The following is based on my 4 years covering southern politics for Voic.us and nearly 35 years living in the southern cities of Houston and Atlanta.
We don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks.
And we're keeping the niggers down.
-- Randy Newman
What's wrong with South Carolina is the same thing that's wrong with the rest of the South, but most especially Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, which with South Carolina make up the "Deep South."
The southern power structure is racist.
I don't mean here that southern politicians are racist, or southerners are, if by that you mean they believe blacks are inferior to them, or even different. The vast majority know better than that.
When I say they're racist, I mean they practice power as a zero-sum game based on skin color. Politics is defined by race. If you're serious about political power you can either play on the majority (white) side or confine yourself to the minority.
Minorities have power in the South where they have majorities, or near-majorities. Many southern cities like my own hometown of Atlanta are run by black folks, as are counties such as DeKalb or Clayton. There are black congress-critters like John Lewis and Jim Clyburn whose voting records are very similar to northern Democratic norms.
But whites and blacks can add. They know that where whites are the majority, whether statewide or locally, whites are going to get what they want. And vice versa. This is the reality, and it has defined southern politics since the Nixon era, when whites started moving toward the Republicans. Once a state figured out the game -- as Georgia did in 2002 -- there could be no going back.
Power means patronage. It means control over contracts. It has nothing to do with parties or ideologies. Cobb County Republicans don't act that much differently than DeKalb County Democrats -- they just talk differently about it.
Now that we have the lay of the land, let's talk about the specific case of South Carolina.
Politically, South Carolina today is as inbred as the Borgias, or the European royal families before World War II. Not by blood, but by association. It is, literally, a village. (Blacks and liberals not invited.)
Republicans are divided into two virtual parties. One follows the money, and is mostly interested in patronage. The other follows Washington and is most interested in ideas. Outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford is of the latter party, but most of the party establishment is from the former.
Blogging is as inbred as the party establishment. Will Folks of FITS News styles himself a competitor to, and replacement for, The State newspaper, which is owned by that (allegedly liberal) McClatchy group. If Folks had a clue, an ad man who could research his audience, organize its buying power, and sell, he would be The State. (Fortunately he's just an asshole.)
Anyway. Sanford's wing of the party is represented this year by Rep. Nikki Haley, daughter of an Indian immigrant, a sort of upland Bobby Jindal. (Back home she'd be BJP.) The other side is incredibly split, which gives her a chance of winning the nomination, which in South Carolina (because of its history) is tantamount to election.
So Folks claims to have had an affair with Haley and, whether or not he shagged her, the point is it's a publicity stunt. He's a Drudge wannabe who wants a bigger audience. Thanks to his claims he's getting one. (If he had half a brain he could capitalize on it, as I said. Fortunately, he don't know his ass from a hole in the ground.)
What's going on is a lot of people letting their ids go because they know it won't really cost them. No matter who Democrats select, the fact they have black support means they're toast (except in races like education where it doesn't matter). Thus every guy can claim to be Nikki Haley's sex partner (she is damn cute) while everyone else can call her a "raghead" (it's an attempt to yell "nigger" but Gujaratis are allowed to be honorary whites if they convert, so long as they're ideologically pure).
It is great fun. No one cares that the manufacturing base built by Campbell a generation ago, along I-85, has mostly collapsed. The game of attracting plants from the north based on hating on unions is over, and these idiots are too inbred to know it's not coming back.
If someone told these rednecks the truth and ran on real Huey Long populism, they'd have a chance. But if you think there's any real courage in South Carolina (as opposed to bluster passing for courage) you'd be mistaken. South Carolina Democrats are either black, allying with blacks, or pretending to be Republicans. Kingfish is not spoken here.
But if it were, life might get interesting. Sink Stephen Colbert's ratings and who knows? (He's the proud son of that rarest of local breeds, a Charleston intellectual. ) Want to know where his character comes from? That's where. It's pretty much where Molly Ivins' humor came from, which is to say hopelessness.
Would Stephen rather be a comic or A Face in the Crowd? (Answer, comic. They last longer.) There will be no political revolution in South Carolina until someone with Colbert's celebrity starts taking the state seriously.