him to:
- Rep. Kenny Bingham, the S.C. House Majority Leader who recently held a “Welcome Home” event for Joe Wilson at his (Kenny’s) home.
- Rep. Nikki Haley, who until recently was the designated Mark Sanford candidate for governor, before she had occasion to distance herself.
- Sen. Nikki Setzler (I gave him all the Lexington County Nikkis I knew), who could describe the county’s politics from the perspective of the minority party.
- Blease Graham, the USC political science professor who recently retired but remained plugged in and knowledgeable. (Philippe remarked upon Blease’s unusual name, which started me on a tangent about his ancestor Cole Blease, Ben Tillman, N.G. Gonzales, etc.)
- Walter Edgar, the author of the definitive history of our state.
- Neal Thigpen, the longtime political scientist at Francis Marion University who tends to comment from a Republican perspective.
- Jack Bass, the ex-journalist and political commentator known for his biography of Strom Thurmond and for his liberal Democratic point of view.
I also suggested he stop in at the Gervais Street Starbucks for a downtown Columbia perspective, and the Sunset Restaurant in West Columbia.
I look forward to reading his article, although I might have to get some of y’all to help me with understanding it. With my background in Spanish and two years of Latin I can generally understand French better when written than spoken, but I still might need some help…