If this is a new era, why does it feel like deja vu? 

Assessing the Damage

Today the Panama Canal is undergoing the greatest expansion in its century of use. When the job is completed in 2014, the canal's capacity will double. It will carry larger and more numerous ships than ever before.

Ports in the Southeastern United States are preparing for the increased traffic with massive dredging projects to deepen and widen channels. Mobile, Ala., and ports in Florida have been awarded hundreds of millions of federal dollars for this purpose, and their citizens and congressional delegations seem comfortable with the fact. It is how business is done in the U.S. in the 21st century.

But Charleston was recently turned down for a $400,000 federal grant to study its harbor needs because the grant would be a legislative earmark and, as all the world knows, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has gone to war against legislative earmarks — even the ones that would help his home compete with other Southeastern states for trade and industry.

That should be enough to cost any politician his job, but the good people of South Carolina just rewarded DeMint for his ideological mulishness with an overwhelming victory in last week's national elections. (And little would have changed had DeMint faced someone other than Alvin Greene.) As they have done for generations, the white people of South Carolina have chosen to follow the voice of anger and intransigence, no matter how self-defeating. Remember that Civil War thingy — to put it in the Sarah Palin vernacular?

Of course, South Carolina last week elected its first female governor (of Indian descent, no less) and a black man to Congress from the 1st District. That Nikki Haley and Tim Scott are both Republican is all the more remarkable.

Yet, I take little comfort here. Neither Haley nor Scott won their elections by addressing the plight of women and minorities in South Carolina. This state has fewer women in its legislature than any other. It is the only state with no women in its Senate. And at least two women lost House seats last week. Electing a woman governor is a milestone, but this is hardly the year of the woman in South Carolina.

So while it appears that white South Carolinians are overcoming their ancient racist and sexist impulses, they have not learned how to function in a complex, economically integrated world.

Another defeat for common sense and self-interest was the victory of Mick Mulvaney over 28-year House veteran John Spratt in the 5th U.S. Congressional District. As chairman of the Budget Committee, Spratt was revered in his delegation and in Congress as a statesman, a politician of rare vision and character. With his chairmanship and seniority, he was in a position to get things done for the 5th District. And now he is gone.

He was defeated in large part by the flood of outside cash — much of it from unidentified sources — in the last days of the campaign. Ironically, in a state that so resents any federal intrusion on its sovereignty, its politicians welcome millions of dollars in "unmarked bills" from God-knows-where in order to buy their votes.

In 1994, I was writing a column for the Free Times, a weekly newspaper in Columbia, when the GOPers took over Congress in that historic landslide. I watched the woeful returns that night with Democratic friends. The next week I closed my column with the flip remark that we had joined hands at the end of the evening to sing "O Canada."

In fact, none of us fled to the Great White North. We didn't have to. The Newt Gingrich-led GOPers badly overplayed their hand the next year, using their brash, unrestrained power to shut down the federal government in a temper tantrum against President Bill Clinton. Voters punished them by seriously diminishing their numbers and re-electing Clinton two years later. In 1998, Republicans actually lost five House seats in midterm elections, and Gingrich resigned his seat and left the House.

I predict that something similar — though not as dramatic without Gingrich at the helm — will happen to the new Republican House majority. There are simply too many fissures and conflicts within this new GOP bloc. Problems facing this country are too complex and too numerous to be solved by cutting taxes and abolishing the Department of Education. But that's about all you heard the teabaggers talking about during the campaign. Now, they have to actually govern. And they must get along with mainstream Republicans, who have their own priorities and a lot more pragmatism than these brash teabag upstarts.

Watching the GOP over the next couple of years could be like watching a slow-motion train wreck. I just hope they don't take the whole country on a ride with them.

See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.


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