On Sunday, my former newspaper endorsed Henry McMaster in the GOP primary for governor. The piece was well argued, and contained points that I had forgotten regarding his record. The piece was based upon his record, of course, because nothing in his campaign would cause a reasonable person to want to support him. It wasn’t as persuasive as the endorsement the previous week for Vincent Sheheen, but it made the most of a sad situation. Nikki Haley wants to give us four more years of Mark Sanford (and she would, too — believe it). Gresham Barrett is an ill-defined candidate who seems to be the sum of partisan cliches. Andre Bauer is Andre Bauer.
If I had still been at the paper (where I always argued that we had to choose somebody), or had a gun to my head forcing me to choose one of the Republicans, I’d probably go with Henry, too. And I would base it on the hope that he would be a better governor — just as he has been a pretty decent attorney general — than he is a candidate.
But I’m not at the paper any more, and therefore don’t have that institutional obligation to express a preference regarding every electoral choice. And nobody has a gun to my head.
So I am free to say that the performance of all of the GOP candidates in this primary convinces me that it is critically important that none of them become governor. Perhaps the best way to put it succinctly is the way an outsider, Gail Collins of the NYT, put it yesterday:
The issues in the primary have basically been which Republican dislikes government most. During the Tuesday debate, Bauer claimed that illegal immigration was caused by lavish government welfare payments, which caused poor people to refuse to do manual labor. Haley bragged that she had opposed the federal stimulus program. The attorney general, Henry McMaster, who is currently suing to try to stop the federal government from bringing health care reform to South Carolina, attributed the failures of the state’s public schools to teachers’ being so busy “filling out federal forms that they can’t teach.”
Ms. Collins was being facetious (as usual), but there’s nothing in what she writes that is inaccurate. Basically, this has been a contest between four people who each want to seem the most ticked off at the very notion of government. And I’ve heard enough of it. This constant drip of negativity is depressing and counterproductive. It counsels hopelessness to people who don’t have much hope to start with as they contemplate what we’ve seen in the governor’s office in recent years.
We’ve had eight years of a governor who doesn’t believe in governing. It is an outrage, and an insult to the people of South Carolina, that candidates would seriously try to position themselves that same way. They should all be running against that bankrupt legacy, not competing to see who will inherit it.
I decided recently that I would not do endorsements on this blog, so the fact that I can’t bring myself to back any of these Republicans doesn’t mean much. But I’ve spent 20 years writing on the theme of the importance of gubernatorial leadership. As weak as the office is, it’s still the one position with a pulpit bully enough to make a difference, to try to break our state out of the ennui born of believing we’ll always be last where we want to be first, and first where we want to be last. For that reason, I think it’s critically important to speak out now, and often, on the subject of just how unsuited these candidates are to lead South Carolina out of its current political malaise.
It’s important because, party politics being what they are in this state, the Republican nominee starts out with an advantage, no matter how poor a candidate he or she may be. Unfortunately, too few white voters in South Carolina will even consider pulling the lever for a Democrat. But I want to urge those people to start considering broadening their horizons. I’m not asking them to become Democrats. God forbid; I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, any more than I would want to see anyone become a Republican. My disdain for both parties remains undiminished. But within each party, there are good candidates and bad ones.
And in this election, unless all probability is turned on its head and the super-flaky Robert Ford gets the Democratic nod, there is little question — from a disinterested, nonpartisan perspective of a knowledgeable person who cares about the future of this state — that the Democratic nominee will be someone FAR more likely to have a positive vision of the kind of leadership that a governor can provide in difficult times. And only someone with that sort of attitude can have a chance of doing any good.
There are no two ways about it. South Carolina needs and deserves better than what any of the Republican candidates are offering this year. The very last thing we need is more of the same.