It's times like these that make me suspect that South Carolina Republicans underfund the state's public schools with the malicious intent of keeping people too ignorant to understand what the hell is going on.
Want some proof? On the heals of December's Secession Gala, in which grown men and women dressed up in their Confederate regalia and strutted about the Gaillard Auditorium, the Stephen Dill Lee Institute — described by The Post and Courier as "something of a Confederate think-tank formed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans" — hosted a downtown conference under the name "Lincoln vs. Jefferson: Opposing Visions of America."
I did not attend this little shindig, in part because I refused to shell out the $150 admission, but also because I had a pretty good idea what the conclusions of the participants would be. When the SCV starts talking about Abraham Lincoln, you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.
And in case there was any doubt, a SCV spokesman spelled it out: "Jefferson was a proponent of decentralized government, while Lincoln was for big government and high taxes."
Ah, yes. Big government and high taxes, those bugaboos of conservatives and white Southerners, two groups that are pretty much synonymous.
But what conservatives cannot understand — or choose to ignore — is that political power cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be moved around.
The Founders of the Republic sought to balance that power between the states and the federal government. Thomas Jefferson — the hero of the neo-Confederates — dreamed of a bucolic, idyllic yeoman's republic, in which citizens (white, of course) lived in relative equality on their own farms, traded in the local economy, and were barely touched by outside commerce or federal authority. Good theory, but Jefferson's vision was never more than a fantasy.
The ink wasn't dry on the Constitution before the Industrial Revolution exploded on the North American continent and transformed the new nation. The driving force behind that transformation was the privately held corporation.
The Founders could never have imagined the magnitude of modern corporations, some of which are larger than the economies of whole nations. They could never have imagined the influence these behemoths would exercise over our society, our economy, and our environment. If they had, I like to think they would have designed their Constitution very differently.
To repeat: Political power cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be moved around.
Corporations have accrued such power in recent decades that they collectively have become the most powerful force in America. And yet there is scant recognition of them in the Constitution.
For all their benefactions, corporations corrupt our political system, despoil our environment, send our jobs overseas, and crash our markets. And the only authority with any hope of checking or balancing this undemocratic, multinational power is the federal government. It is the federal government that has created the most effective laws to protect the nation's environment; regulate its banking, finance, and insurance industries; enforce safety standards for its food and drugs; establish rules for resolving labor-management disputes; provide healthcare for all; and so much more.
The federal government does these things because the states are physically and legally powerless to regulate the likes of Ford, BP, Dow Chemical, Bank of America, Kraft Foods, and Southwest Airlines. These companies must be held to some level of accountability. Trust and dependability are the pillars of a modern industrial democracy. Federal law and regulation are the only things that keep giant corporations from grinding all of us under their heel. And the Feds haven't been doing such a good job lately. Behold the wreck Wall Street made of our economy two years ago.
What is amazing to the outsider and the educated person is the way white South Carolinians are constantly denouncing the federal government, its laws, and the taxes necessary to support it. They just can't get past that Civil War thing. A century and a half later, the federal government is still the enemy.
On Election Day, white South Carolinians voted overwhelmingly against the right of workers to organize, going against Washington's wishes. And the state is considering becoming the first state to withdraw from the federal Medicaid program. Last week Sen. Lindsey Graham announced that he would introduce legislation to exempt the state from participating in the new healthcare reform law. He did not explain how we were supposed to take care of the 40 percent of our people who are uninsured. The list of such follies would fill volumes.
Regulation follows technology and commerce with the certainty of gravity. To acknowledge that simple fact would transform South Carolina's politics and culture. No wonder our politicians don't want us to know it.