Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thank you for your service, but we can't serve you

Rep. Fletcher Smith is sponsoring a bill that restores some sanity to the drinking laws in South Carolina. I have long wondered why if one can buy a house, caste a vote, incur debt, and go to war at 18 that one has to be 21 to drink a beer. The most dangerous thing anyone does in life, according to the numbers, is driving a car, In South Carolina you can do that at 15.

Rep. Fletcher Smith's bill proposes letting armed services members between 18 and 21 be able to buy alcoholic beverages in South Carolina. It seems like good common sense. If you are willing to get shot at for your country, you ought be able to buy a beer.

But, do not count on that happening. First, there will be the lobbying effort of activist groups such as MADD. Their paid staff with trot out statistics that scare people. Don't misunderstand me. I am for tough DUI laws. However, taking the position that service members between 18-21 will be more likely to drive drunk then the ne'er do well 43 year old down the street who polishes off a quart of bourbon a day is illogical and insulting to the young men and women who serve in the military. No one stops the 43 year old from buying his stuff. They shouldn't : its legal. All I am asking is why some young man or woman who fought in a war can not get a cold one?

Also do not look for the federal government to offer support on this. It will threaten to take some highway funds if such a bill became law. It seems the federal government has no trouble trusting an 18 year old with a tank, a world class personal weapon, and the like. But, trusting them with a cold beer? The federal government will not do that.

Indeed, what does it say to the young man or woman the federal government has no problem entrusting the business end of our foreign policy with that it does not trust them with alcohol?

There is one more group that would derail Fletcher Smith's bill if it became law. That is the litigation community. There is little doubt that if such a bill became law, someone would bring a lawsuit saying it discriminated against young people not in the military. Who knows how that would turn out. However, the potential for litigation must be considered.

The situation is just asinine when you think about. A 19 year old can get married, buy a house, join the military, and go and fight for his country. But, when he is home on leave, he had better not have a cold beer. Meanwhile, the ne'er do well 43 year old loads up on his quart a day and can find a way to slip out facing the music if he is caught for DUI if he has a good lawyer. Such is what happens when the laws are written defacto by lobbyists instead of by leaders with common sense.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Maybe you can't go back home again

For years, I have let it be known to friends that I wanted to go back "home" to Honea Path. I remember the place ideally from my youth. It was a place where a kid could ride his bicycle around town and up to the dime store to buy baseball cards without incident. No parent was worried about such things.

Neighbors knew you, and I will never forget how they would bring all types of food over when someone in your family died or was sick. I was surrounded by great role models, like Tom Moore and Ross Wright, my neighbors growing up. I worked in the mill that is now closed. In that mill I met other role models who taught me about hard work and drive and putting aside differences to get the job done. People knew you, cared about you, but kept out of your personal business.

The politics was legendary for a small town. Honea Path had a Sheriff, a Clerk of Court, a Congressman, a Governor turned United States Senator and two different influential members of the General Assembly who imprinted their mark on the state. Most of the time the politicians acted like the mill workers, they worked to get the job done.

Honea Path is still filled with good people. The Mayor seems solid. The town council has fine people on it, including an ex boy scout leader of mine. The town fire department is one of the state's best. The lack of major crime everyday and traffic jams are a welcome relief from Columbia. I have good neighbors. There's a great Mexican restaurant.

Maybe it has been all the years away, or the fact the closing of the mill changed the culture, but there is an aspect of politics and culture that does make me feel like a stranger in a strange land.

In this region of Anderson County there is a bitter political undercurrent, led by Anderson County Council Member Cindy Wilson. That movement calls itself conservative, but in Lexington County they would be called malcontents. They complain about everything. They are a group that call themselves for taxpayers but support impact fees to hamper development. Wilson ignores the fact that economic development here is at a halt. She spends most of her time and energy trying to get credit card statements from the county administrator she apparently loathes. Wilson took her case the South Carolina Supreme Court recently. If only she would use that effort to get Honea Path some good paying jobs.

I have to admit that Wilson is an elected official. And, her elections seems to hinge on two things that seem essential to the culture here these days, appealing to the old small town southerners with common courtesy and to the bitter undercurrent with red meat. She fans the flames of resentment and bitterness to get re-elected and stay upon her quest to oust Joey Preston from the Administrator's post.

What has surprised me is that undercurrent's lack of civility. "You were raised better than that," is something my mama still says to me when I get uncivil. There is decidedly less of that old civility in the culture in this part of Anderson County today. Ms. Wilson's supporters seem to actually follow around their opponents, or claim to just "see" them with this or that person and try to make controversy. There are parts of the midlands of South Carolina, and the lowcountry, where such just might get one on the receiving end of a cold stare or worse.

Not here. The civil folks don't want to get involved. The undercurrent laps it up. That bitter undercurrent can be found throughout politics and even everyday conversation. I was surprised at how several people asked me about some personal business without really knowing me at all. I know how ole Tom Moore would have replied. It would have been different then the kindly shaking of the head Mr. Wright would have done as he walked away from the conversation.

The is still a strong element of the old place I called home, the place of Ross Wright and Tom Moore, left in this part of Anderson County. They still will help when you are down and stay out of your personal business. God bless those people. They are why I am going to stay here and why I am proud to call this place home again.

But, the undercurrent seems to get all the attention these days with Cindy Wilson as their leader. That crowd has replaced bringing food to you when you are down with following you around to see who you eat with. They have replaced working things out between good people with bringing lawsuits. They have replaced working together to get the job done with destroying the community to make a point. They have replaced helping a neighbor with getting entertainment out of a neighbor's plight. They have replaced staying out of a man's home life with disrupting his home for political gain.

If this region of Anderson County wants to rebound, either with new high paying jobs, or just as a bedroom community, then the bitter undercurrent needs to be addressed and defeated politically. There is a lot of work to be done. That work can not be done as long as malcontents are allowed to have such a prominent role. While those malcontents have their right to make their voices heard, when they start shaping the culture, it is time for those who are more civilly minded to stand up and take the culture back. The road back to Honea Path being a place of political legends and a thriving economy is only a ballot box away. We don't have the luxury of worrying about people's personal lives. We don have the luxury of settling scores. This part of Anderson County is at a crossroads, and we must either take the road back to the future so to speak, where we embrace the civility that made this town semi-legendary, or we will slip down the road to going the way of the old railroad towns that decay and rot away until there is a just a shell left.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

O my what a big win

Senator Barak Obama pulled off the landslide over Hillary Clinton. Some pundits saw that coming. The often bitter campaign tactics of the former President, Bill Clinton, did not play well here in South Carolina.

I do not believe anyone, outside hardcore Democrats, saw the numbers coming. More Democrats than Republicans voted in the primary. Barak Obama got more votes than John McCain and Mike Huckabee combined.

What does that mean? It means several things. First, for the Democrats, it means the Clinton machine will have to rely heavily upon the Democratic Party establishment and even the votes of so called "super" delegates to win the nomination. I think the Clinton machine will win the the nod, but the damage to their own party in the process could be telling. It might be the best thing for the Republicans.

Second, the numbers give Barak Obama a boost that was not expected. His margin of victory, and his total votes can make him argue that if the nominee, he can fight for votes in places other Democrats could only dream of. A lot will be said about the black vote in South Carolina. But note, Obama got a chunk of the white vote, and from exit polling data, there were a good many first time Democratic primary voters.

For Republicans, the numbers mean something else. It is a wake up call for us. We have to realize that we can no longer take the South Carolina vote for granted. I know that is a shock to some of you. But, the numbers are there and they are what they are. South Carolina Republicans are going to have to work again to gain victory.

Congratulations to Senator Obama and the Democrats for the big numbers. You woke me up. You have my attention. Now, if only the rest of my party will wake us as well. I get the point. South Carolina Democrats think they are in a real fight, not an exhibition. We Republicans had better realize that as well.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Honor and Remember Dr. King

Today we honor and remember a man who stood for human love and compassion and basic human rights. King was a man, who above all else, preached love even to his enemies. He was a true Christrian leader and humanitarian. It is fitting we honor him and remember him with a national holiday. My favorite quote from him is "Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

Powerful words to live by in any situation or any walk of life. If only all of us, regardless of race, would heed such words.

Thank you, Dr. King for what you gave us.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The political resurrection of John McCain

Just three months ago, John McCain's win in the South Carolina Presidential Primary seemed impossible to most pundits, including albeit quietly, those who supported McCain.

While I have already received emails from some fellow Huckabee supporters who blame the raw weather in the upstate, a cold rain followed by snow, as a reason that Huckabee could not catch McCain, I see something else.

The undecideds from a week or so ago broke McCain's way. South Carolina Republicans did what they normally do, hee and haw and then go and vote for the closest thing to an establishment candidate. McCain, despite his maverick standing of eight years ago, is the closest thing to an establishment candidate this year.

The South Carolina victory, coupled with the win in New Hampshire, resurrected John McCain's political career. I am frank enough to admit to you I thought McCain was done a few months ago and that I was wrong. (Some of his "supporters" surely now will not admit the same feelings they had a few months ago.) McCain and his folks deserve all the credit in the world for pulling out a close victory and winning over a third of South Carolina Republicans in a crowded field.

But, there is lot of work left to do for McCain. He will have the "Big Mo" now has Bush the Elder called his political momentum in 1988, but how will things shape when the field dwindles and it is just a three candidates in field? Will the GOP go to a brokered convention, or will McCain's "Big Mo" carry him to the nomination as Republicans take up their traditional ways of nominating the candidate who "deserves" it?

Florida and Super Tuesday will tell. But, for now, the McCain comeback is a solid story and one that supporters of other candidates can not ignore. I respect McCain for keeping up the fight and making himself relevant again when all but written off. He is a true American hero. Though I voted for Huckabee, and I am proud of that vote, I respect Senator McCain for the character he showed by staying in the fight and getting the win.

Though I still hope, that somehow, someway, Huckabee wins the GOP nomination, I can say with no hesitation, I will have no problem with John McCain as the Republican nominee. The man has guts. He was left for dead before in Vietnam. Being left of politically dead had to pale in comparison. He survived both ordeals. There is something to be be said for that. Like John McCain or not, support John McCain or not, disagree with him on this or that, but you have to respect the man for his ability to survive and thrive.

As an afterthought, do not be shocked if Fred Thompson drops out of the race and at a time and place politically viable, endorses his old friend John McCain. If McCain wins the nomination, he will likely have to pick a running mate who appeals to social conservatives. The maverick that he is, McCain could pick a wildcard candidate. However, I think the choice would be between Huckabee and Thompson. A quick exit and timely endorsement by Thompson might give him the upper hand on the VP nomination.

What do you think? Did you brave the raw weather to vote? Let me know your comments. Thanks again for reading, and congratulations to John McCain and his people for the victory in South Carolina.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Romney's reaction to reporter is telling

It has made the news shows around the country, but there is nothing more telling of the arrogance and the plain political ineptness of Mitt Romney and his campaign than the incident in South Carolina yesterday.

If you watch the video you will see a reporter get rather aggressive with Romney over Romney's slick way of presenting things. In this case it is about lobbyists not "running" his campaign, despite the fact one is a close adviser. Romney's rather uptight response was not all that bad. Sometimes it pays for a candidate to be a little aggressive back with a reporter.

But, his second exchange with the reporter was just plain politically dumb. The press event was essentially over. It was time for Romney to shake a few hands, all but ignore the press folks around him and leave.

To make matters worse, the campaign aide tells the reporter it is unprofessional to be argumentative with the candidate. Wow.

If the aide wants to be angry with someone it should be himself. The aide should have sensed his boss was ticked and positioned himself between the candidate and the reporter and sort of gently turned Romney and said something like, "Governor this is Mrs. Smith," and then get his candidate out of there.

Telling the reporter that being argumentative is unprofessional while the cameras were rolling, well, that is either ignorant or arrogant.

Romney is not running for city council, he is running for President of the United States. The press has a right to ask tough questions, and the candidate had better be ready to diffuse the aggressive reporter, not turn it up a notch. President Bush, as unpopular as he is and as inarticulate as he can be sometimes, has that skill. The President uses nicknames and references to humor to diffuse the press at times.

Romney and his folks had better learn fast that the President of the United States is going to get a lot more heat than some reporter talking about lobbyists. If Romney can not handle that guy better, how is going to handle Obama or Clinton in the fall? Or what about an aggressive Congressional or foreign leader?

It was not a Howard Dean scream moment, but it was telling.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Primary’winner is anyone’s guess

The Republican Presidential primary in South Carolina is upon us. On this Saturday, Republicans will go to the polls to select their choice for President of the United States. The day will end what has been an incredible year in the polls in South Carolina.

As it now stands, some polls show John McCain in the lead. Others show Mike Huckabee. Mitt Romney is surging, and has his on the ground negative machine in full action. Two others who have led in previous polls in South Carolina over the past year, Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani are fighting for their political lives. Giuliani is banking on Florida. Thompson is banking on South Carolina.

Who knows who will win the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary, or the Republican nomination for that matter?

If McCain or Romney pull off the win, it might propel them to big wins on Super Tuesday that keep the Republican convention from being brokered. If Huckabee wins, all such bets are off. Thompson will likely not win, but he was to, he would be the fourth winner in the four meaningful contests so far, again setting up a battle to the end.

The puzzling candidate in the field is Giuliani. He hired a top notch consultant to assist him in South Carolina, and then all but ignored the state in favor of his “big state” strategy that is long on promise and short on momentum. Giuliani’s decision to forego the little states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will either prove to be genius are just plain stupid. Time will tell.

Mike Huckabee, admittedly my choice, needs a win in South Carolina to keep the viability argument alive for him. If Huckabee wins South Carolina, he has momentum for Florida. He wins Florida, then watch out, the guy could end up with the nomination.

The same is true for McCain and Romney. If either of them pulls off the win in South Carolina, their momentum could carry over to Florida and then the big slate on Super Tuesday.

Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani hope they can do the same.

There are more scenarios floating around about the Republican field than there are drunks on Bourbon Street during Mardi gras. Each contending campaign is out spinning how their guy is set to win the nomination. News media types are hyping what might turn out to be the big story of a brokered convention.

The bottom line is the Republican race for President of the United States is virtually wide open in South Carolina and beyond. What happens Saturday in the Palmetto State might yet again go a long way in determining the nominee of the Republican Party.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

People Forgot how Good the Clintons are at Politics

Just a few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton's close victory over Barack Obama in New Hampshire would have been seen as a sign of weakness. However, even conservative pundits are touting her "upset" victory Tuesday.

It was not upset in reality, just in perception. The perception was shifted by a calculated effort by the Clinton folks to downplay expectations. Their allies and staffers gave information on the record and on background playing up the polls that showed Obama ahead, playing down the ones that had Clinton close, and even floating a rumor about Clinton dropping out. It was a political masterstroke.

That masterstroke turned a virtual incumbents narrow victory into a huge one. The conversation is now about Hillary Clinton's so called "upset" win, not the fact she has lost a fourth of so of the Democratic party in the past two months.

Perhaps since it has been twelve years since we saw the Clinton political operation in national election mode, media members and pundits forgot how good they are.

The Clintons scored a win on Tuesday in New Hampshire, but their bigger win was making all the talking heads think that it means something positive for the Clinton campaign. The true believing neophytes of the Obama campaign never saw it coming. They actually played right into it.

A quote from Bobby Bowden about an opponent that beat his Florida State team applies to the political skills of the Clintons: "Dadgum, they're good."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

They are off to Columbia

Tis the season. No, not the holiday season, that is past. It is the season for the members of the General Assembly to be off to Columbia. As every seat in the House and Senate is up for re-election this year, we can be assured that this General Assembly session will be long on political points and short on governing.

The General Assembly seems to be eager to deal with illegal immigration issues, which is well and good and past time to deal with. However, it is unlikely that other major issues facing he future of the state, such as infrastructure problems, property tax hikes despite the relief passed by the General Assembly last year, the rising costs of state employee retirement and the like will come up.

To be sure there will be some legislators who will cry out "the sky is falling," about the major issues the state faces. However, in this election year those voices will likely be drowned out by legislators who think if not say, " who cares, as long as the sky is not falling on my re-election chances. "

In other words, the commerce of the restaurants, hotels, bars, and drug stores of the Columbia metro are will increase over the next five months, but little governing is likely to be done.

There will be a good bit of posturing. The Governor will posture himself against the members of the General Assembly he does not like. Members of the General Assembly will posture themselves in a way that aids their re-election. The Speaker of the House will posture himself to promote his campaign for Governor in 2010.

All the above will posture to win. However, the real losers will be the people of South Carolina, who will pay for five or so months of political posturing instead of solutions the problems the state faces. At least the Columbia area bars will make some money. The rest of us will pay for the circus that is about to come to town.