Last week’s midterm elections were a triumph for moderation and common sense. Democrats made major congressional gains and won governorships in all regions of the country, except the South, of course, where centuries of ignorance, superstition, and fear allow the Republican Party to keep its death grip.
The best evidence of this could be seen in South Carolina’s statewide races, where the Republicans swept seven of the eight offices on the ballot. At this writing, Democrat Jim Rex held a lead of fewer than 400 votes for state superintendent of education. What all this means, of course, is that the majority of white South Carolinians still walk in lockstep with the GOP, just as their parents and grandparents walked in lockstep with the Democratic Party in their effort to retain white political control in South Carolina.
As long as a majority of whites continue to give their votes uncritically to Republicans, South Carolina will remain a one-party state and a Third World country. A generation from now, Republican candidates will still be touting their conservative credentials while calling for change and reform. What is clear in this muddled message is that change and reform are needed, but white South Carolinians are in love with the past. We will remain trapped in the past — economically and socially — as long as whites are locked in their racial attitudes, as long as blacks are locked out of the halls of power by the white majority.
But maybe the glass was half-full on election day. The good news is that most of the statewide races were relatively close, with Republicans receiving less than 55 percent of the vote. The trend in recent years has been toward closer statewide races, suggesting that racial attitudes are softening, that the influx of new residents is changing this state’s culture of fear and intolerance. It gives us hope that someday South Carolina may actually be a two-party state and race will cease to be the dividing line on every issue.
Of course, the issue that brings out the strongest racial animosities is education. For years, South Carolina whites have sought to resegregate education through private schools. And the way they seek to do this is with vouchers, giving public money to families to take their children out of public schools.
Gov. Mark Sanford has his own version of a voucher plan. It is a tax rebate to be used for private education. It is a terrible plan. The money in question is not enough to pay for a private school education. It is just another giveaway to wealthy families who don’t need the money and who intend to send their children to private schools anyway.
The Sanford voucher plan was supported by Karen Floyd, the Republican candidate for superintendent of education. More importantly, it was supported by Howard Rich of New York and his many allies and associates, who poured tens of thousands of dollars into Sanford’s and Floyd’s campaigns. The apparent defeat of Floyd represents a triumph of local interests over out-of-state interests and — hopefully — the end of Sanford’s voucher plan.
The bad news comes in the form of the constitutional amendments. The passage of Question 4, capping property assessment at 15 percent every five years, represents a further shift of the tax burden from the wealthiest South Carolinians to middle- and working-class families. Many of the 68 percent of the voters who supported this constitutional amendment are obviously the same people who shop at Kmart and have no health insurance, but vote Republican. This amendment represents a deepening of our class divisions and our state’s standing in the Third World.
And, of course, there was Question 1 — the “gay marriage” amendment. This amendment, which formally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, was approved by more than 75 percent of voters, demonstrating how deeply imbued this state remains in homophobic superstition. It also demonstrates how quickly black people forget.
Forty years ago, it was blacks who were fighting for basic rights — the right to public accommodations, the right to a decent education, and the right for two people to marry, even if they were of different races, even if Southern laws forbade it and Southern churches called it unnatural and ungodly. The overwhelming majority by which the amendment passed means that not only a majority of whites but also a majority of blacks oppose gay marriage.
Middle-class blacks tend to be very culturally conservative. That’s no secret. But it would be nice if they tempered their conservatism with a little respect for other minorities who seek justice and fairness.
In short, little has changed in South Carolina with the recent elections and that, in a nutshell, is the history of this state.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.