Revisited: Proud to be South Carolinian

Rep. Joe Wilson, the churlish member of Congress who yelled at President Obama during his speech this week, is (not surprisingly) another proud son of South Carolina. Representing parts of the genteel Low Country, Wilson went off his rocker when emotions got the better of him and he felt compelled to shout “You lie!” at the nation’s chief executive. He’s since apologized, or maybe not. But he reminds us all again what a bunch of interesting people my current state of residence has produced.

Today’s “Revisited” post recalls a few other prominent Sandlappers who also made it embarrasingly onto the national scene.

In my website review of a few weeks back, I teased the good people and state of North Dakota, primarily for being a bleak barren winterscape but also because they considered the presence of a swimming pool to be a state attraction. It was all in good fun and hardly meant to offend, though readers from the Flickertail State contacted me to say … well … actually, I don’t have any readers in North Dakota. So screw you after all.

It did get me to thinking though about how people who live in glass houses should be foreclosed on for shear stupidity, and that they also shouldn’t throw stones. As a resident of South Carolina, whose unofficial motto is “thank God for Mississippi or we’d be last at everything,” I can honestly acknowledge that we have some serious image problems as well. I think it’s only fair that I examine these, primarily using the website that promotes tourism in the state, scprt.com.

Before we venture there, however, let me make an observation about U.S. states in general. Two things that North Dakota and South Carolina do have in common is an adjectival modifier in their names, and I believe it testifies to their lesser status. Think about other states that are easy to make fun of: there’s New Jersey, rather than just Jersey; West Virginia, rather than just Virginia (though Virginia is pretty laughable too); Rhode Island, rather than just Island. All of these, unlike powerful brands such as California, Texas and Hawaii, are commonly the butt of jokes. If I toss in Arid Zona, Mini Sota and Mass o’chusetts, I’m obviously stretching to make a point, so I think I’ll return to my original subject.

The part of the website I’m going to focus on is a subsection in the “Facts and Figures – Help with Homework” that includes a list of famous South Carolinians.

There was a time about 20 years ago when there was a noticeable trend of bozos in the news who called the Palmetto State home, and I remember being vaguely embarrassed every time I met someone out of state and had to say where I was from (“originally Florida”). In the late eighties, we saw disgraced evangelist Jim Bakker, game-show manqué Vanna White, corrupt congressman John Jenrette, political assassin Lee Atwater and toothless tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry almost constantly in the news. White and Perry both made the website list, the former as the 300-pound defensive lineman who helped the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl, and the latter starring as Venus in the TV movie “Goddess of Love”.  (Or do I have that backwards? I always get former and latter confused.) Bakker, Jenrette and Atwater were conveniently overlooked.

Also on the website list are a number of other well-known Sandlappers from throughout history of at-best questionable integrity.

There’s the legendary U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, now remembered primarily for fathering a child with a black teenager while race-baiting his way to a third-place finish in the 1948 presidential race. The state web page fails to mention either of those milestones, of course, choosing instead to focus on his more intriguing stints as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Business Rights and Competition.

There’s Shoeless Joe Jackson, who is acknowledged to have conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series as a member of the Chicago Black Sox. Despite having been the Jose Canseco/Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds/Jason Giambi/Alex Rodriguez/Andy Pettite of his time, he’s more fondly remembered as the holder of the third-highest career batting average in baseball history and having once played a minor league game in his socks. Big deal; I used to play tennis in my bare feet.

There’s James Brown, cited as the “Godfather of Soul” and “Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” though understandably not as “High-Speed Police Evader While Carrying an Unlicensed Pistol” or “Wielder of Steak Knife Against an Electric Company Repairman.” There’s Leeza Gibbons, a South Carolina native best known for her role as host for “Entertainment Tonight” and her own talk show, “Leeza!” (My editor tells me that the exclamation point should be outside the quotes, since the excitement is mine, not the show’s.) And there’s Darius Rucker, lead singer and guitarist for the hottest band of March 13, 1994, Hootie and the Blowfish.

Not yet on the list are two names I look forward to seeing in the not-too-distant future.

First is current governor Republican Mark Sanford. A right-wing purist, Sanford was in the news just yesterday for finally entertaining the possibility that he might accept federal stimulus money that is due his desperately poor state despite the fact that he opposes the package in principle. He said he’d comb through the fine print of the recently passed bill trying to find anything that would benefit the people of South Carolina, despite claiming “it’s a horrible idea” and has “real bad” ramifications for the country and economy. He’s also been in a feud with the state’s employment security commission because they’ve been unable to match 200,000 jobless people with 40,000 vacancies, conveniently overlooking the fact that by gutting education funding, he’s made it virtually impossible for janitor Clem from the closed textile factory to get a job in genome sequencing research.

Sanford was briefly considered a potential vice-presidential candidate last summer until he opened his mouth-like orifice on national television. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him how the economic policies of John McCain would differ from what the Bush administration had proposed. Sanford replied: “Yea, I mean for instance take, you know, ummm, ahhh, take for instance the issue of, ahhh (knocks on table) I’m drawing a blank. I hate it when I do that, particularly on TV.” If he thought that was embarrassing, imagine the egg on his face when he’s unable to enunciate launch codes during a Russian missile attack should he ever become president.

Second is Lauren Caitlin Upton, former Miss Teen South Carolina. Lauren Caitlin is the blonde knockout who became a YouTube sensation when she mangled her question about why so many Americans couldn’t find the U.S. on a world map. As you probably recall, she responded that “U.S. Americans” had such trouble because they didn’t have maps and “I believe that our … education like such as … South Africa and … the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or… should help South Africa … so we will be able to build up our future, for our children.” If you realize that she was a student leader with a 3.5 GPA at her South Carolina high school, you can’t help but recognize the imprint of Gov. Sanford on her education.

Maybe the two of them could team up to make a run at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. If they ended up debating Sarah Palin, we could witness the end of the English language as we know it. And that would make all of us South Carolinians so proud.

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3 Responses to “Revisited: Proud to be South Carolinian”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    It’s always better for your image to claim to be originally from Florida, and if you can get away with it, specifically from Palm Beach, home of the Butterfly Ballot and the Hanging Chad. We’re just smarter here like that.

  2. Phillip Donnelly Says:

    I’ve always thought U.S. states sounded rather cool, even the Dakotas. It’s a pity South Carolina has such poor dignitaries: senators whose idea of political debate is to shout ‘You Lie!’; beauty queens who couldn’t lie due to linguistic incontinence; and James Brown, who doesn’t need to lie because his songs consist of repeating the same line over and over again… An inspiration perhaps to the current Republican objections to Obama’s health proposals.
    Perhaps the Great Carolinan W could explain the horrified objections to ‘socialised medicine’ I see on my TV screens lately. ‘Who could possibly object to universal health care?’, asks a confused European.

  3. paythepiper Says:

    “As a resident of South Carolina, whose unofficial motto is “thank God for Mississippi or we’d be last at everything,”

    Okay, I just spit my coffee clear across the table. It’s a wonder I didn’t choke to death. I was about to make you my new breakfast companion, but it’s clear that I will probably live longer if I save your blog for postprandial consumption.

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