Opinion

Commentary: Nikki Haley, transparency and consistency

So now Rep. Nikki Haley is a hypocrite. The transparency advocate who locks the public out of her secret cabals with business big-wigs. The woman who won't give a leg up to other women if she shatters the glass ceiling. (Or would that be a glass floor, since she'd be moving from the House chamber on the second floor of the State House to the governor's office directly beneath it?)

I think both issues raise legitimate questions — but not the simplistic ones being tossed about by her critics. (How dare someone who won't promise to think about appointing more women be … a woman?)

Rep. Haley has set the bar for her own transparency higher than normal, by making transparency her defining issue. But I think we're setting ourselves up for either disillusionment or gridlock of the sort even anarchists would find unnerving if we demand that gubernatorial candidates let the public in on all their meetings with business leaders — or anyone else, for that matter. We don't complain when candidates meet privately with individuals. We don't complain when governors meet privately with individuals. You simply can't expect for every meeting to be open.

To me the red flag raised by the private business meetings — and her refusal to sign the pledge to appoint an unspecified number of women to her Cabinet and part-time boards — concerns message manipulation.

We know from business people who talked to reporters after their private meetings that Rep. Haley's message was, essentially: "Don't worry. I'll work with you. I'll work with the Legislature. I won't be like Mark Sanford." I think that's an encouraging message — although I long ago lost count of the number of times Mr. Sanford assured us that he had learned his lesson and was ready to start working with the Legislature rather than against it — and I hope against hope that if she's elected it proves to be sincere.

But it doesn't blend well with the tea party message: Business is evil. The Legislature is evil. Pretty much anyone with any power is evil, unless they're ineffective grenade-tossers who spout the tea party message about everyone in power being evil. And so you just can't work with them without the risk of all that evil rubbing off on you. (A prominent Republican recently offered me a fascinating theory about Mark Sanford: He never accomplished anything because he didn't want to accomplish anything; he was convinced that if the Legislature agreed to anything he asked for, that would be evidence he had sold out and become one of them. I'm not about to try to figure out what's in Mr. Sanford's head, but a lot of his supporters certainly seem to see things that way.)

Likewise, a good Republican woman has to be careful how she talks about demographics. It's one thing to girl it up on stage with Jenny and Sarah, but don't let those guys in party hats hear that you might be interested in such liberal obsessions as getting women in positions of power.

To read the complete column, visit www.thestate.com.

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