Gov. Nikki Haley showed a different, intelligent, and complex side of her persona last Tuesday at a news conference regarding South Carolina's recent scandal involving a foreign hacker gaining access to a state Department of Revenue server, which compromised the identities of 3.6 million South Carolinians.
In a lengthy statement to members of the press she personally invited to the conference, Haley thoroughly explained how the attack occurred, what the failures in the Dept. of Revenue's systems were, the steps taken to correct them, and how the state plans to deal with one of the largest identity thefts in history.
Sadly, this is all just fantasy. During the many press conferences Haley held last week, there were contradictions, obfuscations, and misleading statements given by several of the state's highest public officials, while the governor seemed to be pleased that she offered this bit of frontier wisdom to the hackers: "Don't mess with South Carolina." Later, she even proclaimed that when the hacker was caught, her instructions to authorities "were to slam him to the wall." Unfortunately for Haley, and the 3.6 million current and former residents of the Palmetto State, someone has already messed with South Carolina — and at this point, they have seemingly won.
Sadly, this is the sort of puffed-up, frat-boy bravado that too many politicians resort to these days. In an effort to replace what once would have been an honest effort of putting a veneer of legitimacy on a ridiculous lump of patronizing nonsense, political officials simply attempt a John Wayne impersonation and hope that they can bluff their way out of trouble. It is the same know-nothing, anti-intellectual garbage thrown out by Mitt Romney during the foreign policy debate last month when he made reference to "going after the bad guys".
Replacing serious conversation about matters foreign and domestic, or in the case of our stolen financial data, with tired tough-guy-isms, is a dangerous mistake. Not only does it oversimplify the problem by reducing the response to asinine sound bites, but it also engenders a false sense that our public servants are actually doing something when they are, in reality, completely clueless and obviously frightened to death to let anyone know just how out of their league they are.
This is the language of local talk radio hosts pandering to their listeners. It is the language of the private-sector public relations hacks who are paid to paint over rust and wrap bows on feces and call them presents. It is the language of a group of people who are unable to form an intelligent and coherent response to a serious breach of the public trust, or are unwilling to do so because they believe the public is either too ignorant for such a response or are simply undeserving of one. These are the only options to explain how or why supposedly intelligent people who have risen to positions of relatively powerful public office and recognition open their mouths and utter such colossal inanities.
How we arrived at this sad state of affairs is a subject for political science classes or sociology seminars. Certainly, American politics in general and South Carolina politics specifically always seem to be composed of some measure of tough-talking, and it certainly is not solely from the mouths of Republican officials. Even Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., speaking to the men who murdered Marley Lion, said, "This is my message: In Charleston, we will catch you. You will go to jail."
These sorts of empty words and phrases are little comfort to those affected by violent crime or those compromised by identity thieves. What the public deserves are strong policies and proactive measures aimed at prevention. The old adage about closing the barn doors after the cows are already gone applies in these cases, although no one could ever reasonably imagine the farmer later issuing empty threats to the cows and making vague promises about better barn doors in the future.
South Carolina residents fearing that their financial data is now in the hands of identity thieves deserve more than a dodgy, hyper-masculine response from the Haley administration. They deserve better than a governor making excuses for everything connected to the incident or outright lying about the best practices involved in the private sector with regard to private financial data. Above all, they deserve better than a governor willing to blame a jammed phone line on the handful of journalists who are working their hardest to gather information for the citizens of their state, information which should be forthcoming from the very public officials to whom the citizenry entrusted their information in the first place.