Saturday, June 5, 2010

This is a Joke - Right? Political Hijinks in South Carolina

I don't often post about politics here and the following story is a good reason why I don't!  Turned my stomach, it did. I am still shaking my head in disbelief that people really say, do and believe incredibly stupid things.  The target in this case is a woman running for the GOP's nomination to run for governor of South Carolina.

From Yahoo
'Raghead' slur is new ugly twist in S.C. race
Fri Jun 4, 4:40 pm ET

Lee Atwater would be proud. Or ashamed. Or both.

Atwater, the famed GOP operative who ran George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, was the universally acknowledged master of the political dirty trick — his was the diabolical mind behind the "Willie Horton" ad that did Michael Dukakis in — until a deathbed conversion in which he regretted the "naked brutality" of his career. Atwater was also a native of South Carolina, and in recent months his home state has been living up to his political legacy in ways he never could have imagined — most recently with a Republican state senator using the slur "raghead" for GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, a Christian of Indian Sikh descent, and for President Obama.

South Carolina has always had a singularly mean-spirited and crafty political culture, especially on the GOP side, where dog whistles about race and religion come across loud and clear to its good ol' boy base. There were the rumors floated during the 2000 Republican presidential primary about a supposed illegitimate black child of Sen. John McCain, and there was the time in 1990 when political consultant Rod Shealy conspired to increase the turnout among anti-black white voters in the GOP primary by recruiting a black candidate (which he correctly reckoned would benefit his candidate) to run for Congress.

South Carolina has also of late become known for the sexual peccadilloes of Gov. Mark Sanford and the anti-Obama rage of one of its congressmen, Joe Wilson (he of the "You lie!" outburst during the president's address to Congress on health care).

And now the state's Republican primary for governor has tied those threads of political deviousness, sexual innuendo and white rage into an Atwaterian nightmare.

Front-runner Haley, an attractive "pro-family" candidate who has the backing of the tea party movement and Sarah Palin, has been the target of not one but two claims of infidelity to her husband — both lodged by conservative political operatives who claim to have slept with her. And on Thursday a state senator who is supporting one of Haley's opponents casually referred to her as a "raghead" and claimed that she is a Manchurian candidate launched by a "network of Sikhs" to take over the governorship.

During a visit Thursday to "Pub Politics," an online political chat show hosted from a bar in Columbia, S.C., state senator Jake Knotts said: "We already got one raghead in the White House; we don't need a raghead in the governor's mansion." Haley's parents are Sikhs of Indian descent; she has converted to Christianity but still attends Sikh religious ceremonies on occasion out of deference to her parents.

According to the Columbia Free Times, Knotts also claimed that Haley was a plant being controlled by nefarious handlers:

Knotts says he believed Haley has been set up by a network of Sikhs and was programmed to run for governor of South Carolina by outside influences in foreign countries. He claims she is hiding her religion and he wants the voters to know about it.

The "raghead" remark seemed like an inevitable grace note in the gubernatorial primary. Knotts is supporting South Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Andre Bauer's candidacy, and this week a campaign consultant for Bauer named Larry Marchant came forward to claim he had a "one-night stand" with Haley — a married mother of two — at a school-choice conference in 2008. That allegation came just a week after Will Folks, a right-wing blogger and former campaign worker for Haley, claimed to have engaged in an "inappropriate physical relationship" with her.

Haley has categorically denied the charges and says she has been "100 percent faithful" to her husband. Bauer, who fired Marchant and says he has had nothing to do with the charges of infidelity, has chosen a curious approach to staying out of the fray: He's demanding that Haley take a lie-detector test to prove that she never cheated on her husband. Haley, meanwhile, has pledged that if she's elected, she will resign if proof ever comes out that she did sleep with Folks or Marchant.

Neither Marchant nor Folks has come forward with proof of their claims, though Folks has released phone records showing that he frequently spoke to Haley on the phone late at night and claims to have seen a photo, allegedly taken by a private investigator, of himself and Haley in a "compromising position."

As for Knotts, he has issued an apology for the "raghead" comment, claiming that it was "intended in jest" and that the "humorous content was lost in translation." Though the "Pub Politics" show was webcast, host Wesley Donehue, a South Carolina political consultant, Tweeted that "technical issues" prevented Knotts' remark from being archived on the show's site, so no video of it was immediately available. But he later Tweeted that he had his own version, as yet unreleased. (To add to the insular, high-school nature of the campaign's glorious disarray, Donehue was the person Folks accused of first peddling Folks-Haley rumors to the press, allegedly prompting Folks' confession.)

Even in his apology, Knotts managed to get another underhanded dig in at Haley, whom he says "is pretending to be someone she is not." Bauer used identical language in his statement challenging her to a lie-detector test. The implication that she is, as Knotts put it, "hiding her true religion." Meanwhile, the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody published a story Thursday saying her emphasis on her Christian faith has evolved over the years.

Haley has thus far used the bizarre attacks to her advantage, painting herself as a victim of a corrupt political culture, and has maintained a healthy lead in the polls. The primary is Tuesday, which leaves only three more days for Haley's opponents to systematically eviscerate the myth of the Southern gentleman.

— John Cook is a senior national reporter/blogger for Yahoo! News.

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