Missing the point about the wicked Lowcountry

Last night before the results were in, a friend shared with me this Facebook update from John Dickerson of CBS and Slate:

If Mark Sanford wins tonight it will mark a real evolution for South Carolina as a state where values voters play a big role. Sanford, Gingrich’s win in the SC GOP primary. This is not the state where George Bush spoke at Bob Jones in 2000.

No, no, no. Apples and oranges. As I responded:

It’s the Lowcountry. Stuff like that never mattered as much in the Lowcountry. Bob Jones is in the part of the state where they think Charlestonians are all heathens.

I could have added, “drinking, swearing, gambling, fornicating heathens,” but it was a text, so I kept it short.

The Calvinist/fundamentalist part of the state, where Bob Jones is, is the Upstate. It’s like confusing Maine and Florida, only on a smaller scale. Charleston is where the hell-raisers live, and let live. It has always been thus.

Mr. Dickerson compounded his error with a piece in Slate this morning headlined, “Paris, South Carolina:”

South Carolina conservatives may still say a candidate’s sins matter, but they aren’t voting that way. In fact, if you weren’t privy to the state’s strong social conservative history, you could almost mistake South Carolinians for city folk—people who vote for experience, policy, and political leanings and show a sophisticate’s relativism toward personal moral failings. These days, South Carolinians seem almost Parisian when they enter the voting booth.

It’s a clever angle. And accurate, in that Charleston is, indeed the Paris of South Carolina. The difference is that South Carolina isn’t France.

It’s true that the values voters don’t have the impact statewide that they did back in the early 90s. The two strains of libertarianism (economic, not cultural) — the Club for Growth types who love Sanford, and the more populist Tea Party types who love Nikki Haley — have crowded them out to a great extent.

But they’re still here. And just because Sanford won in the Lowcountry doesn’t mean their influence isn’t still felt. Maybe he would have won in another part of the state. But winning down there doesn’t prove it.

The Gingrich angle that Dickerson brings up is indeed intriguing. But I don’t think that’s a good example. South Carolinians had a fit and broke with their history of choosing the eventual nominee because Gingrich at that moment was coming across as the guy who most wanted to rip out Barack Obama’s throat with his teeth. It was a weird moment. He appealed to something dark and visceral and atavistic in the SC electorate, something that for me hearkened back to Tillmanism. There was that, and the fact that a lot of establishment Republicans didn’t want Nikki Haley’s candidate to win.

I don’t think the two instances mark a trend away from family values. But yeah, Charleston is Paris if you like…

33 thoughts on “Missing the point about the wicked Lowcountry

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    You know how I said last night that while this is the fault of the people in the 1st District, all of us will get the “credit” nationally for electing Sanford?

    See, it’s already happening…

  2. Jim

    Everybody is over thinking this. Sanford won because he was the only person the ballot with an “R” next to his name. To good christian voters, the only unforgivable sin is not having an “R” next to you name. Jerry Sandusky could run as a Republican and they would vote for him.

    1. bud

      Jim, I made that same observation on a previous post. Not sure why this is so hard to grasp.

      The primary on the other hand, may take a bit more analysis. With 16 candidates on the ballot how could the Republicans pick such a sorry excuse for a human being. Name recognition seems to be the conventional wisdom. But what a name.

      1. Steven Davis II

        “Name recognition seems to be the conventional wisdom.”

        bud, are you talking about the Republican Party or the Democratic Party? If Colbert had the name Anderson she wouldn’t have made it through the primaries.

        1. Silence

          I agree with Jim, bud and SD2.
          Anyone with the (R) would have likely one this race. A million dollar-ish advantage didn’t get the (D) past 50%. The name recognition certainly helped both candidates win their party primaries, and it was likely the key factor for each candidate.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    The Upstate was settled by doughty, hard-scrabbling, Calvinistic Scots-Irish folk who had first settled in colonies north of SC, then drifted down into our backcountry. Self-sufficient types who didn’t own slaves.

    The Lowcountry was settled by free-wheeling plantation owners — originally English colonists from Barbados, later from other places — who had an entirely different worldview.

    Columbia was chosen as the capital as a compromise, because folks in the Upstate couldn’t stand the idea of being governed out of that wicked city on the coast…

    1. JasonG

      After the 2nd Great Awakening, Methodists and Baptists became more predominate, not Calvinism in the Upstate, has been that way for a very long time.

      Calvinism only really exists in the Upstate among conservative Presbyterian churches and a few neo – Calvinist non denominational churches. It has a loud influence (see Bob Inglis, Jim Demint, few other folks, but that’s it).

      Baptist fundamentalism is often at odds with Calvinism

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Some distant relative was instrumental in starting Erskine College. Or was one of the first presidents of it, or something. Vague family legend.

          Later, my grandparents would live in the former house of the president of Erskine, on the edge of Due West. I don’t know how that came about. I was really young at the time. After my grandfather died when I was 4, my grandmother moved back up to Maryland…

        2. Scout

          My great (times 7) grandfather was A.R.P., settled in Prosperity, came from N. Ireland in 1772. An offshoot of the family (not my direct line) went to Abbeville and had something to do with Erskine.

          This might prove Jason’s point but my family is now Methodist and there were a few generations of Baptist before that, but that was by way of Louisiana, so not sure if it is relevant. (My great great great grandfather left SC and went to Louisiana – My Dad brought us back in 1973).

  4. Doug Ross

    I think South Carolinians prefer and adulterer to a Mormon. One can be saved and the other can’t.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    Make that the People’s Republic of Vermont. Maine has a lot of conservative Catholics. Hence the repeal of same sex marriage, for ex.

  6. die deutsche Flußgabelung

    If this race had been in the Upstate the outcome would have been the same. The race just proves that the “Moral Majority” is on its last leg. The same thing is happening in other Southern states like in Louisiana where they reelected David “Whorehouse” Vitter.

    “Self-sufficient types who didn’t own slaves.” Brad

    The Upstate didn’t have fewer slaveowners because they were “self-sufficient” or felt morally superior to the Lowcountry, but because they were mostly dirt-poor subsistence farmers who couldn’t afford to own slaves. If they had had the money they would have been just as “free-wheeling” and immoral as the Lowcountry planters.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I didn’t mean to suggest that they were morally better for not owning slaves. They were subsistence farmers; they had no choice in the matter.

      Frankly, I find both stereotypes rather unappealing. I’m a Midlands man all the way. Actually, Pee Dee originally…

      But I have to disagree that they would have been culturally the same had they had the money. They were different sorts of people, from different cultural backgrounds. Many of the Scots-Irish had come over as indentured servants originally, as opposed to being of propertied English descent. They had a different outlook, a different framework, a different worldview.

      If the Upstate folk had had the money, they probably would have banked or invested it. I see them more as the tight-fisted types. The plantation owners tended to live beyond their means, letting money run through their hands like water. That was a characteristic that ran through that class not only in SC, but up into the Virginia Tidewater. Thomas Jefferson was from that sort of people…

      1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

        “I’m a Midlands man all the way.” Brad

        I am too, seeing as I’m tenth generation descendent of the German and Swiss immigrants who settle in Newberry and Lexington County in the mid-eighteenth century.

        “If the Upstate folk had had the money, they probably would have banked or invested it” Brad

        More likely they would have used it to build distilleries given the region’s Scotch-Irish characteristics and that’s what they did in Tennessee and Kentucky.

          1. die deutsche Flußgabelung

            I am not against distillers (a fine profession especially when compared to being a slave-owner) just saying when I think Scotch-Irish, I’m not picturing a bunch of bankers.

      2. JasonG

        Many folks forget that the Appalachian region of the South was anti Confederate, not necessarily pro Lincoln, but anti Confederate.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    Decadent. I forgot to throw in “decadent” along with “drinking, swearing, gambling, fornicating.”

    But I guess that would have been redundant.

  8. Mark Stewart

    Don’t give the Upstate too much credit. They generally create more anchor issues for the state than the Lowcountry these past two centuries…

  9. Bryan Caskey

    Did anyone else notice that Rep-Elect Sanford referenced the God of “sixth, seventh, and eighth chances”. I hope he isn’t planning on needing that many.

    1. Mark Stewart

      He’s not at 9 lives now? I need him to shake hands with some lottery tickets, never know what might rub off.

  10. Brad Warthen Post author

    I think God needs to get a good lawyer to seek an injunction against Mark Sanford repeatedly blaming him for what happened in the 1st District yesterday. It could damage His reputation.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      From my friend E.J. Dionne’s column on the subject:

      God may well have moved Sanford to turn his life around and to run a scrappy campaign without any assistance from the big honchos in Washington. But his resurrection was a phenomenon not of the next world but of this one — of a country so torn by party dogma that an imaginary walk along the Appalachian Trail counts for little when compared with the chance to beat the other guys, even when they’re made out of cardboard.

      Amen, E.J.

  11. JasonG

    FWIW – speaking as a Calvinist from the Upstate, being an outspoken Calvinist staff member at Bob Jones or many fundamentalist churches will get you fired, or if a student, disciplined.

  12. Ralph Hightower

    Okay, if and when Sanford leaves office, the First District will elect a cocaine snorter, former SC Treasurer, Thomas Ravenel.


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