COLUMBIA, S.C. -- They just can't help it. As soon as politicians and pundits cross the South Carolina line, their IQs plummet 20 points.
I reckon the candidates figure if they say really dumb stuff, them lowbrow, redneck yahoos will vote them right into that great big ol' house up in Washington.
Yessiree-Bo, we're gonna rustle up some squirrels, suck on some hay straw, fry up some catfish, eat some Moon Pies and tell lies about how Diddy killed that cockfight cheat with a deer knife, and git us some dadgum votes.
Ho-hum, who has the remote?
Some of those yokels, like yokels everywhere, may be dumber 'n a box o' rocks, but they're smart enough to know what the newcomers want and, aiming to please, seem determined to give it to them. Good 'n' folksy-like.
Thus, media folk flying in have hardly touched down before they've spotted a real Confederate battle flag and discovered a genuine, gun-totin', pickup-drivin' fool who sounds just like John Edwards on a stump stop in the mill village.
On any other given day, a South Carolinian would have to hire a detective to locate a Confederate flag -- other than the one on the statehouse grounds or flying over a Maurice's Barbecue. Maurice, whose flagship joint happens to be located along the drive from the airport to downtown Columbia, is famous for his mustard-based barbecue sauce and his refusal to remove the flag from his premises (on principle, he'll tell you).
But somehow outsiders stumble right into the same old tired themes and recycled stories. My own theory is that the state keeps a stable of characters (gap teeth optional) on retainer and trots them out when the yankees come to town with their videocams. The rest of the year, Gomer and Gussie count the Canada geese on their estate property and bet on polo ponies.
The cliches are now so entrenched that the interaction of pol, pundit and The People has become a (BEG ITAL)folie a trois(END ITAL) -- a three-way dance of equal madness. Faux bubbas gone goofy. Everyone knows the script and each plays off the other according to stereotype.
What if everyone just stopped?
If there were no race-baiters, would there still be racists?
South Carolina is not without racists, of course. Nor is any other state.
But the South -- and especially South Carolina because of the flag flap and because it hosts the first Southern primary -- remains a quintessentially racist state in the minds of everyone except most of those who live here.
Thus, when pols and pundits cross the state line, they begin thinking racially.