Monday, April 9, 2012

Haley opts for cant in her vanity project

"Cant" is defined at thusly:

1. insincere, especially conventional expressions of enthusiasm for high ideals, goodness, or piety.
2. the private language of the underworld.
3. the phraseology peculiar to a particular class, party, profession, etc.
4. whining or singsong speech, especially of beggars.

verb (used without object)
5. to talk hypocritically.
6. to speak in the whining or singsong tone of a beggar; beg.

All of which gives the reader the appropriate frame through which to view Governor Nikki Haley's vanity project, a mem-wah titled "Can't Is Not An Option."

Such doorstoppers have become de rigueur for aspring politicos. One can't be taken seriously as a candidate until one has published a book with a trite but lofty title. It somehow proves one's literacy, and it shows that one has the tenacity and determination to write two hundred pages on a topic, which is especially misleading when the topic is oneself.

Might it be a better use of a governor's time to serve as governor than to generate one's own pablum while serving in office? For a governor who likes to brag that she spends all of her days trying to bring economic development to South Carolina, she seems to have spent an inordinate chunk of the people's time drafting a pros-y self-portrait. Let's recall that soon after the announcement of her book deal, she was caught tapping on her iPad in the White House itself, during a speech to the nation's assembled governors by the President of the United States.

Which is the definition of gauche, it turns out.

In this week's edition of Statehouse Report, Charlestonian Andy Brack publishes a respectful and straightforward review of Haley's attempt -- which leads me to respect Brack even more, as I've not been able to bear looking at the thing.

Gov. Nikki Haley's new book is sure to cause three differing reactions:

Tea partiers will fall in love with Haley again for wearing their white hat and repetitively incanting the rhetoric of limited government that bashes the political establishment.

Mainstream Republicans and moderates will spend a lot of time rolling their eyes at the 200-plus pages of gratuitous, preening arrogance, inane recollections and my-way-or-the-highway declarations of revisionism.

Liberals won't be able to finish it because it's such an obvious political attempt to propel the governor to Washington, sooner as a vice-presidential candidate (despite lots of protest by her) or later as a U.S. senator.

If you like Haley and want to be pumped up, go ahead and spend $28 for what seems more like a transcribed version of a lot of self-taped conversations than a book. Otherwise, don't bother. Haley is trying too hard to be a real-life fairy tale.

Nevertheless, here are some observations of Haley's “Can't Is Not an Option:”

Childhood tale. The best part of the book is the beginning in which Haley delves into her childhood as a member of the only Indian family in Bamberg. She talks convincingly about challenges, goodness and the American Dream without too much tea party propaganda.

Philosophical insight. When you read about how Haley worked as a bookkeeper as a teen-ager for her mother's store, you get a better understanding of the anti-government rhetoric that fuels her politics. One such lesson:

“I learned early that we couldn't control our revenue stream – we couldn't control who decided to walk in the door of the store and spend their money. All we could control was our expenditures. So we were constantly focused on tightening our overhead. … I noticed how hard it was to make a dollar and how easy it was for government to take it away.”

What rankles about this statement by Haley, a self-professed policy wonk, is its naiveté about government. Unlike business, government can control revenue streams by raising or lowering taxes, or by providing incentives to bring in more businesses, all of which will increase the amount of money put in the state's pot.

Second, government can't always be run like a business, regardless of the GOP talking points. Sometimes, government is the only entity that's large enough or has enough of a cushion to do really big things, such as provide electricity to rural areas, build interstate roads, provide affordable college opportunities to millions, take care of the health of old people and more. For Haley, government is not a pathway to progress, but an impediment that has to be overcome. In the long term, that kind of vision of government isn't in South Carolina's best interest.

Courage. In the book, Haley often describes how she had courage to take on the establishment which “blackballed, demoted and humiliated” her for trying to get recorded roll call votes to boost accountability in the state House. Interestingly, she did not name the leader of the establishment, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, although she cut at him left and right for eight pages. Then in prose that would gag even a teen romance writer, she celebrated a “turnabout is fair play” moment as governor when she signed into law the bill she had pushed while in the House:

“The day didn't belong to me. It belonged to the people. I looked out and saw my parents, and I thought of what they had always taught me: If you fight for the right things, God will take care of the rest. It had taken a little while, but in the end my parents were right. The people had fought. Their cause was just. And now God was smiling down on South Carolina.”

Playing the victim. Haley also complained about people who saw themselves as victims, but within pages she would paint herself as a victim of Harrell, Gov. Mark Sanford or something else. After a while, it got more than a little monotonous.

Bottom line: Plant a garden. It's spring. There are better things to do than read this book.

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