Having grown up in the capital of South Carolina, I take it for granted that politics elsewhere are not as crazy. Between Joe Wilson, my representative, screaming "You lie!" in the middle of the State of the Union address and Mark Sanford running off to rendezvous with his Argentinian mistress, it's completely normal for me to turn on The Daily Show and see satire about the Palmetto State.
I also find it commonplace to walk to class at the University of South Carolina and be offered a New Testament. In the patio of our student union, a sweaty evangelist preacher makes regular appearances and yells anti-gay sentiments in order to incite reactions from passersby. Men wrapped in chains of plastic babies waving pro-life signs pace the sidewalks outside classrooms. Every day, I drive by the Confederate flag that still flies on State House grounds. Radical conservative values are the lifeblood of this state. The South has a strongly negative reaction to anything seen as a threat to its way of life -- to the "sanctity" of marriage, to the traditional nuclear family structure, to the amount of money paid in taxes, to our borders. The thing about the South is -- while, yes, its people love serving sweet tea and Southern hospitality -- it is this same old-fashioned mindset that drives the region's stubborn resistance to change.
Don't get me wrong; I love my hometown. It's a city with friendly people who have a keen sense of humor about their political portrayal. We are largely written off as being ridiculous and backwards, but we accept it. That's why the election four years ago was so exciting. For the Democratic primary, candidates descended on our town. Finally, I thought. Here was our opportunity to redeem ourselves! I was a freshman then. I met Jon Edwards (this was pre-$400 haircut and baby-daddy scandals). I went to a Democratic stump meeting to hear Hillary Clinton speak, and Bill Clinton gave an impromptu speech in our student union's Starbucks. Celebrities like Kal Penn, Chris Tucker, and Kerry Washington made pit stops to promote their favored candidates. I remember walking up to my dorm to find security guards and black SUVs lining the entrance; then-Senator Obama was giving a press conference in our lounge. I spoke with his sister, Alma, then shook the hand of the man himself.
It was madness, but I loved it, because as a college student, the 2008 election catered to my demographic. For the first time, my age group felt valued and effectively mobilized. My classmates on both sides of the political spectrum really had candidates to get behind. Columbia was plastered with McCain/Palin posters and bumper stickers. I sported T-shirts and buttons and screamed "Fired up? Ready to go!" at Barack Obama's rallies for change. For me, here was this candidate who was so fresh and worldly and well-read. He glowed. Maybe I'm just an attention fiend, but it was exhilarating for South Carolina to be thrust under the spotlight for something I viewed as positive and progressive -- to go to our city's entertainment venue and celebrate when Obama's primary win was announced. There was an indescribable energy and buzz in the air.
All that is gone now.
The 2008 election felt modern and ground-breaking, but this election has turned into a round of "Who can beat Obama?" because this seems to be the only goal the Republican party can unite around. Beat Obama. Beat taxes. Beat homosexuality. Beat abortion. Beat immigration. Beat Healthcare. As if these things can be "beaten." Republican candidates attack each other left and right with demeaning ads. It's a field day. You've got Herman Cain with his "999" B.S. and multiple affairs, Santorum's sweater vests, Ron Paul Round-Whatever-Number-Election-This-Is, Michele Bachmann's witch hunt, and Mormons. The cherry on top is Stephen Colbert, my state's "favorite son," with his Super PAC releasing commercials claiming Mitt Romney is a serial killer (of jobs). The Republican race has transformed into a cock-fighting match -- a sport we are quite familiar with at my university.
The race makes for great reality TV but sad everyday reality. There is one lone Romney poster in my neighborhood this time around, but everyone mostly stays silent. Tea Party supporters scramble to peg the most conservative candidate. Romney, while pragmatic, is not exciting or magnetic. He's a mini-Reagan without the charm -- and a French-speaking Mormon to boot, which does not bode well in South Carolina. Plus, he was pro-choice for a while (but these things change, don't they). Huntsman is seen as too moderate, too willing to compromise, hence his recent departure from the race. The middle-class puzzles over who truly has "conservative values." And the youth?
Well, what about us?
My classmates seem deflated. They post joking "RON PAUL 2012" and "COLBERT 2012" Facebook statuses. The Republicans are not enlisting the help of the youth of America, because they are too busy half-heartedly trying to decide who to back. In turn, all us young'ins are left with is sarcasm -- and social media. Which, by God, we will use.
I am curious to see the results of this upcoming primary in South Carolina, but I am not on the edge of my seat. I've lost the momentum from the last election. I mostly want to know: which Republican candidate will be declared least crazy?
Then again, it's not like I'm not used to crazy.
Originally published on NextGenJournal.