23 July 2008

What Is It This Time?

Every time I hear the words South Carolina in a national venue, I cringe. It's not that I don't love my home state, and right now I am basking in the humidity, awaiting afternoon showers that could come more often, eager to see whether my largest tomato plant will actually manage to peak the roof line.

But we're the prodigal child of the nation, not quite welcomed back into the fold nearly a hundred and fifty years after seceding from the Union, and it's as if the rest of the country relishes every opportunity to witness us behaving like in-bred, parochial bumpkins. Only a few months ago I saw the Bishopville sheriff humoring a reporter's question about whether the Lizard Man caused damage to the front of a local couple's van. I gotta hand it to the guy; he almost managed not to crack a smile. Back when I lived in Arizona, I just knew they were talking about my home town in a lead for a story about the sheriff whose video surveillance captured not illegal dumping but an entirely different kind of illicit behavior instead.

And now we have state senators who've decided that their blogs should look like the Daily Show or Colbert Report. Last week South Carolina Senator Kevin Bryant posted a tasteless picture that poked juvenile fun at the similarity between the names Obama and Osama. He has since removed the photo, though his response to the outcry still includes a link to it. He attempts to cover his tracks by claiming he only wanted to bring scrutiny to Obama's foreign policy positions.

As you might imagine, that is not what happened.

Most distressing was Mr. Bryant's (or his office's) apparent moderation of comments on the initial post. Although there were some negative responses, it seemed evident that all the comments weren't being posted or that some were afterwards deleted. USA Today reported 22 comments on the site Monday night, yet by the time I reached the blog, only 9 showed as being posted before Tuesday. Some responses alluded to previous comments not being published. Mine disappeared into a black hole after awaiting moderation for most of a day.

Evidently someone in the Bryant camp pointed out the hypocrisy of waving the banner of free speech in his defense while suppressing it on his own blog, because by Wednesday morning, moderators were approving what appeared to be all of the comments on his response entry, including mine, though not necessarily in the order they were posted.

Mr. Bryant has his apologists, and I respect their right to that opinion. Some have defended him on the grounds that the photo was funny. For me that's just not enough. Is it so hard to understand that we hold politicians to a different standard than comedy shows and political cartoonists? There's a reason we react when Jesse Jackson talks like a thug, and that the proper response is an apology, not some song and dance about what he was really trying to do. Political figures who are trying to influence opinion and policy are not the same as celebrities merely trying to attract the public's attention.

I don't care what Sharon Stone says about China. But especially when it affects how the rest of the world sees and interacts with South Carolinians, I do care what my legislators say.


You can see Senator Bryant's blog, with 125 comments currently on his July 22 post, including mine, here.

You can see my first article about this subject here.