2014 and ‘Getting the Politics Right’ in S.C.

  • Friday, January 3, 2014

By Phil Noble

At year’s end, it seems that every pundit who writes a column (and I guess I’m one of them) feels compelled to write a ”think piece” of some kind looking back on the year just passed or ahead to the year to come.

Although he and I are more different than alike, I take inspiration for this year-end column from recent comments by writer/pundit Charles Krauthammer. We are about the same age and are both intensely interested in politics, but that’s where the obvious similarities between us end. He began his career as a medical doctor, a psychiatrist in fact, and went to Washington from Harvard Medical School. His political resume begins with working for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, writing for the New Republic and Washington Post and then winning a Pulitzer Prize.

If you were looking for a board-certified Washington liberal, this guy would have fit the bill, but over time his politics has migrated sharply to the right and he is now most often found on Fox News supporting the ideas and people he previous attacked so effectively. Despite his political transgender experience, his credibility has not diminished but grown; the Financial Times has called him the most influential commentator in the nation.

Interesting, you say, but what does this have to do with 2014 and South Carolina?

A legitimate question and the answer is this: Krauthammer’s recent book, Things that Matter, is based on the belief that if we as a society don’t “get the politics right” – nothing else really matters. And, since 2014 is a big election year in South Carolina, we need to spend some serious time trying to do just that.

Krauthammer’s thesis is that nothing will really work properly – in business, education, medicine, families, etc. – as long as government plays such an ineffective role in the life of our society. And, while we would disagree on some of the specifics, I think he’s basically right, and it’s this “ineffective role,” or just plain broken and dysfunctional role, that typifies too much of state government in South Carolina. This is what is holding us back as a state.

Here are a few concrete examples:

Ideology first – The Republicans that run state government put their rigid ideology above basic common-sense policies that would benefit the state as a whole. For example: their blind hatred for President Obama has dictated that they oppose the expansion of Medicaid for our state even though a large majority of our citizens want it and their refusal will cost us over $11 billion in improved health care and economic development .

Minority rights – It is indeed ironic that, in the state that claims John C. Calhoun as our political patron saint, the majority (Republicans) happily tramples on the “rights of the minority” (Democrats). Minority rights were the basis of Calhoun’s whole philosophy. Because they have such overwhelming numbers in the State House, the Republicans don’t even have to consider ideas or policies that are put forward by Democrats. As one Republican state senator said to me in a moment of brutal honesty, “I don’t know why they [the Democratic legislators] even bother to come to Columbia.”

Private Interests vs. Public Interests – We have a tax system that is driven by corrupt special interest tax breaks. We as a state give away over $3 billion in sales-tax revenues to private interests that could be put to better use for such broad public interests as statewide kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds, a better job-training system or the expansion of needed care for the elderly. But the reality is that none of these public interests really have a chance to prevail over the legion of highly paid lobbyists handing out legal bribes (campaign contributions) to legislators – both Republican and Democrat.

These are just three examples but the list goes on and on.

Next year, 2014, is an election year and it’s an opportunity for us to try and “fix politics” by fixing the people we elect. I’m not so naive (or partisan) as to believe that this is simply a choice between Democrats and Republicans – it’s not. It’s a choice between change and the status quo, between the future and the past, and between public interest and private gain.

We need to evaluate all of our politicians, not through a partisan lens, but based on whether they sincerely want to “fix politics” – the broken system we have in Columbia.

As the title of Krauthammer’s book says, we as a state need to get beyond shallow partisanship and focus on “things that matter”… things that matter for everyone in the state and not just the political class in Columbia.

Correction: In a recent column about the SC American Party, I referred to one of its co-founders as Oscar Underwood; it should have been Oscar Lovelace. My sincere apology.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform to government. phil@scnewdemocrats.org www.SCNewDemocrats.org

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