We don’t need outsiders calling our governor a ‘clown’


Back in the first few years that I was back here in SC — I want to say it was about the time of the Lost Trust scandal in 1990; in any case, it was a time when we were struggling with some huge problem in Columbia — The Charlotte Observer ran a short, dismissive, truly snotty editorial asking what was up with South Carolina, and comparing us to the Three Stooges.

That was it. There was no serious analysis of the problem, and no recommendation (that I recall) on how to make it better. Just a setup for comparing South Carolina to the Stooges. Ha-ha.

Something crystallized for me in that moment. I had been a longtime admirer of the Observer before I came to work here. But since my return here in 1987, I had noticed that its coverage of my home state had a certain tone to it — a scornful fascination based in a concept of SC as the other; as a vastly inferior other that existed to make folks in that corner of NC feel good about themselves.

I fully realized what had bothered me as soon as I read that editorial. I felt that the Observer couldn’t care less whether things got better in SC, as long as we provided our betters with entertainment. (If I’m correct on the timing, this was at the time that I was conceiving of the year-long Power Failure project analyzing what was really wrong with SC, and offering a specific path to fixing the problems. So I had a markedly different attitude: I cared.)

Anyway, I was reminded of that Three Stooges moment when Celeste Headlee brought my attention to CREW’s second list of the nation’s worst governors. (CREW, by the way, is the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government.)

For those of you interested in such things, of the 18 governors on the list, only two — Andrew Cuomo and Steven Beshear — are Democrats (Scott Walker makes the list for being anti-union, and accepting contributions from people who are also anti-union — really; those are his “sins”). But I’m less concerned with the fact that CREW doesn’t live up to its self-professed partisan impartiality than the fact that, by publishing a list such as this one, the organization gives the lie to the “responsibility” part of its name.

Of course, our own governor makes the list. And that would be OK, if CREW had some helpful criticism. Here’s what it has to say about Gov. Haley. I won’t bother repeating it since there’s no news in it. She’s been roundly criticized for these things in this space. But I stand today to defend her.

My beef is with the overall way that this list is presented. Someone thought it would be cute to give the list a circus theme. The 18 governors are divided into three groups — the “Ringmasters,” the “Clowns,” and the “Sideshows.”

Nikki Haley is listed among the six “Clowns.”

I’m mystified as to the reasoning behind this equal division into three groups. What, our governor is a “Clown,” but Rick Perry makes “Ringmaster”? Really? If someone forced you to pick one of them as a “Clown,” how could you pick her over him?

Beyond that, there is no evidence provided of her clownishness. I didn’t see anything funny in any of the things said about her. It is simply not a defensible metaphor.

Let me say unequivocally that Nikki Haley is not a clown. She’s a perfectly serious, earnest young woman who governs as well as she can, according to her lights.

She does not deserve to be called a clown.

And if CREW really cared about responsibility in government, it would desist from this kind of immature, dismissive, unhelpful nonsense. This is the kind of destructive thing the political parties do — denigrate and demean and utterly dismiss all with whom they disagree, making it impossible for people wearing different labels to work together toward the common good.

On its About Us page, CREW moans,

Many Americans have given up on our political system, writing off our elected leaders…

Well, you know why? Because (at least in part) of dismissive junk such as this.

If you have something constructive to say, say it. If you have any specific, serious advice to offer the people of South Carolina, we’re all ears — really. Not all of us have “We Don’t CARE How You Did It Up North” bumper stickers on our vehicles (although, admittedly, some of us do). Let’s hear your prescription.

But if you have nothing more helpful to offer than to call our governor a “clown,” then just shut up about it.

9 thoughts on “We don’t need outsiders calling our governor a ‘clown’

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    For some reason, while this is CREW’s second such list, they hadn’t done one since 2010.

    At that time, Mark Sanford not only made the list, they used his picture to illustrate the concept.

    Here’s something I said about CREW at the time:

    The next thing you’ll note, is that there are only two Democrats on the list, and one of them only made it because, well… have you seen anyone who wanted it worse than David Paterson? He worked for this distinction.

    So this list will do what such lists always do: Cause Democrats to nod in agreement, and Republicans to dismiss it. Or, some Republicans — those who still defend our governor. The overwhelming majority of Republican officeholders, who’ve actually had to deal with the guy, will nod privately in agreement.

    Of course, one should never be fooled by righteous-sounding organization names, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They can be, and often are, way Orwellian.

    So, familiar territory.

  2. Tim

    I like the “partisan politics” criteria (Partisan politics: Did a governor appear to put partisan politics above the interests of the citizens of his or her state?). I’d say about, oh, 50 of 50 governors failed that one.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      As a kid, I was always scared of clowns.

      I can remember not understanding that they were people in makeup. I thought they were some other, bizarre species. And a very scary one. If “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” had come out when I was a kid, I would have thought, “Yep, that’s what I thought they were…”

      I wonder if there was ever a time in which it actually made sense for clowns to be seen as entertaining to kids, as giving them joy. Back pre-TV, pre-radio, when the circus coming to town was the biggest entertainment event of the year, did kids react positively to them? You’d have to go back to a time when humans were actually cognitively different, I think…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *