Thank God for South Carolina
Joe Wilson does other politically challenged states a favor.
South Carolina and Idaho are a world apart in terms of demographics, economics, and culture. Their greatest similarity is in one-party dominance of national elections. Each state has gone Republican in 11 of the last 12 presidential elections. No state has gone 12 for 12. In a typical year, the Republican margin is larger in Idaho, because the Democratic high-water mark is about 10 points higher in South Carolina. But in the liberal donnybrook of 1972, Nixon's margin of victory in South Carolina was five points wider.
Both states also know how it feels to be looked down upon. Earlier this year, South Carolina's attorney general tried to force Craigslist to drop its adult listings. TechCrunch summed up the reaction from the company and the blogosphere: "If it really came down to choosing between South Carolina and Craigslist, how many people would rather have South Carolina?"
So other states shouldn't feel too much schadenfreude at South Carolinians' expense. As the president put it, we all make mistakes—and this summer of town halls showed that no state has a monopoly on bad manners. Those of us who have known scorn understand what the good people of South Carolina are going through—and can be sure our turn will come again.
Yet as historians seem delighted to point out, South Carolina has spent two centuries building a reputation of outspoken rebellion, from the nullification crisis of 1832 to antebellum caning in 1856 to secession in 1860. By the time Idaho joined the Union, South Carolina had already tried twice to leave it. For the people of Idaho, at least, Joe Wilson's lapse was a reminder that despite all the bad press we've earned in recent years, our outliers are mere nouveau fringe. South Carolina had such a head start, the rest of us are still playing catch-up.
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his disclosure here.
Photograph of Rep. Joe Wilson by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.