Did y’all watch Nikki’s State of the State? Thoughts?


File photo from the governor’s Facebook page.

CAVEAT: When I wrote this post I had missed something important in the governor’s speech, something that had come during the part I missed. It has bearing on the points I make in the post, and here it is.

I had a Community Relations Council meeting last night, so I only heard the very last part of Nikki Haley’s last State of the State on the radio driving home.

It sounded fine, as fond farewells go. I was a little disappointed by one thing. I heard her talking in a roundabout, indirect way about getting the Confederate flag down:

But above all, I will remember how the good people of South Carolina responded to those tragedies, with love and generosity and compassion, and what that has meant for our state.

I spoke earlier of my dear desire to see the image of South Carolina changed for the better. Standing here tonight, I can say with every confidence that it has happened, that that desire has been fulfilled.

But not because of me. The people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own.

They did it by showing the entire world what love and acceptance looks like. They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time.

But I wish she’d spoken about it more directly. When I got a copy of her speech later, I found that it only contained the word “flag” once, and that was in reference to the Clemson flag she and her daughter had hoisted over the State House earlier this week. (NOTE: This counts officially as a sports reference, and fulfills the weekly quota! So if y’all want to talk about that football game the other night, here’s a place for you to do it.)

Which disappointed me. Why? Because I think getting that other flag down was her defining moment, the one when she became the leader of South Carolina, and led us to where our lawmakers had refused for too long to go.

Did you see Obama’s farewell speech the other night? He mentioned getting bin Laden, didn’t he? Of course he did. That’s when he made his bones as commander-in-chief. Well, the flag was when Nikki made hers, only as leader of a mature, rational state where people may not forget, but they forgive, and care about each other.

Yeah, I get that she wanted her speech to be sweetness and light, and didn’t want to say anything that stirred ill feeling — and there are those who resent taking down the flag, although they’ve mostly been fairly quiet. And it seems safe to assume there’s a bit of a correlation between those folks and the set that voted for her soon-to-be boss.

But that was her proudest moment. I think it’s easy for people to downplay her role, but I’m telling you, I’ve known too many governors who didn’t want to touch that flag, or even talk about it. And I’ve known others who started to do something, but backed away, or accepted a “compromise” that settled nothing — because they saw that as the best they could get out of our Legislature. And maybe they were right, at the time.

But the thing that Nikki did was recognize the moment when it came, and seize it without hesitation. (That’s a huge part of leadership — recognizing when people are ready to be led. One of the secrets of Lincoln’s extraordinary achievements was his uncanny ability to see exactly when he could lead the country to do things it had always refused to do before.)

It was a moment in which the whole state was in shock and morning. And there were those who protested that this wasn’t the time to act, before the dead had even been buried. But sometimes that exactly when one must act, because later would be much too late.

When she stood up and said, essentially, Let’s not let this summer pass without getting that flag down for good — no fooling around, no compromises, that made all the difference. It made what had been impossible possible, and made it happen.

So if she’d wanted to speak to that directly, I’d have applauded. Because I’m proud of her for that.

She didn’t have to brag or anything. She could have stuck to her theme of “I didn’t do it; y’all did.” And that’s true, in the sense that our state was ready to be led there. But without someone strenuously pushing it through the Legislature, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ll close with that video my son did after the first anti-flag rally after the shootings, the one I did the voiceover on. It testifies to a mood sweeping through our state. But I still said, it took what Nikki did to translate that into action…

27 thoughts on “Did y’all watch Nikki’s State of the State? Thoughts?

  1. Doug Ross

    In retrospect, she was a decent Governor, right, despite her inexperience? Which is why I believe that being a good politician doesn’t take years to master. Smart people – which she is- can figure it out.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, it DOES take years to master. She learned on the job, and it pretty much took her whole first term to do so. She was in over her head for most of those four years.

      But she grew in office, and has done a decent job overall in her second term.

      And now that she’s got the hang of it, we’re losing her.

      But that’s OK for SC, because I expect Henry to know the job pretty well from the outset. He’s a guy who’s been there and done that, most relevantly as attorney general. That was good preparation…

      1. Doug Ross

        She did well enough in the first term to crush Sheheen in their rematch. She ended up being better than Sanford, Beasley, and Hodges.

        1. Scout

          I don’t think whether or not you can win an election necessarily equates with how well you can or did govern. Unfortunately. Not saying that she didn’t do a decent job. Just that that particular data point doesn’t prove it.

          1. Doug Ross

            If you beat the same guy twice and by a large margin it means something. Sheheen was supposedly a better candidate the second time around. More people felt Nikki had done a good job. It’s not a hard job for a smart person.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yes, it is. It’s a hard job for a smart person. It’s a hard job for a genius. Perhaps especially for a genius.

              That’s why she deserves credit for having started to get the hang of it in her second term.

              As to winning elections, Scout is completely right. See Trump, Donald…

  2. Peggy

    I think the flag came down because Reince Priebus encouraged her to do so because the 2016 presidential election was gearing up — he didn’t want it to be an issue for the Republican candidates on the campaign trail. It’s just my opinion.

    I’m very happy that flag came down! I was very ashamed at my local pols for trying to keep it up ( one is Chris Corley)

      1. Karen Pearson

        Except he apparently gave that advice only to further his own party, rather than for any other reason. He may have given one piece of good advice, but only in the cause of partisanship which is poisoning this country.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          But see, when partisans see it to their advantage to do NOBLE things, we should congratulate them.

          Remember, the GOP rose to power in South Carolina partly on the strength of embracing that flag, to an obscene degree.

          So if even for a moment a Republican leader saw taking down the flag as advantageous to his party, that’s progress.

          Of course, on the whole since then, the GOP has sunk lower than it’s ever been. But let’s applaud when they do something right…

    1. bud

      I dunno. I guess anything is possible. Call me gullible, but it seemed the flag issue was entirely the result of the Charleston shooting and nothing more. Halley and others seemed genuinely affected by that.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yes, she WAS affected by it, and she reacted appropriately. And if she hadn’t, we’d still be fighting over the flag.

        The great thing was that by acting then, she ensured that the flag came down THE RIGHT WAY. As I said many times over the years, it was essential that the people of South Carolina, acting through their elected representatives, come together and decide for ourselves that we were ready to move on, to put that thing away and behind us.

        It was a moment of great growth and progress for all of us as a people.

        If it came down some other way, such as by coercion (a lawsuit, a boycott), nothing would have been accomplished. There’d be no growth, no healing, just more anger and bitterness. And of COURSE nothing would be accomplished by confused protesters climbing up and taking it down, in violation of the law. Obviously, it would just go back up.

        The law had to change. WE had to change — as a people who made up a state.

        And thanks to her leadership at the critical moment, we did.

          1. Bart

            Once again we don’t agree. What Haley did was not a small gesture, it was very large considering the 50 plus year discord flying the flag on the Capitol grounds created. She took the lead at a seminal moment in South Carolina history and without her quick actions, this state could have exploded. And her actions were in live with another historic action, the one taken by the surviving members of the families of the murdered and the members of the church by stepping forward with forgiveness and not with anger and revenge as it most certainly would have happened in any other state.

          2. Harry Harris

            I agree that it was more than a small gesture. What people seem to forget is that the reason the flag went up in the first place (on top of the Capitol building) was in defiance of the civil rights mandates of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The attitudes of defiance are still strong among us, and it took a bold step by the Governor and others to walk away from deference to those racial folkways that remain among us. I was raised under the culture symbolized by that flag, and I thank the Lord he called me away from all of that. Haley certainly did grow in the office. I just wish all of the suffering from lack of good health care access by working poor people had changed her mind on Medicare expansion. Her boldness had real limitations – as well as her judgement.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “What people seem to forget is that the reason the flag went up in the first place (on top of the Capitol building) was in defiance of the civil rights mandates of the 1960’s and 1970’s.”

              Not exactly. It went up to mark the centennial of the Recent Unpleasantness, and then stayed up in defiance of civil rights…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                But I shouldn’t quibble. The rest of what you say is true.

                The flag was her one great, shining moment. Refusing to expand Medicaid (along with the rest of the GOP in SC, mind) was her low point. The rest was in-between…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    A friend pointed out this bit from Nikki’s speech, which used “symbol” rather than “flag” and drew applause:

    I will remember the willingness of the people in this room to step into someone else’s shoes, find genuine understanding, remove a divisive symbol of an oppressive past and move South Carolina forward….

    OK, I’m somewhat mollified. But I’m sufficiently proud of what Nikki did last year that I still wish she had stressed it more.

    But maybe that’s enough. Obama didn’t dwell on bin Laden (although he did mention the name), and maybe that, and this brief mention of the “symbol,” are sufficient. Maybe more would seem like showing away, like topping it the knob.

    I don’t know….

    1. Bart

      Sometimes less is more and in this instance, less was just right. Instead of using the word “flag” and giving it prominence, she placed it in proper perspective by referring to what it was, a “symbol” of repression by many and a past glory and history by others. The flag itself does have a place in our history but not to the point of flying it on official government grounds. It belongs in a museum and in the proper context in our history.

      Instead of reveling in victory by its removal and agonizing in defeat because it was removed, we should move forward and understand that the past is the past but learn lessons from it otherwise the old warning about repeating history will be lost. To paraphrase – never forget the past nor dwell on it either because if we do either or both, we are doomed to repeat it.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I think your points are entirely reasonable.

        As for learning lessons of the past…

        I often marvel at how some of my fellow white South Carolinians fail to grasp the obvious lesson from history — that the greatest, most horrific, most abominable mistake ever made by South Carolinians was to secede from the Union in order to defend slavery. I’ve always thought that the failure to recognize that dishonors our forebears who suffered as a result. I’ve always felt like they were sort of shouting at us from the past, “Learn from our mistake!”

        You’ve just reminded me something I need to do with my family tree, if I can. My uncle once told me that all my great-great grandfathers on his side of my family (my mother’s side) served South Carolina in the Recent Unpleasantness. I think maybe two of them on my father’s side did, also. So that would mean 6 of the 8. (My heritage is three-fourths South Carolinian — all of my mother’s family as well as my father’s mother’s. My father’s father’s fourth — the Warthens — were from Maryland.)

        I hadn’t thought about that in years, but I think maybe this weekend I’ll dig into what I have on the tree and see whether I can determine whether that’s true.

        I knew already that one ancestor, Henry Waller, had died at Petersburg. Last weekend, I discovered that a member of the previous generation — Wesley Samuel Foxworth, a great-great-GREAT grandfather, may have died at the same place, on Sept. 22, 1864.

        The ancestor whose service I know the most about, Patrick Henry Bradley, survived the war. He raised his own company and served for a time, then left the army to serve in the South Carolina Legislature during the latter part of the war. But he lost a son, my great-great uncle Thomas Chiles Bradley, at Trevilian Station on June 11, 1864.

        Henry and Wesley were both close to 40 when they died. Thomas was only 23. He never had children, but three members of the Bradley family have subsequently borne his name.

        Bottom line, I don’t take a back seat to any of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I just tend to come away from studying my ancestors with different conclusions…

  4. Bart

    Was Nikki Haley perfect or right all of the time while she was in office, absolutely not. I disagreed with some of her decisions and positions but overall, she did a good job as our governor. Political differences aside, she was a great ambassador for our state and IMHO is responsible for changing the perception of South Carolina for the other 49 states and internationally as well.

    She stood up to Trump and held her ground. Accepting the position as our representative at the UN will be challenging but she is up to the task and again, IMHO, she will represent the US very well. And I don’t see her accepting the position as a capitulation to Trump’s ideology, conflicted as it is. I believe if necessary, she will hold firm if she doesn’t agree with Trump and given his penchant for being mercurial, she will need to be strong and not give in to his conflicting whims.

    In the end, taking all into consideration, she is after all a politician and an ambitious one. With all of her positives for some and negatives for others, it is important to remember that one thing, she is a politician and like the chameleon, she will adapt to her surroundings when necessary or when it suits her purpose or the best interests of the country.

  5. Phillip

    That’s going to be a tough job, representing the views of the United States to the United Nations and the world when your own Administration is going to be one squabbling, Tweeting, contradictory, capricious, incoherent mess, especially on foreign policy. Her greatest challenge will come not from fellow delegates at the UN or on the Security Council, but trying to sort out and gracefully convey the day-to-day contradictions emanating from the government she is appointed to represent.

  6. Sally

    Brad, while Haley’s getting full credit for the flag decision, which she deserves only partial credit, this has diverted attention away from the fact that she was a lousy governor on so many different issues, including education, infrastructure, health care, administrative oversight, and others. I would give Haley more credit for the flag decision if it were not for the prominent South Carolina elected officials attending her flag press conference and for the glaring presence of the only non-South Carolinian or elected official at the press conference — Republican Party national director Reince Priebus. His quick trip to Columbia the day of Haley’s comment on national network morning shows that she “couldn’t do that to my people” when asked about the flag was the reason for her quick turnaround. Since campaigning for Romney, Haley quickly learned from the national party that she would be more valuable if she became the face of the GOP’s double minority elected official. No doubt that’s when Priebus began tutoring her that her national political ambitions would be better served by promoting this image. If you remember, it was during the Romney campaign that she began using this description. This also is the reason for Priebus’ trip to Columbia to counsel Haley on the way to handle the flag issue.
    I am not saying Haley did not experience shock and empathy after the Charleston shooting. However, Haley has continue to wrap herself in the flag to promote her national image. As Priebus’ protege, she became the obvious choice to rebut Obama’s State of the Union a minority woman who took full credit for the flag issue. I believe her nomination as UN ambassador was mostly payback to McMaster for his early Trump support. However, her mentor Preibus also had a hand in it.
    At another time, I’ll write a few thoughts on her wasted six years as governor. I was reminded of her few accomplishments when she congratulated herself for saving the Heritage golf tournament during her final State of the State. In a previous State of the State, she devoted nine paragraphs on the golf tournament without one mention of public education, students or teachers during the entire speech.
    Enough for now, but judging Haley as a success based on one issue, which was only partially accomplished by her, simply ignores how little she advanced the state during her governorship.


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