Who do they think they are, this father-and-son team of Arthur and Thomas Ravenel?
I'll tell you who they are. They are living proof of the plantation mentality that has held this state back for centuries. They are the dead weight of an unreconstructed past, which all of us haul around like a ball and chain in the 21st century. They are the haughty remnant of an arrogant class which has misruled this state from its beginning.
The good news is that the Ravenels seem to be finished in politics, hoisted on their own julep-scented petards, undone by their own presumption and their intellectual inertia.
For decades Arthur Ravenel Jr. has held one public office after another in the Lowcountry, including the 1st Congressional District seat. Now, at the age of 81, he has decided to close out his long career with a seat on the Charleston County School Board.
Through the years, this rock-ribbed Republican has cast himself as the defender of traditional values — though that didn't save him from an untraditional divorce 30 years ago. He railed against civil rights for blacks during the 1960s and against equal rights for women in the 1970s and '80s. At a rally for the Confederate flag in 1999, he famously called the NAACP "the National Association of Retarded People" — then apologized to retarded people.
But a few weeks ago he outdid himself when he walked into the school district offices in an apparent fit of pique, confronted an employee and — referring to former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and current Superintendent Nancy McGinley — said he had gotten rid of one "bitch" and he would get rid of another.
Asked about the incident by a Post and Courier reporter, the elder Ravenel at first denied the remark altogether; the next day he more or less fessed up, saying he had used the "b-word," though he didn't remember the context.
Here's some context for you, Arthur. All children in Charleston County Schools are required to sign a code of conduct stating that they will respect their peers and teachers; the statement explains that respect means treating others as you wish to be treated, including using good manners and appropriate language, managing anger and settling disagreements peacefully. The code states, "Bullying, harassment, or intimidation, like other disruptive or violent behavior, is conduct that disrupts both a student's ability to learn and the school's ability to educate its students in a safe environment."
The Code of Conduct also forbids dishonesty and lying, defining it as "failure to tell the truth."
Under this Code of Conduct, Arthur Ravenel would be subject to disciplinary action if he were a student. Indeed, such behavior should not be tolerated in any educational or professional environment.
We are all familiar with the story of Thomas Ravenel, the GOP golden boy who was elected State Treasurer in 2006 and seemed to be on the fast track to the U.S. Senate. That was before he was busted for using and distributing cocaine last spring. He is now on a 10-month sabbatical in federal prison.
In a whiney interview with P&C reporter Schuyler Kropf, young Ravenel said he should not have to go to prison. He is a victim of bad luck and bad circumstances, he said, adding, "I didn't steal any money. There was no public corruption."
Who do they think they are, indeed?
As a lifelong southerner, I feel qualified to answer that question. They think that their white skins, their Y chromosomes, and their family name and money set them apart from the rest of us. They think that they should hold public office and make the laws and decide the rules of common civility the rest of us have to follow, but not be obliged to live by those same laws and rules.
For generations they have lived in their cocoon of power, protected by the sheer weight of tradition. They have used their power — as Arthur Ravanel tried to do recently — to bully and silence their critics, to keep out ideas and people who threatened their hegemony.
We will never know how many other "underlings" Ravenel has addressed in this brutal manner in his long life. What we do know is that the culture of South Carolina has changed enough that in 2008 when this old plutocrat walked into the school district offices and called two highly educated professional women "bitches," the employees and school board stood up to him. The public is clambering for his censure or removal.
The Ravenels have been a blight on this community for years. Through their arrogance and stupidity, they have effectively removed themselves from any further position of public trust or honor in this state.
Now, we should start working to remove the Ravenel name from our beautiful bridge.