South Carolina has a reputation for setting the political bar as low as it can go and seeing who can slither under it. It's the place where in the 2000 presidential primaries Karl Rove put the shiv to John McCain's bid with a whisper campaign asking people if they'd be less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he'd fathered an illegitimate black child. While McCain hadn't, oddly enough, the long-time South Carolina senator and leading segregationist Strom Thurmond had and hid the fact for decades until his death. It's the state currently under the stewardship of Governor Mark Sanford who last year gave the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail" a whole new meaning when he lied to his wife and his constituents about his whereabouts while he was bumping bellies with his "soul mate" down in South America.
The bar was recalibrated downward again last week at a Tea Party Patriots rally in Greenville, S.C., by William Gheen, head of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC). Interestingly -- at least to me -- Gheen and I are from the same small town, Shelby, N.C., and we're both graduates of Shelby High School, although I'm several years older and don't recall ever meeting him. Gheen fired up the Tea Party base and had all of the Patriots in the crowd cheering when he said:
"Barney Frank has been more honest and brave than you (referring to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham). At least we know about Barney Frank, nobody's going to hold it over his head. Look, I'm a tolerant person. I don't care about your private life, Lindsey, but as our U.S. senator, I need to figure out why you're trying to sell out your own countrymen, I need to make sure you being gay isn't it."
ALIPAC issued an email press release saying:
The national border security organization known as Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) is officially calling for U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to make his homosexual lifestyle public knowledge in the interest of political integrity and national security.
"U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham is gay and while many people in South Carolina and Washington, D.C., know that, the general public and Graham's constituents do not," said William Gheen, President of ALIPAC." I personally do not care about Graham's private life, but in this situation his desire to keep this a secret may explain why he is doing a lot of political dirty work for others who have the power to reveal his secrets. Senator Graham needs to come out of the closet inside that log cabin so the public can rest assured he is not being manipulated with his secret."
On the ALIPAC website, it says Gheen is a "veteran campaign consultant" known for "creating new voter outreach methods." There's nothing new about the slash and burn tactic of ambushing opponents with sleazy innuendo. Rove and others of his ilk in the radical right mastered the tradecraft long ago. The citizens of South Carolina have swallowed the bait before -- ask John McCain -- but I hope by now they have wised up and won't let Gheen set the hook and drag them over the transom.
What brought the wrath of the radical right down on Senator Graham is that on occasion he breaks ranks with right wing orthodoxy and, heaven forbid, works with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on legislation. Isn't that what our elected representatives in the legislative branch are supposed to do? If, as Gheen, ALIPAC, and the teabaggers seem to expect, all elected representatives stay in strict lockstep with the party then every vote in the Senate is a preordained 59-41 tally. What's the point in convening Congress if there's guaranteed gridlock and an immovable impasse? We don't need fewer members like Senator Graham, we need more; members who don't have their heads so far up the rear ends of the Svengalis that pull the strings of their parties that they've lost sight of why the voters sent them to Capitol Hill.
It's disappointing to see groups like ALIPAC and the Tea Party Patriots try to stake a false claim to patriotism. The motto of Gheen's organization is "fight back with ALIPAC," but it appears the only fighting Gheen's a veteran of is a verbal ambush of his own making on a career military officer. Gheen never served a day defending the country as a member of the armed forces (another PINO - Patriot In Name Only) while Senator Graham has been a member of the U.S. Air Force for 28 years. It's one thing to talk the talk like Gheen, but Senator (Colonel) Graham has walked the walk in defense of America.
I was the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay when the Supreme Court struck down the judicial system created by President Bush's executive order and put the ball in Congress' lap to craft a solution. Senator Graham invited me to his office and asked one thing: "What do you need from me to get the job done right?" That's the attitude I've seen from Senator Graham; what's the right thing to do, not what's most politically expedient or what's tracking best in the polls. In my view, that's called integrity and there's not enough of it on Capitol Hill.
The people of South Carolina elected Senator Graham to represent them in the legislative branch of government, not to be head deacon at their church. William Gheen and his type want to derail a good man -- an actual patriot, and a dedicated public servant -- by pandering to prejudice. I don't care about Senator Graham's sexual preference or if he even has one, but I do care about the direction our country is headed. We need leaders with integrity and principles who put the needs of the citizens ahead of their political fortunes. We need more Lindsey Graham's and the citizens of South Carolina should be proud he's their senator. I hope they don't get teabagged by a d-bag like Gheen.