Commentary: South Carolina as a GOP model for the nation?

The Myrtle Beach SunJanuary 16, 2012 

The broad concepts the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will tout on the stage at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center Monday night have been preached for almost a quarter of a century in South Carolina.

Taxes are low.

Labor unions have been defanged.

Politicians of all stripes take pains to cozy up to business, even providing incentives as way Horry County Council recently did without knowing what the company would or realistically could produce.

Private education sprouted decades ago after desegregation, and charter schools began flourishing under former Gov. Mark Sanford while public education funding has remained below recommended levels.

The private sector has been unleashed to do what it does, punish businesses that don’t adapt when their business models fall out of favor.

There are more churches and hallelujahs than a mortal can count, illustrating the state’s prominence on the buckle of the Bible Belt.

The GOP has essentially been in charge of the place since the late Gov. Carroll Campbell revolutionized Republican state politics and was shaking hands with me and a couple hundred other high school seniors during the summer of 1990 at the Governor’s School for academics at the College of Charleston.

Despite all of that – a real-life, long-term experiment of the approaches they say will make the United States better – not one Republican candidate will be willing to say that they want the rest of the country to resemble South Carolina.

I’m skeptical of what they are selling, not because I think it is coming from a bad place, but because I’ve seen it in action for several years and am underwhelmed by what it has produced.

The state’s low tax rate has led to underfunded schools, underfunded and inadequate roads and a fifth of its citizens having no real health insurance. We’ve been begging the federal government for the past couple of decades to help us build Interstate 73 and have only been able to pay for local infrastructure upgrades along the Grand Strand because we decided to tax citizens a little more at the cash register.

The state still struggles to claw out of the bottom of the national educational barrel.

The free market principles the candidates espouse devastated small towns throughout the state when textile and manufacturing companies either closed shops or shipped jobs overseas. AVX Corp., which until recently had its corporate headquarters in Myrtle Beach, built its largest plant in China, roughly the size of two Walmarts.

The candidates who will be at the convention center have even been talking up Boeing’s move to North Charleston, claiming the federal government, through a lawsuit filed by the National Labor Relations Board against the company,- was punishing South Carolina because it is a so-called right-to-work state. They ignored the $1 billion incentives package the state’s taxpayers were forced to cough up for that plant – similar to the billions of dollars in government subsidies being financed by the country’s taxpayers to pad the bottom lines of the largest corporations, a redistribution of wealth up that is unlikely to end because of an unrealistic tax philosophy espoused by candidates who will share the debate stage.

And speaking of Walmart, that corporation has been able to take over the grocery and retail market in the state by lowering prices for everyone – yeah! – by suppressing wages and using tax and other government incentives to force out mom-and-pop retail establishment that once were the hallmark of the state.

The wages it pays barely keep many of its workers out of poverty and a need for food stamps Republican candidates keep talking about.

The days the typical South Carolinian could put in long, hard hours and be paid a living wage, enough to support a family with enough left over to stash away for a rainy day or retirement, are long gone in part because of the market principles that will be reiterated Monday night. Those principles have led to an increase in income inequality and most of the spoils over the past three decades have gone to the top, bypassing the middle class and poor who make up the bulk of this state’s residents.

When the candidates lecture us about the need to unleash the private market, they won’t tell you that part. They won’t tell you what a few retired corporate executives have been telling me the past several weeks, that corporations are not designed to create jobs or be fair or level the playing field; they are created to earn money. If adding jobs are necessary to boost the bottom line, that’s what they’ll do. And if jobs must be cut for the same reason, well, that’s just capitalism at work. Ask Mitt Romney.

It matters little that that philosophy has been on display in South Carolina for a quarter of a century and all the state has to show for it is one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and pockets of severe poverty well-off residents believe only exist in third-world countries.

I imagine that the candidates and national media personalities will come our way telling us about the importance of the economy to the state’s Jan. 21 Republican primary.

I don’t buy it. If it was really about making the economy better, candidates on that stage Monday night would take an honest look at South Carolina’s economic history and reassess what they are trying to sell voters.

South Carolina has been practicing for decades what the candidates on stage will be preaching Monday night.

Pardon me for being less than impressed.

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