What’s the difference between ugly good ol’ boy populism and Palin/Haley populism? Lipstick.

Sorry not to be forthcoming with a post on the Sarah Palin/Nikki Haley event last evening. I’ve been too busy — my baby granddaughter spent the night with us last night, my youngest daughter came home from Charlotte and my wife and I had a lot of errands to run this morning (including, alas, taking her car in for several hundred dollars worth of repairs).

So I was living life instead of blogging. But I should add that I was glad I couldn’t post right away, because I’ve been… depressed… since that event. As I’ve turned over what to say about it in my minds (I almost corrected that to the singular after typing the S, but then realized that plural is correct; I am of several minds on all this), I’ve been unable to think of anything constructive to say. And even when I’m going to be scathingly critical of something, I want it to be for a purpose. I want there to be a constructive point in mind, something to add to a conversation that would help us all move forward somehow.

But I haven’t arrived. Instead, I’m feeling a level of alienation that would make Benjamin Braddock and Holden Caulfield seem happy and well-adjusted.

Part of it, but just a small part, is this problem I’ve been wrestling with of my increased sense of alienation from Republicans in general. I don’t like it; it runs against my grain. To react with constant negativity to Republicans and all their works suggest partisanship, an affinity for Democrats, to most people. Not to me — Lord knows, I still find the Democrats off-putting enough, and am still pleased not to identify with them either — but to other people. And when you write a blog, how you are perceived by others matters. But I can’t help it. While the Dems are merely no more irritating than usual these days, the Republicans have so aggressively, actively offended my sense of propriety and my intelligence as they have flailed about since the 2008 election, that even tiny things set me off now. I no longer have to see one of those maddening TV commercials — like the two I saw last night, Andre Bauer talking first and foremost about the need for smaller government (as if THAT were the main problem facing a state that’s laying off teachers left and right) and Henry McMaster talking about the “radicals” running Washington (as if that were any less crazy than the claims of the birthers). Now, just small things send me deeper into my funk. This morning I saw a sign for a candidate who had only one thing to say about himself, that he was a “Rock Solid… Republican” — as though that identification were sufficient, that reassurance that I am not one of them; I’m one of us. The sheer, obnoxious, impervious smugness of it…

(If I were a Democrat, I wouldn’t worry about this. They can console themselves with the fantasy that all they have to do is win the election, and their troubles are over. I’m always conscious of the fact that as many as 40 percent of voters would still be Republicans — just as between 30 and 40 percent are Democrats now, even with a Republican governing majority — and you’d still have to deal with them and reason with them if you really want to move our state forward. Especially in our Legislative State, you sort of have to build consensus to get things done. So when either party seems to be trying to drift beyond reason — say, when Dems were in the grips of Bush Derangement Syndrome — that worries me.)

But the alienation I’m feeling standing in that crowd of Haley and Palin supporters is different. Partly because these women aren’t positioning themselves as Republicans. On the contrary, they are relishing their animosity toward the people in their party who already hold a majority of public offices in this state. They are proud to antagonize and run against those Republicans with greater experience and understanding than they have. They turn their inexperience and lack up understanding of issues from a weakness into a virtue. Their fans cheer loudest when they hold up their naivete as a battle flag.

A little over a year ago, Nikki Haley was just an idealistic sophomore legislator who was touchingly frustrated that her seniors in her party didn’t roll over and do what she wanted them to do when she wanted them to do it. It didn’t really worry me when I would try to explain to her how inadequate such bumper sticker nostrums as “run government like a business” were (based in a lack of understanding of the essential natures not only of government, but of business, the thing she professes to know so well), and she would shake her head and smile and be unmoved. That was OK. Time and experience would take care of that, I thought. She was very young, and had experienced little. Understanding would come, and I felt that on the whole she was still a young lawmaker with potential.

I reckoned without this — this impatient, populist, drive for power BASED in the appeal of simplistic, demagogic opposition to experience itself. It’s an ugly thing, this sort of anti-intellectualism of which Sarah Palin has become a national symbol. This attitude that causes her to smile a condescending, confident smile (after all, the crowd there is on HER side) at protesters — protesters I didn’t even notice until she called attention to them — and tell them that they should stick around and maybe they would learn something. If a 65-year-old male intellectual with a distinguished public career said that to a crowd, everyone would understand it was ugly and contemptuous. But Sarah is so charming about it, so disarming! How could it be ugly?

Her evocations — echoed by Nikki — of traditional, plain values (and complementary exhibition of contempt for anyone who disagrees) seem so positive and good and right to the crowd that cheers such lines as Nikki’s about how good it is that traditional politicians are “afraid” (which, coming from different lips, would send a chill down spines). They don’t see the ugliness. After all, see how lovely the package is! See how they smile!

The thing is, I probably agree with these people about so much that they are FOR — traditional moral values, hard work, family, patriotism. And mine isn’t your left-handed liberal kind of patriotism (you know, as in “I oppose the war and criticize my country because I’m a REAL patriot,” etc.). No, in fact, my own kind of patriotism is probably even more martial and militaristic than that of these folks, if that’s possible, given my background. And I would never take a back seat to any of them in my belief in American exceptionalism. I may not like the smug way they talk about these things, but the values are there.

It’s the stuff that they’re AGAINST that leaves me cold. Paying taxes. Government itself. Moderation. Patience with people who disagree. Experience. Deep understanding of issues. They are hostile  to these things.

And their certainty, their smugness, is off-putting in the extreme.

But as I stood there in that crowd and listened to the cheers at almost every questionable statement those smiling ladies muttered, I despaired of ever being able to explain any of this to these folks, of ever having a meeting of the minds. It’s THEIR alienation that makes me feel so alienated…

And that’s what has me down. I hope it will pass. But it wasn’t a good way to spend a Friday evening.

78 thoughts on “What’s the difference between ugly good ol’ boy populism and Palin/Haley populism? Lipstick.

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    Actually,Sarah Palin famously (in some circles) wears Chanel Glossimer in “Giggle”–a lip *gloss* shade that says it all…

  2. Doug Ross

    The first notion you have to get over is that experience makes a better politician. Its not brain surgery. Its not even auto mechanics. We can see evidence in the legislature and in the governors race that you don’t even have to be intelligent or perhaps even literate.

    Political experience just leads to an increased sense of entitlement.

  3. Bob

    My wife and I just visited the Gettysburg Battlefield. It exists to remind us of how violent conflict can be when our country is extremely polarized. We cried several times as we thought of the lives lost, all Americans.

    It seems this lesson is lost to many politicians now. They want extremism, or at least feel they need to please the extreme right or left to remain in power.

    I hope those of us in the middle can de-escalate this conflict. If not, will we have to suffer the lesson with another Civil War?

  4. Ralph Hightower

    As you said in your blog:

    If a 65-year-old male intellectual with a distinguished public career said that to a crowd, everyone would understand it was ugly and contemptuous. But Sarah is so charming about it, so disarming! How could it be ugly?

    All I have to offer is what we often say Down South: “Bless their hearts…”

    Like you, I cannot fathom how Nikki proposes to “run government as a business.” All citizens of South Carolina are “consumers” of state government. If a citizen doesn’t like the products or services produced by the State of South Carolina, then I have one suggestion: Move! There are 49 other choices.

  5. Nick Nielsen

    Lipstick? Shucks, I thought it was the heels.

    We can always hope that those Tea Party candidates that do get elected ramp up the rhetoric and so alienate the other members of their respective houses that they render themselves ineffective. I expect that will be the case at the national level, but I’m not holding out much hope for it happening in South Carolina.

  6. Lynn

    In an earlier message you commented on the tendency to overstate things, escalating the ugly rhetoric in our politics. Well, you’ve done it here. Your description of “your left-handed liberal kind of patriotism (you know, as in “I oppose the war and criticize my country because I’m a REAL patriot,” etc.).” seems to me to be a case in point. The added emphasis is yours; apparently you are hearing an implicit contrast with “unreal” patriotism of government supporters, but I don’t hear these statements the same way. In this statement (without your added emphasis) I hear a defense against those who assert that anyone who disagrees with the government is a traitor to our country.

  7. Phillip

    What you are writing about here is all about coming to a realization that some of us were trying to encourage you to get to in 2008 during the election, when the signs of the GOP’s rightward/kooky drift were already there. You didn’t want to believe it because of your allegiance to McCain (or your idea of what McCain had once been), but the direction the campaign took and the choice of Palin were clear signs where things were headed. McCain has kept going in the same direction, burying his record of honor, just to try to survive within his own party, poor guy.

    The point I made then, and make now, is that trying to position yourself as a moderate between the two major parties is great in theory and very admirable but doesn’t work when one party pushes itself so far to the extreme. The problem is, where do voters like you go? The Democratic party, if it pursues a moderate course, stands to benefit from this suicide pact the GOP seems to be embarking on, as described by WaPo’s Dana Milbank:


    Good to see you ‘fess up to an embrace of American exceptionalism. The problem I have with “American exceptionalism” is that it very quickly can mutate from a belief in the specialness and greatness of the American “idea” or experiment (which is what I believe you feel) into something else, a belief that Americans (or certain ones), are themselves “better” than other human beings on the planet, i.e., an American life is worth X number of “collateral damage” civilian deaths among non-Americans, or that God loves Americans more than French people etc., etc. That might be what you were picking up on at the rally.

    Also, Brad, please give the Bush Derangement thing a rest. That meme was started by the right-wing fringe to begin with and you only play into their hands by using it. Think for a moment of all the legislation that Bush got through with not-inconsequential Democratic support in the Congress. Compare that to the unified resistance of the GOP now. Sure many people vociferously protested what they felt was an unnecessary war, but compare the tone of the 2004 Democratic convention (where Obama was the keynoter) to what will be the GOP convention in 2012. As I correctly predicted on your blog in 2008, Obama Derangement Syndrome far outweighs anything seen during the Bush administration, and, as I also correctly predicted, it would pick up its own unique themes from the Palin playlist, having to do with racial identity, religion, personality, whereas so-called BDS really was focused around people’s anger at Bush over the specific issue of not wanting to send their children or other people’s children to die and for thousands of other innocent civilians to die in a far-off-land for the sake of testing some academic neo-conservatives’ geopolitical theories.

    I wonder if there is finally going to be a pushback the other way within the GOP, a moderate Republican who has the cojones to tell Sarah Palin to take a swim in the polluted Gulf of Mexico.

  8. kelly

    Brad, your emotional state is shared by so many people. It’s as if our would-be office seekers are sullen teen-agers, scornful of the real world and smug in their egocentric view. They want all the power and the influence, but they want none of the responsibility and certainly none of the accountability. Each is above moral or conscientious constraints. In the meantime, I salute your encapsulating this abhorent movement:

    It’s the stuff that they’re AGAINST that leaves me cold. Paying taxes. Government itself. Moderation. Patience with people who disagree. Experience. Deep understanding of issues. They are hostile to these things. And their certainty, their smugness, is off-putting in the extreme. It’s THEIR alienation that makes me feel so alienated…

  9. Michael P.

    You didn’t see the protesters? How could you miss them, I drove past there around 5:15 and they were lined up all the way down Gervais Street. There must have been 30-40 of them and I’m sure more were on their way.

    I don’t quite understand your lack of a solution to your problem. You attend Republican political rally, listen to what they have to say, don’t agree with what is being said and then complain that you didn’t have a good time. I can think of at least one good solution to your problem… don’t attend.

    You knowingly were going to a rally with two speakers… Palin and Haley. Sarah Palin is someone you do not like and you stated your problem with Nikki Haley… I can’t figure out why you came away from this rally disappointed. If you left “depressed” you have no one but yourself to blame. You could have stayed home until it was time to pick up your granddaughter and the evening would have taken on an entirely different tone. A little common sense goes a long way.

  10. Dan

    Is Gresham Barrett the only adult running for Governor this year?

    It makes me feel sick to watch the other candidates blast him for putting the country ahead of his political career in 2008 when he supported the rescue package. Irrespective of the causes of the financial crisis, everyone agreed that something needed to be done.

    I hope that we support him and his grounded, adult conservativism and put South Carolina back on track.

  11. Kathryn Fenner

    I read in today’s paper that Susan Aude, bless her heart, was to be the emcee, and is a conservative blogger. I did used to think so highly of her.

    What is this, the pretty girls’ revenge?

  12. bud

    This is so funny. Brad you endorsed the ticket that had Sarah Palin on it for Pete’s sake. Really, this rightious indignation about Palin is really pretty disturbing. If your really wanted to make a statement against this type of right wing extremism the time to do it was in the fall of 2008, not now. Your tacit approval of this crazy woman through your endorsement of the senile McCain was part of the problem.

  13. Brad

    I love it! When I read Michael’s comment about how I don’t like Palin, I thought “Tell that to Bud! He INSISTS that I endorsed her in 2008.” And sure enough, Bud came through! It really sticks in Bud’s craw that we endorsed McCain in spite of his sad choice of VP. Never mind the fact that I can’t remember ever in my life deciding my presidential vote on the basis of the running mate. As everyone knows, Joe Lieberman’s my guy, and I was really disappointed McCain didn’t defy the yahoos in his party and choose him. After he didn’t pick Joe, I was going to be disappointed with anybody.

    And let’s say this for Sarah — she inspired those slackers at SNL to do their first really funny stuff in about 20 years…

  14. Matt

    With all due respect, this column is a perfect example of the divide that many (including myself) believe exists between the “mainstream media” or the “pundit class” with the “real world” or “regular folks”.

    I’ve spent my weekend around friends, acquaintances, fellow parishioners, fellow civic group members, etc. All pretty everyday people who work jobs, live in subdivisions, eat at places like Carrabba’s, etc. They don’t obsess over politics like I do but they’re no beginning to see the ads and the signs and are maye starting to pay attention and ask questions. Not one person who brought it up had anything but good stuff to say about Sarah Palin. In fact, now people know the name “Nikki Haley” from seeing the coverage of the rally on every local news station and in the papers. I heard comments like “if Palin is endorsing Haley, then she must be a good candidate”, and “I need to look at this Nikki Haley candidate” and other comments like that.

    So all in all, I think the endorsement is already paying dividends for the Haley camp. And all the normal folks out there really don’t need or want to be told that Palin is an unintellegent dolt or that her admirers are just a bunch of simpletons. For one, it’s not true, and two, it’s insulting.

  15. Michael P.

    So why did you attend this event knowing well in advance you weren’t going to enjoy yourself? Did you go simply for the masochistic experience and it’d give you something to write about on your blog? What will we read about next weekend, how you attended a dog fight and hated it?

  16. jfx

    McCain played a big role in helping “Republicans” tilt further off-axis and fall into the anti-intellectual void where the national party sits now.

    As the nominee, he was the leader of the party in 08, and when he tilted in the direction of Palin, and that Joe-the-Plumber nonsense, the entire apparatus slid off in that direction. It hasn’t stopped sliding.

    Moderates like Colin Powell had the good sense to step away from that abyss at the time…but the problem is moderates like Colin Powell have stayed away, instead of aggressively re-engaging to try to restabilize the party. People like Powell, Chuck Hagel, and the saner, mavericky version of McCain have gone into hiding. They are in a mental bunker somewhere, waiting for the nasty strain of rampaging anti-intellectualism to run its course. Even Lindsey Graham seems lately to be retreating into a protective crouch. Not good. Denialism won’t stanch denialism.

    Can’t believe I’m saying this, but moderate conservatives need to take a page from the 06/08 Democratic playbooks, grow a sac, and get out there and fight…with some sort of aggressive, passionate, hopeful rationality…a forceful antidote to anti-factual, anti-government fear-mongering rhetoric from the teabaggers. Until somebody figures out how to take the brains of Davids Frum & Brooks and package them in a Palin body, woe unto thee, conservatives…

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    Are you saying that Sarah Palin is not a dolt, or that her followers are not?

    I guess it depends on the definition of “dolt.” Someone who cannot name a specific magazine or founding father she reads/admires is skating awfully close to that hole in the ice, in my book. Is she media savvy–sure. Is she fit to govern based on any observable talent other than media-savviness–not in my book, or that of many, many other people.

    I would not say all of her followers are dolts, but many surely must be–others are just negligent, and some simply disagree with me, but are reasonably intelligent….

  18. Brad

    Matt, what you just said is what concerns me. This “divide” you speak of. That’s what depressed me. I felt the divide between myself and the folks at this rally, and I thought ahead to trying to bridge it the best way I know — through my writing. I wanted to be able to explain to these folks at this rally what was wrong with what I was seeing and hearing… but I didn’t think I could. Partly because what I see as wrong is based in experience — having spent untold thousands of ours observing politics over the last 36 years, studying issues, and getting to know politicians (liberals, conservatives and in-between) as something other than caricatures to be mocked. And the folks at that rally demonstrated, by cheering the contemptuous remarks aimed at more experienced politicians, showed they despised experience.

    The problem with Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley isn’t that they’re stupid. I suspect that Mrs. Palin’s IQ is easily higher than the average 100 (at least, that was the average back when I studied such things long ago), and I’m sure Nikki’s is. The problem is — and I’ll speak of Nikki here rather than Sarah Palin, because I know her better — that she went into politics assuming she knew all there was to know about it, and lacked the curiosity or humility to try to learn.

    And the problem with the crowds of people who like them is that they also believe they have nothing to learn about politics, and in fact, they applaud and cheer when these two women mock and deride people who would dare to set out a deeper analysis of issues.

    I’ve based my career on the idea that communication matters, and the opinion-writing part of it on the idea that if I just find the right words I can at least get someone to understand me, even if he or she still disagrees with me.

    The problem with the Palin/Haley phenomenon is that I worry that I CAN’T communicate with their fans — not because they’re stupid, but because they don’t want to hear what anyone who doesn’t agree with them wants to say. ESPECIALLY if that disagreement is based in experience or deeper understanding of an issue.

    And Doug, I know I’ll never reach YOU on this point, experience matters with EVERYTHING. With politics, with brain surgery, with playing tiddlywinks. With making coffee, with tying shoes, with blowing your nose (that one pops into my head from recent experience trying to teach that skill to toddlers). If a waiter goes by carrying a tray of hot food right over me, I’m going to hope that he is an experienced waiter.

    It’s just bizarre to me that you would exempt politics — an extremely complex human interaction — and more importantly, the process of governing from all other forms of human endeavor.

    Of course, you think being good at politics is BAD because politics is bad and government even worse. But even if I were to subscribe to that outrageous (and extremely harmful) attitude, I would still understand that experience matters at bad things, too. Such as killing. I’m reminded of what young babyfaced Marine Eugene Sledge said, bitterly, when the girl at college admissions asked if there was NOTHING the Marine Corps had taught him. “They taught me to kill Japs,” he said. “I got pretty damned good at it.” He wished he hadn’t learned it, and wished even more he hadn’t done it, but he knows he got better at it from doing it.

  19. Brad

    And Michael, I’m puzzled by your bafflement. Do you suppose I EVER go to political events because I ENJOY them? I go because that’s what I do. I go to hear and see for myself.

  20. Kathryn Fenner

    Brad–IQ is standardized, with 100 the mean, and 15 points for each standard deviation…

    I am not so sure she’s in the triple digits, IQ wise–IQ factors in life experience and education, as in knowledge expected to be acquired. It’s not an innate brain smarts measure. You could score very high at 6 years old and then not go to school and do extremely poorly.

  21. Michael P.

    Actually what’s puzzling is if “that’s what I do” makes you this disappointed, miserable, depressed, etc., why do you keep doing it? I can understand when you were doing this for The State, because you could use the excuse of doing it for a paycheck. But now that things have turned and the paycheck isn’t fueling the need, why do it?

    Have you considered “doing something else”? Maybe something you enjoy? Life would suck if I had to wake up everyday knowing I had to do something I didn’t enjoy. And don’t come back with the excuse of “I don’t know how to do anything else”. My dad was in a similar situation and I’m guessing the same state of mind as you, he went through a company buyout and layoff when he was 58 years old and found himself no longer employed for the first time in 40 years and thinking he was too old to compete with people much younger than himself. Not being one to sit around and feel sorry for himself he started doing something he enjoyed (which was nothing like what he had worked at for over the previous 33 years), made more money, and was a much more enjoyable person to be around. Do you have something in the back of your mind that you’ve wanted to try doing, but couldn’t because of the risk involved of losing your job or income? What’s to keep you from doing that now, the lucrative job of blogging? I’m willing to bet your expenses outweigh the revenue and that this is more of a hobby.

    “I go to hear and see for myself.” We had a old neighbor lady like that.

  22. Doug Ross


    Okay, I’ll agree with you that political experience is about as important as knowing how to blow your nose or tying your shoes correctly and probably takes as long to master.

    Your problem is that you think political experience is accumulative. That the more you have, the better politician you become. Evidence does not support that position. Take your main man John McCain as a perfect example. He peaked in 2000 and has been heading downhill ever since. He is now a parody figure with no sense of purpose other than to say whatever he can say to keep his job. That’s what political experience gets you. A sense of entitlement for the position rather than a sense of doing what is right. That is why we need term limits and why we need new faces, new perspectives, and new ideas in our government.

    My view of government is far from harmful. I would suggest your infatuation with the status quo is far more harmful — and the government we have now reflects YOUR view, not mine. Your view values the good old boys who stay in office forever (because they are EXPERIENCED) and work behind the scenes together to do what is in their own best interests. Run down the list of the State House leadership and tell me that South Carolina is a better place because of all that experience. That’s where the harmful behavior exists, not with people like me who expect to see a government based on honesty, ethics, fairness, and empowering individuals to reach their potential. If that’s a harmful view, I’m guilty as charged.

  23. Herb Brasher

    I think Brad wants to be a public servant, and with his knowledge of people, and his background in journalism, he is good at it. He has a very good, broad knowledge of the world that is needed for this kind of work.

    Keep on writing, Brad. This post was really good. There are many of us out here who appreciate what you do.

  24. Herb Brasher

    P.S. when I wrote “public servant,” I didnt’ necessarily mean as a politician, though Brad has threatened to run for office (how seriously, I’ve never been sure, given his innate use of figures of speech!). I don’t always agree with him, but he needs to be heard; the problem is, I think, that people only want to hear what they want to hear–and that in 5-second soundbites, please.

  25. jfx

    Uhhhh…I think Brad W. might be “depressed” in a political sense…i.e. extremely disappointed in what he saw/heard at that rally, from the perspective of a veteran politico.

    Not “depressed” in a medical sense. If he were that, he probably wouldn’t be going out of the house, attending events, blogging about them, collecting advertising revenue, etc. He’d spend the whole day in his pajamas, dripping ice cream on himself.

    So, chill out, Michael P. Did you castigate your old neighbor lady every time she offered an opinion based on her years of experience?

  26. Andrew Williams

    I try to read everything you write with an open mind. I read this that way. It was excellently done!! Bravo! Below are the best 3 paragraphs I have ever seen that sum up how I feel, and sums it all up perfectly. ANDY

    “The problem with Sarah Palin and Nikki Haley isn’t that they’re stupid. I suspect that Mrs. Palin’s IQ is easily higher than the average 100 (at least, that was the average back when I studied such things long ago), and I’m sure Nikki’s is. The problem is — and I’ll speak of Nikki here rather than Sarah Palin, because I know her better — that she went into politics assuming she knew all there was to know about it, and lacked the curiosity or humility to try to learn.

    And the problem with the crowds of people who like them is that they also believe they have nothing to learn about politics, and in fact, they applaud and cheer when these two women mock and deride people who would dare to set out a deeper analysis of issues.

    I’ve based my career on the idea that communication matters, and the opinion-writing part of it on the idea that if I just find the right words I can at least get someone to understand me, even if he or she still disagrees with me.”

  27. Kathryn Fenner

    Michael P.–I agree with you that life is not a dress rehearsal and if you dislike what you do, you should do your best to find something else, but I think Brad was saying he is sad for the future of our state/country when he sees events like this, not that he hates what he does.

  28. Kathryn Fenner

    “He’d spend the whole day in his pajamas, dripping ice cream on himself.”

    if he weren’t allergic to it, that is…doesn’t sound quite the same to write “dripping Tofutti on himself.”

  29. Brad

    Doug, to say I have an “infatuation with the status quo” is grossly inaccurate, to an absurd degree. It’s like accusing me of being a black woman who speaks only Chinese. I have to wonder where you’re getting such nonsense.

    Do you want to know what the status quo is? The status quo in South Carolina is that our politics is dominated by people who don’t believe in government. We have all these legislators and others in office who run on the basis of appealing to people like you who despise government, and they run the government exactly the way you would expect them to — contemptuously, and badly. And the single greatest impediment to ever getting off the dime and fixing the problem is this very same distrust of, even hatred toward, government. This hyperindividualist strain in the state character (among its white voters, anyway) is strong enough on its own; it’s exacerbated by our racial history — far too many antigovernment “conservatives” think of government as something that takes THEIR God-given money to lavish on lazy, poor black people. To hear them talk, you get the impression they think that’s ALL it does. Mix all this together and you have a formula for stagnation and dysfunction, and I’ve fought it ever since I came home to SC in 1987.

    Our government has a deep structural flaw that reinforces this dysfunction. It’s a legacy of the antebellum form of government that was intentionally designed to keep power in the hands of a slave-holding landed gentry, and above all to prevent change of any kind. It is our curse that we still have that form of government long after that class of people disappeared into the mists of time. This system is more resistant to change than any other I can imagine, especially efforts to change the system itself.

    NO ONE in this state has tried harder or more persistently than I have to change that system. Changing the status quo in this fundamental way is such a high priority that we strenuously advocated for Mark Sanford in 2002 because he had adopted our platform of structural change, chapter and verse (he based it on reprints of our work that I sent him). That turned out very badly for our state (with of course no progress on the change front, since a huge part of what he did was alienate everyone he would need as an ally to accomplish such change), and there’s no way that I’ll be fooled again by another “advocate” of that reform who is really just anti-government, rather than pro-good government.

    You know what one of the barriers to that change is (as if we needed any more)? It’s mistrust of government. Opponents of reform can say, “You don’t want to give the governor so much power, do you?” And that works with voters who distrust government power. When all we’re talking about is establishing a proper balance between the branches of government, with the elected chief executive actually in charge of the executive branch — so that someone can finally be held accountable for it.

    Every time someone says the kinds of cynical, hopeless things that you say about government, Doug, and someone else nods his head in agreement, it makes reform — all sorts of reform; not just what I’m talking about — all that more difficult to achieve. Cynicism, a disbelief in the possibility of having good government, is the greatest friend of the status quo.

    Just to show you how it works on another issue, let’s take education reform. For years, I have advocated for all sorts of reforms — merit pay for teachers, empowering principals to hire and fire more easily, district consolidation to eliminate administrative waste, and so forth. (All things to which Mark Sanford has given lip service, not that he’s ever made a credible effort to bring them about.) But we can’t ever get to the point of having a serious discussion of such things because for most of the past decade ALL of the political oxygen that could be devoted to education reform has been taken up by a debate over whether to turn away from public education and divert resources to the private sector.

    Making education reform happen is difficult enough. It’s impossible when a significant portion of the electorate is persuaded by the rhetoric of extremists to believe that public education is worthless, a waste of money, something that is beyond fixing.

    Almost at every turn, the various forms that anti-government feeling takes in this state frustrates real reform. WHY did it take so long to get even half a loaf on raising the cigarette tax? There are a number of reasons, but here’s a big one: Because the patron saint of the anti-government movement, Grover Norquist, had gotten so many of our lawmakers to sign documents swearing never to raise any tax under any circumstances. And that promise to him mattered more to them than their obligation to the people of this state, three-fourths of whom favored raising the tax.

    The anti-government impulse has been enormously destructive to this state, and advocating for such cynicism IS harmful.

  30. Greg Jones

    Reading all this leads me to several thoughts/one liners.
    Why do you think they call it “GOOBERnatorial”?
    When did the dude from Moncks Corner drop out?
    If you live in a small rural county controlled by the Democrats, the Republican primary is merely a pipe dream. The Democratic primary amounts to the general election for our local races, so the Republican nominee for GUV will be picked before I ever get to fire a shot.
    Gresham Barrett might be the only adult in the race, and Lord knows we’ve spent the last eight years without an adult in the mansion (or with the gavel in the Senate), but I’m just radical enough to be afraid of a “Washington retread”. Plus, it looks to me like Speed Racer (AB) is the only one running who would get a pay raise by getting elected. ‘Splain that to me, Lucy!

  31. bud

    Brad, your original post was pretty good. Sarah Palin is indescribably dangerous to real progress in America with all her weasel-words and bumper sticker platitudes. (She was so dangerous in fact that her presence on the GOP ticket in 2008 should have been a necessary and sufficient condition to vote against it). Then you launch into this government restructuring rant. I’m not sure I follow your logic here. You advocate for change yet insist on keeping much of the system than allows the Glenn McConells of the world to remain in power. Doug’s advocacy of term limits seems like a pretty good start if what you want is a change in the way politics in our state are conducted. I’ve never been a big supporter of that idea but he does make a persuasive case.

    Structural change would not accomplish much if we continue with the same stale politicians running the show. We already had a pilot project in restructuring which was a complete failure so why go down that path again?

  32. Doug Ross

    Bud said exactly what I would say.

    If you truly were for government reform, you wouldn’t be so strongly in support of “experienced” politicians – the ones who created the government you want to reform.

    If you were in favor of reform, you wouldn’t have consistently endorsed candidates who have either been part of the system for years and have no results to show for it.

    You would spend more time exposing the flaws of people other than Mark Sanford and Jim DeMint.

    It’s ludicrous to say you want a better government and yet not expect the vast majority of the players to change. It can’t happen and it won’t happen as long as they are there.

    If you have three flat tires, you don’t rotate them – you change them.

  33. Brad

    Yes, Doug, you do… whenever a person who is part of the problem has opposition that would do a better job, you support that opponent.

    What you do NOT do is just say, “I’m going to oppose all the incumbents,” or, worse, make a law that forbids voters to choose incumbents. You consider each individual as an individual, and you let the voters decide whom they want to elect.

    And Doug, if you have one flat tire, or two, or even three, you don’t change all of them. You change the ones that are flat or worn out.

  34. Doug Ross

    Will South Carolina be any different five years from now if Harrell, Leatherman, McConnell, etc. are still in office?

  35. Brad

    And Bud — thanks for the positive words. I don’t get them from you often, but when I do I appreciate them.

    As for term limits — the only person I know of who makes “a persuasive case” for them is George Will. But he makes his case on the opposite (and far better-informed) assumption from the one that most advocates of term limits make.

    Most advocates of term limits say politicians become insulated from the will of the people the longer they are in office, and that’s why they have to be replaced. (Completely ignoring the fact that if they ARE out of touch with the people, the people have the option of replacing them every election.)

    Will, understanding the way the world works a lot better than those folks do, argues that we need term limits because elected representatives are TOO plugged into the whims of the electorate from moment to moment. He maintains that they govern badly because, instead of using their judgment and making politically difficult decisions, they listen to the crowd and do the popular thing so that they can get re-elected. Eliminate re-election, and they will act responsibly, he argues.

    And that’s a tempting argument to go for. For one thing, it eliminates the maddening excuse we so often get for inaction — “it’s an election year (and every other year IS an election year), so we can’t pass anything like that now.”

    But while I am not a populist, and while I fervently believe that elected representatives are supposed to engage debate with other elected representatives and study issues until they are sufficiently well-informed to make a sound decision, and make that decision regardless of whether it is popular (in fact, the one question we ALWAYS asked of people seeking to become elected representatives was whether they believed that, too)… I’m not the elitist that George Will is. I don’t hold the will of the people in such contempt.

    But at least he’s addressing a real problem — the tendency of too many elected representatives to keep their fingers in the wind and act with re-election, rather than the merits of the proposal, in mind. As opposed to the unrealistic notion that they are “out of touch.”

  36. Brad

    Doug and I just crossed paths there; I wasn’t ignoring him.

    Doug, that’s not the question I ask. If one of them is up for re-election, I look at him and I look at what would replace him, and decide which would be more likely to make South Carolina a better place. And the choice is never as easy as you tend to make out.

    Your question is the classic term-limiters question, and it bothers me because I see it as based in wanting to impose one’s will over other voters. For instance, a lot of conservative Southerners see the fact that Massachusetts voters kept returning Ted Kennedy to office as an argument for term limits. Some northern liberals would have had the same impulse with regard to Southerners’ tendency to return Strom Thurmond. But what I believe is that it is the business of the people of Massachusetts to elect whom they want, and the prerogative of South Carolinians to elect whom THEY want, without anyone else saying them nay.

    Neither you nor I live in the districts of Harrell, Leatherman or McConnell, and it’s not up to you or I to decide whether their constituents get to re-elect them. To quote one of Mark Twain’s characters, “I was born modest; not all over, but in spots; and this was one of the spots.” As arrogant as I may sometimes be, I’m not arrogant enough to tell other voters whom they may elect and whom they may not. And to me, that’s what term limits do.

  37. Matt

    “You consider each individual as an individual, and you let the voters decide whom they want to elect.”

    There’s not been a whole lot of evidence to suggest that’s not what the supporters of Nikki Haley (or any other candidate) aren’t already doing.

    Anyway, you seem to have a real beef with Nikki Haley because she may have bucked the House GOP Caucus leadership from time to time, and she’s using that as a selling point in her campaign. I don’t see the problem with her doing either.

  38. Brad

    Matt, thanks for bringing us back to the subject at hand (although we never strayed far, since Nikki advocates term limits).

    When Nikki Haley was running against a longtime incumbent, we did compare her to him, and enthusiastically endorsed her. Then, two years later, when she had opposition that was clearly not as qualified to serve the district and the state well, we endorsed her again — in spite of the way she had so closely allied herself with Sanford. We had qualms, but she was clearly the better candidate in that matchup.

    And I took up the cudgels for her and Nathan Ballentine in that dust-up they had with the leadership — although I did so with some hesitation, because I was beginning to see something a little disturbing in her approach. It seemed a bit messianic, and she was starting to paint things in overly simplistic black-and-white terms. She hadn’t yet reached the point that she ran against experienced lawmakers simply BECAUSE they were experienced the way she does now, but there were beginning to be overtones of that. Up to that point, I was pretty dismissive of the Harrells of the world who indicated they thought she was out of line. But I began to wonder whether they actually had a point, whether she wasn’t provoking a fight for self-aggrandizing motives rather than with the Sir Galahad purity she was affecting. That is to say, it’s when I started feeling that that purity WAS affected, rather than real.

    And you know what? I’m still not sure about that. I can’t tell for sure whether she’s striking a pose or really, truly believes that she’s always right and anyone who disagrees with her is not only wrong, but corrupt. I rather suspect that she believes it, and believes it more strongly every day because of the positive feedback she gets for saying it. This is a function of that dynamic I mentioned back here, when I was talking about the tendency of extreme rhetoric to be reinforced by positive feedback.

  39. Kathryn Fenner

    Matt– I sure don’t see where Brad has any problem with someone who has bucked Republican leadership. He has very clearly stated exactly the same problems I have with Nikki Haley–she wants to run government like a business, which is nonsense, and she wants to jump on the Sanford/Palin/Tea Party bandwagon, each of which/whom Brad has stated specific reasons for disrespecting.

    The fact that Sanford “bucked” the leadership was not the problem per se–he waved piglets in their faces–a lot less effective…

  40. Libb

    While listening to a Sunday talk radio show interview w/ Jim Rex I heard him cite a recent SC Chamber of Commerce national survey that asked folks to indicate what they knew about SC.

    The top 3 responses:
    1) Appalachian Trail Sanford
    2) You Lie Joe Wilson
    3) The Confederate Flag

    Dare I say that we can thank our “experienced” politicians for this glowing national perception?

    Bud makes a valid point. Any structural change by the group currently in charge would probably be negligible. At this point, I too, would lean toward supporting term limits.

    But I would prefer we first try capping campaign finances. The cost of a political campaign these days pretty much discourages IMHO the “good gals/guys” from running.

  41. Brad

    Oh, and Matt, to be clear: My observation that Nikki trashes experience is NOT based on her actual legislative confrontations with senior lawmakers. I base it on the disturbing things she said at the rally, such as these concluding words:
    “As we campaign across this state, I want you to remember one thing: I have never seen people more spirited about their government, and elected officials so scared; it’s a beautiful thing.”

    I tend to listen to words and attach importance to them, and I’m able to set aside the fact that those words were spoken by a slender, charming woman, and pay attention to the words themselves. And the words themselves, taking great pleasure in making other people “scared,” are creepy as hell.

    Imagine them spoken by someone who looks more like a bully — say, Jake Knotts — and you get the way the words strike me.

  42. Bob

    There are two types of organizational change, incremental and what is often called discontinuous. Incremental change occurs when something is running adequately but needs some tweaking. Discontinuous change is necessary when things are broken and incremental changes are not enough.

    I believe our system is broken and the time for incremental change has passed (for now). Term limits ensure change will occur. The fact is incumbents historically have an advantage in elections. We hate politicians, but not our politicians.

    That advantage may be diminishing, but I believe for the wrong reasons. Term limits allow change for the right reasons (i.e., change is good). Yes, there is a loss of institutional knowledge with term limits. But I have confidence there are plenty of capable people who would be willing to run for office if they believed change is possible. Brad, I think you are one of those people.

    Change is not only good, it is necessary. Organizations, including governments, that don’t change are doomed to fall.

  43. Karen McLeod

    I think that our current political situataion is the disasterous fruit of the “Lee Atwater” style of politics. It is a style that went out of the way to focus only on projecting a negative image of the opposing politician, and to do so not by rational argument, but by cherry-picking incidents, statements, or votes from that politician’s past, stripping them of any context, and projecting them in a manner most likely to appeal to non-rational fears/prejudices (consider the “Willy Horton” political commercials). This form of political strategy proved to be very successful. The Bush campaign used it in the primary in ’99 (you know McCain has an illegitimate black child?), and in the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. The tea-partyers are still following that form of political discourse. It appeals to the gut, it requires that the voter do very little thinking, and it gives each side the satisfaction of belonging as well as the comfort of having and esily identifieable enemy. It brings out the worst in us all.

    And part of the problem is that it works well. It grabs the attention of the press better. After all, having a busload or two of like-minded protesters show up, and loudly disrupt a politician’s attempt to explain a position or promote a platform makes much better theater than simply having protest signs here and there. And protest signs are quiet; they don’t in and of themselves disrupt the opponent’s argument. Yelling angrily, drowning out whatever the speaker is saying does.

    Until such time as a majority of us are ready to refuse this kind of political discourse we’ll be stuck with the results of it. I think that one of the bright spots of the Obama campaign is that he refused to engage in such behavior. He stopped it when he found his campainers engaged in it. My hope is that since he won, perhaps we can stop rewarding this kind of political behavior. And let me be clear; both sides can and have engaged in this irrational behavior. It’s neither liberal or conservative; it’s just wrong.

  44. Brad

    Bob, I think term limiters aren’t ambitious enough. Just changing the faces and names in our system won’t change the dynamics that prevent meaningful change. We need to change the system, no matter who holds those offices.

    And then we need to make better decisions about who fills the offices. Pick the right people, and give them the tools they need (by changing the system), and you’ll see positive change. Just doing one without the other won’t get us there.

    But to rely on a mindless mechanism that assumes all incumbents are bad and all who would replace them are good (one of the more outrageous assertions I’ve ever heard, and it disturbs me how often I hear it) is not wise. Voters have to make the decision, and they need to make BETTER decisions than they have sometimes make in the past. How do we accomplish that? By having better conversations about the candidates — which is what this blog endeavors to foster, and what I’ve worked hard to foster my whole career.

    By the way, just to make a blanket statement of my own… now only do I oppose THIS mindless mechanism that avoids distinguishing the good from the bad (term limits), but I oppose all such mechanisms. I believe God gave us brains so that we can make intelligent decisions. If we’re unhappy with the decisions, we should engage in good faith and work toward better ones, not replace decision-making with a device that precludes us from making decisions.

    So it is that I oppose the automatic spending limits that many of the same people who support term limits also support. Both are based in a desire to have absolute control rather than take the risk of losing the argument. Anti-spending types want to make sure that, even if they end up in the minority, the majority can’t raise spending more than the minority wants them to. Similarly, term limits are a way of imposing one’s will on OTHER voters by telling them whom they can elect and whom they cannot. I dislike any such attempt to subvert the deliberative process.

    When the process is not as deliberative as it should be (and far too often, that’s the case), then the answer is to work for better deliberation, not to outlaw it.

  45. Bob

    Brad, my point is change is not occurring with the current system. Term limits would force change. I agree the problem is much more complex than just changing personnel. But I think that as a former manager, you would agree personnel change is often a first step to improve an organization.

  46. Matt

    “As we campaign across this state, I want you to remember one thing: I have never seen people more spirited about their government, and elected officials so scared; it’s a beautiful thing.”

    “Imagine them spoken by someone who looks more like a bully — say, Jake Knotts — and you get the way the words strike me.”

    I completely get what you are saying here. But here’s another take:

    If Jake Knotts had spent the past six years cultivating a political persona that centered on the push for governmental reform and changing the mechanics of how things get done in Columbia, on the reality that the average guy on the street doesn’t find most politicians to be trustworthy, on the notion that lawmakers don’t make the most responsible decisions about how to spend the money that citizens send to them in the form of taxes…if this was the political persona that a politician was operating on, then I wouldn’t find it that remarkable or disturbing that they would say the same things that Nikki Haley is saying.

  47. Karen McLeod

    Brad. I could not agree with you more. Let’s discuss how we can work for better deliberation. This blog is a help both in that it encourages reason and listening to one another, and in that we have people with different views, who, if they are willing, can contribute their part. I agree with you that term limits are not the answer. We have some potentially very good people in office. For example, I think Sen. Graham is a potential force for good, even tho I frequently disagree with him. That’s why I cringe so much when he clearly bows to the frantic fringe. How can we search for, find, and encourage those who want to help this city/county/state/country better itself rather than just get/stay elected. We need to find those brave enough, moral enough, ethical enough, and smart enough to do so, and as importantly, we need to find a way to move the election practice back to one of reasoned debate rather than spinning and mud slinging. Any suggestions, anyone?

  48. bud

    Brad, I hear your arguments and they’re good ones. However, I think Doug has a very good case here. The problem with career politicians is how they game the system to provide seniority and favoritism for THIER particular district at the expense of the ENTIRE state (or nation in the case of US representation). This gaming doesn’t make for better governance, rather it makes for better gamesmanship. And we end up with Glenn McConnell running around scoring money for the damn Hunley Museum. Is that what experience gets the state? If so I say no thanks. It’s hard to refute Doug’s point that a short-term politician can focus on the good of the people rather than his next election.

    Frankly I’m undecided on this issue. Both Brad and Doug make good points. But it’s clear that the current system is failing the interests of the people. Why not limit terms to some reasonable number like 10 years. It’s hard to see any real harm in that.

  49. martin

    Matt, I assume everyone now knows that they made an error in judgement when they chose to support Mark Sanford based on what he was saying. We would have been better off to look at his actual acomplishments in the public and private sector. We would have found them to be almost non-existent. He manipulated people. He still manipulates people. That is what that side of the party does so well.

    Nikki Haley manipulated Brad and Cindi Scoppe the year she got moved from the business to the education committee (Strange that a mother would think the education committee was a demotion, But, I bet its members get a lot less in campaign contibutions than a member of the business committee.)
    Please go back and read Cindi’s column about Nikki coming to them, unable to decide if she wants Cindi to name her or not and, finally, taking that leap to be brave and breathlessly telling Cindi to name her name and tell the world how she has been punished for standing up for transparency in voting. Nikki got a lot of positive, free press for her maverick/rogue ways at the time.

    Brad wrote about it on his old blog and was taken in, too. It was the most disgusting case of a politician, very adept at manipulating the press, doing so. Mark was probably whispering in her ear, “you’ll be on their side. They’ll fall for it hook, line and sinker.” Wow, they did.

    It sounds like Brad has done some reflection on that episode and now glimpses something different from what he originally saw.

    My long delayed point is we need to take what we learned about Mark and apply it to all politicians. Take a step back and question if they are just trying to manipulate us and if are we falling for it. This should be particularly important in the friends of Mark.

  50. Kathryn Fenner

    Martin, I am afraid that many people still support Mark Sanford–weren’t there polls to that effect last summer?

    As far as Bob’s assertion that the system is “broken”–that seems to be very dramatic for a country that has roads, and schools and banks,etc., that, while not perfect and in need of some attention, still function, unlike, say Somalia, or Argentina,from time to time, etc. We need to calm down the rhetoric if we want to find truth.

    I wonder just how much better any system could be, especially one that preserves any measure of democratic choice–if you made me dictator, we’d be golden, but in terms what any majority of my fellow Americans or fellow South Carolinians would ever vote for….

    We overstate the “poor quality” of our politicians, and ignore polls that indicate that a majority or at least a sizeable chunk want a lot of the things “we” think are patently wrong, and vice versa..things are elected officials are actually doing.

  51. Bob

    I think a 10 year term limit is reasonable. I’m often suspicious of politicians wanting to serve longer. In modern society, to hold a position for 10 years is somewhat unusual.

  52. Doug Ross

    It appears we are starting to see the signs of voter enforced term limits across the country.

    Scott Brown taking Kennedy’s seat.

    Utah Republican’s ousting Senator Bennett last week.

    Arlen Specter looking very beatable tomorrow.

    Ron Paul’s son, Rand, looks like the favorite to beat the handpicked Republican establishment candidate for Senator in Kentucky.

    Charlie Crist skulking away from the Republican party rather than suffer an embarrassing loss in Florida.

    Harry Reid probably (and thankfully) will be sent home to find a real job.

    Chris Dodd walks away in Connecticut with his tail between his legs.

    John McCain is in a fight for his political legacy in Arizona (Bob Dole knew when to quit after suffering a trouncing) and has thrown away all his integrity to get one more ride on the ironically named “Straight Talk” express.

    Nationwide, the American people are saying they’ve had enough of the typical career politicians.

    It’s not a fringe element, it’s a majority.

  53. Brad

    And that’s EXACTLY the way it SHOULD work. When people don’t want to re-elect an incumbent, they don’t.

    I’ve avoided using the cliche up to now, but what the heck: “We already HAVE term limits. They’re called elections.” And I don’t think we need to be in the business of telling readers they can’t re-elect a person until they decide it for themselves.

    But I don’t think Ted Kennedy being replaced was a good example. He was, after all, you know… dead.

    And if you want to make THAT the standard for term limits, then I’m all for it. Rather than setting arbitrary number limits (6 years, 10 years, whatever), let the Almighty decide.

  54. Doug Ross

    The Kennedy seat was considered a lock for Democrats. The vote for Brown WAS a vote against the incumbent – “politics as usual”.

    A Rand Paul victory would be VERY interesting in Kentucky. Kinda hard to keep calling his old man crazy when he called the economic collapse (while McCain and Guiliani mocked him) and now can use his supporters to get a seat in the Senate for his son. I know you want to keep portraying the Tea Partiers as “fringe” but they are making in-roads across the country. And haven’t even hit the South yet. That’s why we’ll see Lindsey Graham “evolve” over the next couple years into a red meat conservative. He’d be a prime target in 2014.

  55. Brad

    Yeah, I know that’s the conventional analysis — I just don’t go along with it. I don’t accept that voters are always sending a message about party when they vote for a certain person or against a certain person.

    The way I view it, the voters of Massachusetts liked Scott Brown better than the person he was up against. Period. Just like in 2008, the voters decided they preferred Obama to McCain. Period. It was NOT a referendum on Bush, no matter how much the partisan Democrats tried to make it one (if it HAD been Bush vs. Obama, Obama would have won bigger).

    The idea that one Democrat, or one Republican, is equal to another is one of the most offensive notions that the parties try (and usually succeed) to peddle in this country.

  56. Michael P.

    If term limits are determined by elections… please explain how Robert Ford keeps getting re-elected?

  57. Burl Burlingame

    Again, when you throw an experienced person out of office just for the sake of doing so, you scuttle their committee seniority.
    In Massachusetts, the Dems ran the worst campaigner I’ve seen in decades.
    Nothing’s a lock.

  58. Bart

    So far, we have witnessed what can happen when you staff an administration with retreads, ideologues, inexperience, and academic theories, not that we didn’t have a retread or two with Bush.

    We listened to Pelosi tell us that artists and musicians can quit their day jobs and pursue their dreams because the government will supply their health care needs. Is this statement any more foolish than anything Palin has said? Yet, not one word on Pelosi’s ridiculous comments. And Palin is not in any position of authority to have an impact on our lives, Pelosi is and does. Maybe a little perspective would help here.

    Brad, I don’t agree with you on the referendum idea. I do think it was a referendum against all things Bush after 8 years of press fatigue, a completely negative picture of all things Bush broadcast daily, and two wars that provided additional wedge issues.

    The fact that Rand Paul will most likely win in Ky should be an indicator of just how bad things really are out there. But, if you were to listen to Rand Paul, he is not his dad. He actually makes sense on most issues. (Yes Doug, Ron Paul did predict the financial collapse. So did my wife. 🙂 )

  59. Kathryn Fenner

    Michael P.–Obviously a majority of the voters in his district prefer him over the alternatives. Who are we to stop them, in a free representative democracy?

    Or as The Guardian put it after Bush was re-elected–How could [so many Americans] be so stupid?

    How it looks depends on where you stand.

  60. bud

    Of course 2008 was a referendum on Bush. And the Bush Clone that McCain became by election day lost.

  61. David

    On term limits.

    I support term limits. I say that knowing that term limits do not discriminate. Beloved public servants like Ted Kennedy would no longer be able to serve their constituents for a lifetime. Yes, that means often people would be restricted from voting for whoever they want. It is not my intent to be arrogant in telling people “whom they may elect and whom they may not”. I don’t know who is the best representative for someone else’s district. Hell I struggle picking my own leaders. I won’t even say the U.S. or South Carolina specifically would be better off with term limits. I would say I believe there is a good chance of it. In other words, term limits could be a good thing but I could be wrong.

    Yes, we’d be losing out on experienced leaders; voters would be losing the Ted Kennedys. That’s a downside. But perhaps we’re missing out on the Ted-Kennedys-who-never-were because some mediocre representative who never alienated the voters enough to get replaced clinged to a seat for a few decades.

    Brad calls term limits a “mindless mechanism” and says he opposes all such mechanisms. He’s right to say that term limits are a mindless mechanism. But we as a society are not about to begin repealing mindless mechanisms nor should we. It is a mindless mechanism that gives this group and this group the right to say the things they do despite the fact that doing so will make our society worse.

    My support of term limits comes because of lobbying influence and the desire to be re-elected and perhaps the power of the incumbency itself. That doesn’t mean I think our representatives are owned by corporations. Nor do I think that our elected leaders are selfish bastards who are only in it for themselves (or their oil buddies or whatever). Nor do I believe that all lobbying is bad. But I do think that term limits would allow for more of a service orientation and less of a career orientation. Sometimes the will of the people is thwarted for the sake of not offending some big money somewhere and we are left with bad policy. Sometimes it is the will of the people itself that thwarts good policy or makes tough decisions tougher because people don’t want their careers cut short by angry voters, perhaps voters pissed that we had to raise taxes to manage our deficit. And yes, it seems to me, incumbents have an advantage over their opponents as the vast majority get re-elected. I don’t support term limits on this fact alone because it’s impossible to know why this is the case. It could be that incumbents are on average better candidates because of their experience and therefore get re-elected more often. Experience matters. But their political success could also be the result of “buying” votes with bad or wasteful policy that happens to be beneficial to their own districts. It could be simple name recognition that does the trick. Who can say for sure?

    Maybe things aren’t as bad as I’m making them out to be. It’s tough for someone like me to know. I’m just one observer with one point of view far away from the State House (metaphorically) and the U.S. Capitol building (metaphorically and literally). How big of a conflict of interest actually exists is tough to know.

    Our government has all kinds of kooky rules — most of them old and tried and true. But I don’t think we should consider ourselves done with tweaking the system every now and then to see what works for our society. And if it doesn’t work out we can change the rules back. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    So again, I’m not trying to be arrogant or tell people how to vote. Just like the cigarette tax hike wasn’t about the arrogance of telling people how to live their lives. Nor am I saying that term limits will necessarily lead to better government. I just think they could, could lead to a better government and there is only one way to find out.

  62. Brad

    Very thoughtful observations, David.

    As for the influence of lobbyists and their principals… you know, I’m a bit of an agnostic on all that. I guess it’s because personally, I’ve never been averse to biting the hand that feeds me, and I’ve always thought any lobby that thought I would vote their way if I disagreed, just because they gave me money, would be sadly mistaken. So I project my own values onto others; perhaps erroneously. And when people see that someone got a contribution from this interest or that interest and go “Aha!” and think they have a clear cause-and-effect relationship, I doubt. That’s because human decision-making is complex; I don’t see anything as being that simple. (It’s a very seductive way of looking at the world; so satisfyingly simple: Pay X amount, get Y result. So neatly mathematical. But human behavior is far messier than that.)

    All of that said… let’s suppose that money and lobbying ARE the insidious influences that the most dire observers hold them to be. Fine. Personally, between an established, well-known, powerful incumbent and a neophyte, I would be FAR more concerned that the neophyte would be easily led and manipulated to do the will of a narrow interest. The “Lion of the Senate” type can tell a lobbyist to take a flying leap and still survive on name recognition and long acquaintance with the voters. A newbie has far fewer strengths to fall back on.

    So the lobbyist/influence of money argument doesn’t work for me as supporting term limits.

  63. Libb

    I’ll try again.

    Brad, is there any way to see all of the comments on this post? Only the last dozen or so are displaying.


  64. Brad

    Yeah, OK, I see what you’re saying now. Huhn. There ought to be a link to the rest of them, but I’m not seeing it. I’ll have to ask my technical gurus for help on this in the morning.


  65. David

    Personally, between an established, well-known, powerful incumbent and a neophyte, I would be FAR more concerned that the neophyte would be easily led and manipulated to do the will of a narrow interest. The “Lion of the Senate” type can tell a lobbyist to take a flying leap and still survive on name recognition and long acquaintance with the voters. A newbie has far fewer strengths to fall back on.

    That’s a good point.


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