Having just finished reading After Thermopylae by Paul Cartledge, I was reminded how the political realities of Ancient Greece still influence our own understanding of government in South Carolina . . . including the reality about our politics being a blood sport.
We still use the political language developed by the Hellenes over two thousand years ago – words like democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, tyranny, stasis and even politic itself. I am constantly amazed that our Founding Fathers could resurrect such dormant concepts to propel the American Experiment.
Historically, South Carolina politics has tended more toward oligarchy than democracy. Our past state constitutions established that reality and our current one perpetuates it. We also tend to be a one-party state where the political machine in power solves those problems that help guarantee its continued ascendency. Remember, in an oligarchy, power shifts upward to the few and they have a vested interest in keeping it.
Republicans, of which I am one, control our state government. Theoretically, we enjoy large enough majorities to pass any legislation that meets the approval of our conservative voter base. This does not happen as often as voters expect. We face the rare situation where one-party control has produced stasis instead of change.
Stasis was discussed by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War where he described the civil war between various leadership factions in Ancient Greece. Stasis occurred because each faction had equal power and none were strong enough to become dominant. He observed that greed, ambition, political revenge, the rejection of practical solutions and the pursuit of conflict for conflict’s sake created the atmosphere for stasis. Hence, nothing of major importance was accomplished for years until democracy was jettisoned in favor of tyranny. Think about that – they replaced democracy with tyranny out of the frustration that comes from stalemated leadership.
Of course, gridlock occurs naturally through the checks and balances between the different branches of government and ideological conflicts that come from a two-party system. We see this type of gridlock in Washington with the government divided between the two parties. Since Republicans control all branches of state government and are the dominant party, our gridlock comes from another source.
One theory to explain our lack of progress blames the conflict between the House, Senate and Governor’s office. This theory focuses the blame on people in leadership positions who refuse to agree. We see this primarily in government restructuring battles such as the fight over the Department of Administration bill.
Another theory holds that ideological conflicts within the Republican Party prevent progress. This happens in the Senate where libertarian-leaning Senators have enough numbers to team with Democrats to block legislation, but not enough votes to pass any.
A third theory suggests that our historical regional rivalries still play an important role when issues are debated. This theory expands the blame to all who vote to benefit their region over the state as a whole. We see this in economic development battles or attempts to reform the Department of Transportation.
A final theory, popular with Mark Sanford but now ignored, points to the ever-increasing amount of federal funds flowing into state agencies. This theory suggests that state politicians cannot reform what they only partially fund. The lack of k-12 education funding reform (including school choice efforts) or any type of tax reform comes to mind.
Unfortunately for our citizens, the answer lies somewhere between these theories. Most citizens assume that stasis can be overcome by voting for a particular party. Our current situation proves that this does not always work.
Continuing political conflict within the leadership class of the majority party and attempts to predetermine legislative failure for reform oriented legislation has created an atmosphere of apathy that our citizens should not tolerate.
I first ran for office five years ago as a “reform” candidate amidst the 2008 Tea Party uprising. During my campaign, I was outspoken in my criticism of my own party. I pointed out that we should not be mad at Democrats for acting like Democrats when so-called Republicans were acting as such. We should be mad at Republicans. As it turns out, South Carolinians should continue to be mad at both.
Since 2008, citizens have elected almost 60 new House members including 44 Republicans – enough turnover to make a difference. We have been granted the opportunity to enact proactive conservative policies in every branch of state government. Though our conservative numbers have increased, our results have not. Conversely, Democrats have not offered any viable solutions in years. They merely mimic their national party platform.
My fellow Republicans should take a final lesson from the Greeks – voters have little appetite for stasis. Unlike the Greeks, South Carolinians will not turn to tyranny, but they will require a reckoning on some election day in the near future.