Monday, April 23, 2012

Fashion magazine photographs our present leader

I keep looking for some information in all of this coverage that benefits the children of South Carolina, especially the 700,000 children who attend South Carolina's public schools. But I don't find any.

On her recent media tour to Manhattan, I found chuckle-lines about her stiletto heels being useful in our state's political environment. I found trivia about our state's beverage on "The Colbert Report." I found a foolish controversy over contraception on Barbara Walter's chat-show "The View." I found an inscrutible love-fest prepared for our governor on Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club."

Now I find a glamour magazine describing our governor as "fit and attractive, with a face free of worry lines."

That's worrisome to the children who live in South Carolina's Corridor of Shame, just to name a few tens of thousands. In media mileage, our Corridor of Shame is, let's estimate, a million light years from the glossy pages of a fashion magazine.

Here's what The State had to say about it, by reporter Gina Smith:

The fashion magazine Vogue is featuring Gov. Nikki Haley in its May issue, part of her national promotion of her new book.

The article focuses on Haley’s time in office and includes two photos: one of her on a Lake Murray dock in a striped shirt, the other a leggy Haley leading a staff meeting.

The issue hits newsstands Tuesday.

“Haley in person looks even younger than her age: fit and attractive, with a face free of worry lines,” writes Christopher Cox in Vogue. “She and her advisers stand out from the rest of the Republicans in state government, a chummy bunch of white-haired men who spend a lot of time in the hallways of the state house telling jokes and greeting one another with intimate arm grasps.”

The article had the State House abuzz Thursday — and spawned a new round of sharp words from critics.

“What is the benefit to the working people of this state for their governor to be standing on some beach, wherever it is, taking pictures?” said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun.

Haley spent two weeks this month – while House members were furloughed – promoting her memoir, “Can’t Is Not An Option,” on a national media tour and at book signings in South Carolina. The Senate also was furloughed one of those weeks.

Haley told The State she was monitoring state government, via phone and meetings, while on tour.

Former first lady Jenny Sanford also appeared in Vogue in September 2009, where she discussed the infidelity of then-husband, Gov. Mark Sanford.

It defies rational thought and good taste.

The Vogue text itself is, to be polite, embarrassing.

On a warm morning in early March, governor Nikki Haley calls three members of the South Carolina state legislature into her office. They look like truants sent in to see the principal: Haley is earnest and stern, smartly turned out in a black-and-white ruffled jacket, black pencil skirt, and platform stilettos, while the legislators, in baggy suits and cowboy boots, fidget and make excuses.

Let's read this as the audience outside South Carolina reads this: South Carolina's lawmakers are errant children up to no good; Haley is an icy headmistress, a disciplinarian with a sharp fashion sense.

The stakes seem pretty low -- they are arguing over a restructuring of the department of transportation that would give Haley more control over it -- but one gray-haired representative gets so angry his hands start to shake. He sulkily asks the governor whether she will even be around much longer to see through the agenda she is pressing on them.

The question of who will oversee and control multi-billion-dollar transportation projects in a rural state is such an unimportant one to journalists who cover more impactful issues of the day, like the construction of a smart dinner jacket, and how low this season's hemline will be, and which accessories from last year's collections are being jettisoned as gauche by the hottest new designers.

And, has anyone determined, who exactly was this gray-haired representative whose hands shook in anger at our governor's power grab?

The unspoken assumption here is that Haley, who had endorsed Mitt Romney for president before the South Carolina primary a few weeks earlier, has her eye on a spot on the Romney ticket. Haley assures the representative that she is in South Carolina to stay. “People ask the question, ‘If you’re offered VP, would you take it?’ ” she says after the legislators have left. “No, I won’t take it. I’m not going to leave the people that just gave me this chance.”

How self-serving of our leader.

Conventional wisdom determined months ago that Mitt Romney would prove himself a fool to invite Haley onto his ticket, for approximately 27 pragmatic reasons. But it suits Haley's ambition and narcissism to keep the fires stoked, and to hold herself up as a paragon of principle for declaring herself wedded to South Carolina's people for the long haul.

We have only to ask John Rainey for comment on Haley's principles.

As for sticking by South Carolina's people for the long haul, the people might appreciate a transition in the chief executive's office earlier rather than later.

For nearly 232 years, South Carolinians reliably selected a white male to be their governor, but somehow, in 2010, they chose Haley: 38, Indian-American, a woman. (It might have helped that her predecessor, Mark Sanford, had recently showcased the hazards of allowing men into the highest seat of power.) In her campaign for the nomination she secured the endorsement of both Romney and Sarah Palin -- a pairing you probably won’t see again anytime soon. Since then, she’s routinely been called a rising star in the party, which, when you’re talking about a governor, is code for White House–bound.

Her office, on the ground floor of the state house in Columbia, is just feet away from a Civil War memorial that flies the Confederate flag, but inside it is a different South Carolina.

"A different South Carolina?" A bold pronouncement from a glamour magazine, I'd say. We elected the conservative marked "R" on the ballot, rather than the conservative marked "D"? Checking our history, I'd say that's happened routinely, at least since Haley was in middle school.

On a shelf is the July 12, 2010, issue of Newsweek, with Haley on the cover striking a confident pose next to the words “The face of the new South.”

Using one magazine's deadline-headline to support the case of another: double self-aggrandizement -- and laughable, as the label of "New South" has been commonly misapplied since the 1920s.

Behind her desk sits a model of a Boeing 787 from an assembly facility that opened near Charleston last June.

A toy airplane in the headmistress's office?

And bustling in and out are her staff, who look as though they were piped in directly from a College Republicans meeting. The governor herself is relentlessly upbeat: On the stump she can sound like a motivational speaker. She has trained her team to answer the phone with “It’s a great day in South Carolina!” She repeats the phrase many times over the course of the day.

Haley in person looks even younger than her age: fit and attractive, with a face free of worry lines. She and her advisers stand out from the rest of the Republicans in state government, a chummy bunch of white-haired men who spend a lot of time in the hallways of the state house telling jokes and greeting one another with intimate arm grasps. When I ask her if her colleagues still treat her like a freshman legislator, she insists that “they do recognize that I’m the governor now.”

No doubt. The colloquial phrase for this recognition is "buyer's remorse."

But still, she continues, leaning forward confidingly, “it’s different for the guys upstairs. This is the first time they’ve had a female governor; it’s the first time they’ve had a minority governor.”

Ah, we're back again to minority status in Haleyworld.

Haley is the youngest governor in the nation, one of the scrappy radicals swept into office by the Tea Party in November 2010, and she’s tried to retain the vigor of those heady days.

Scrappy? Made of scraps? Is that really what the writer meant?

The transition has been a struggle: How do you govern after promising revolution? In Washington, the answer is simple: Throw your body against the gears of President Obama’s government. But in South Carolina, Haley has a state to run, hence the diligent courting of the legislators in her office.

The Tea Party, though, may be the most easily disappointed group of voters in the country. As soon it became clear that Haley would not simply hang a for sale sign on the state house and call it a day, her supporters began to desert her. Then her endorsement of Romney (a perceived moderate) really enraged them, leading several to claim they were duped by the governor—that she wasn’t a true conservative at all. Karen Martin, a Tea Party organizer who supported Haley’s election bid, told Bloomberg News that the state’s conservatives were “angry, disappointed, betrayed, hurt.” Haley, though, was convinced that Romney would be the nominee: “I think he’s going to get bruised and battered, but I think that’s what the public wanted to see. They wanted to see somebody that could take that.”

The truth is that Haley may be facing the same sort of battle herself. One statewide poll taken in December had her approval rating at 35 percent.

I'd swear that's inflated.

When Romney was routed by Newt Gingrich in the state primary, a former supporter posted a message on Haley’s Facebook wall: “never forget who elected you Ms Haley—the TEA PARTY just spoke loud and clear to you.” The governor is in danger of pleasing no one: too conservative for Democrats and independents, and too pragmatic for the people who voted her into office.

So, what is she -- exactly what we needed, or too far ahead of her time?

Haley has just written a memoir, Can’t Is Not an Option, that recounts her remarkable rise in South Carolina politics. She was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in 1972 in Bamberg, a town of a few thousand people midway between Charleston and Columbia. Her parents are from the Punjab, and moved to South Carolina in 1969, raising four children there. Her older brother Mitti remembers Nikki as a happy-go-lucky tomboy with a knack for bringing people together. “She always said she wanted to be the mayor of Bamberg,” he tells me.

What might have been.

The article drones on, but I haven't the stomach, and South Carolina's children haven't the time. They need our attention more.

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