REAL-ID a slam dunk

Last week, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford decided not to ask for an extension to implement REAL-ID in his state. He’ll get it anyway.

Without the extension, we’d have until mid-May to get on board with the new, Homeland Security-driven national ID.

I like Mark Sanford. He’s a Republican, but you’d swear he’s really a libertarian in sheep’s clothing. He’s become popular out in these parts, and his name is being bandied about as a possible running mate for John McCain.

Sanford has held that the South Carolina drivers’ license process is reasonably close to complying with the new national ID standards. I can personally vouch for that myself. When I moved back to the state a few years ago, I wanted to reinstate my driver’s license. A simple matter; just turn in my year-old North Carolina license, have the folks at the Motor Vehicles department look up my old license, I give them the license fee, and I’m good to go. I’d done it before (in 2000, when I moved back from Tennessee). Turns out I needed a birth certificate this time. The folks at Motor Vehicles told me it was a Homeland Security thing.

I’d written in the past about REAL-ID, and my stance hasn’t changed on it at all. In these days of terrorism, paranoia, hysteria, and the resulting Homeland Security effort, I can trust the government about as far as I can throw it. And it’s not because of any real or perceived malevolence on its part, but its general incompetence. But even the incompetence isn’t bad if the central government is a weak one. But give that same incompetence to a strong central government, then all kinds of things can happen.

Sanford told a local radio station today that the REAL-ID was passed by Congress through the back door, without debate, tacked onto a bill approving relief for tsunami victims a few years ago. Now, that in itself is dangerous. Plus, REAL-ID is one of those unfunded mandates — Congress says, here’s what we want. Y’all implement it and pay for it.

“It’s the worst piece of legislation I’ve ever seen at any point in the political process,” he told WTMA. “It’s being jammed on us.”

Under the plan, the new national ID card would be required to get on an airplane or go into a federal building — which Sanford interprets to include your local Congressman’s office. That’s scary.

“If you care about civil liberties, you ought to care about this,” he said.

Which is why I’m watching this.

Scrutiny becomes rite of passage for Obama

You just knew the love affair was going to end sometime.

Barack Obama, who enjoyed rock-star status in his run for the White House, went under severe scrutiny after word came out that his pastor/spiritual advisor had been spewing some real over-the-top rhetoric from the pulpit.

And here’s a video of Wright.

You really have to hear some of these sermon excerpts; they’re something else. But several things happened since the sound bites became public: Obama removed his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, from his campaign committee. Over the weekend, Obama’s poll numbers dipped significantly, putting a dent in his momentum. And the media, for really the first time, began digging into the candidate and looking beyond the surface.

Note to Obama: Welcome to the big leagues, keed. This is just a rite of passage.

Although I can’t see myself voting for him, I like Obama. He’s done something to electrify the disenfranchised in this country. He brings a sense of hope that one hasn’t seen in decades. And, unlike Howard Dean four years ago, he actually has a chance to win – at this point it would take some major pooch-screwing on his part for him to lose the nomination. But he reminds me of Gary Hart in the 1980s in that, while he speaks of new ideas, he’s awfully vague about what these new ideas are. No one seems to have any idea whether these new ideas are good or bad for the country, but they are new.

Obama’s also got a bit of Ronald Reagan luck. Up until now, he’s made it to the front line of candidates without anyone laying a glove on him. OK, there were a few lightweight jabs here and there (mostly from the Clinton camp), but he simply hasn’t undergone the scrutiny that Hillary Clinton or John McCain went through. And that part is dangerous; the more a voter knows about a candidate, the more informed he will be when he hits the polling place.

Of course, we’ve had years to check out the other two leading candidates. Hillary’s been under the microscope since the early 1990s (being a rather controversial First Lady will do that), and McCain lived under the glare eight years ago, when he was George Bush’s biggest Republican opponent. This is Obama’s first rodeo.

One can blame the so-called lefty media for this lack of scrutiny, and I concede that it’s a valid point. There are news types out there who are wrestling with themselves – how does one criticize an Obama without creating the perception he’s anti-black, a “cracker?”

But the truth is, like Reagan in 1980, Obama brings a fresh face in troubled times. He presents himself well. He’s polished. He says the right things, and can launch an oratorical barnburner when he needs to. But, like Reagan, it’s easy to get caught up in the veneer without paying attention to what’s underneath. And, as I mentioned, that’s dangerous.

Even if Obama believed his pastor’s anti-American rhetoric, you can’t help but root for the guy. He’s tailor-made for the media. Journalists tend to be a bit more idealistic than the common herd – they’d have to be, because I can’t think of any other reason why someone would want to go into that field anyway. We tend to pull for the underdog. Back when I was getting started in the business, Watergate was still fresh in people’s minds. My contemporaries thought it would be a good thing to uncover scandal and corruption in high places, and maybe even hang a president or three. Woodward and Bernstein were our role models. (My advice to young idealists who want to go into journalism: Forget it. The pay sucks.)

Naturally you’d find more idealism on the left side of the political aisle than the right, too, though in 1980 Reagan cornered the idealism market. He was an outsider who represented something new, something fresh. Jimmy Carter, who was something new and fresh four years before, was something old and stale come 1980.

So far, Obama has made mostly the right moves on the campaign trail. For the most part he’s stayed on the high road while the Clintons, veteran politicos both, launched occasional salvos from the gutter. He may not be making major policy points – that part is still too vague for the informed voter to even consider – but he’s scoring major style points. Again, like Reagan in 1980 and Jack Kennedy in 1960.

To Obama’s credit, although he removed Wright from the campaign committee, the candidate refused to disown his pastor and friend. And in his speech this week, he gave white voters an insider’s look at how the black community views things.

He may have stopped the damage to his campaign in the short run, but the general election is more than seven months away. By then, Obama will have been faced with further scrutiny that is just part of the vetting process. Last week’s events cracked the door open. We’re looking for a president; probably the most important job in the world, and it’s imperative we know who’s going to fill that job. Hopefully, Obama will continue to take this scrutiny in stride, and the voters will get to know the man underneath the veneer.

Wal-Mart skirmish just a part of larger war

Wal-Mart’s plan to build a supercenter on James Island brings out heavy opposition among the neighbors, and is shaping up as another skirmish in the town’s longstanding efforts to set its own destiny without interference from Charleston.

The supercenter is planned for a site off Folly Road, a short hop from the existing Wal-Mart. That store, if approved, will be built over three acres of wetlands, and 30 grand trees will be cut down to accommodate the 176,000-square-foot. Recently, Charleston’s zoning board gave Wal-Mart a variance to chop down the trees.

But, while most Charleston city officials back the project, City Council members Tim Mallard and Kathleen Wilson are in opposition. Maybe they have inside information. The Wal-Mart site is within District 11, Mallard’s jurisdiction. Wilson, who lives on James Island, has a good chunk of that area in her District 12. But they’re not alone. The James Island Public Service District and the town of Folly Beach also stand in opposition to the Wal-Mart project. Along with an overflow crowd of nearly 200 people who showed up at a meeting of the newly-created Islanders For Responsible Expansion last week. And the more than 2,700 people who signed an online petition on the group’s site ( opposing the project. But those entities and people really don’t have a pony in that race, nor does the town of James Island itself. Although the supercenter is on the physical island, the crazy-quilt boundaries place the project squarely in Charleston’s turf.

I could go on about the effects of building a Wal-Mart supercenter – and I have – but the issue I’m bringing up here is the longtime battle between James Island and Charleston. For the past two decades, islanders have attempted to form their own town, and Charleston has been successful in getting the whole thing nullified. Now the town of James Island lives again, though Charleston, again has been fighting it.

Between incorporations, Charleston has been busy annexing choice slices of the island, and the boundaries truly resemble Swiss cheese. As an island resident which town he lives in, and unless he’s been keeping up on the news he’d really have to sit down and think about it.

It’s anybody’s guess what will happen if the new Wal-Mart is built – especially considering the supercenter will also carry groceries. And it’s a tough call whether this will cut into James Island’s tax base. While the island has seven grocery stores (a Publix, Harris-Teeter, Food Lion, Bi-Lo, and three Piggly Wiggly stores), a look at a city map with my faulty 50-year-old eyeballs shows that only the Harris-Teeter lies within James Island town limits. How the city of Charleston missed annexing that, I’ll never know.

Even though these shops are all chain stores, there’s no way they can argue when the world’s largest corporation is undercutting them in food prices. Within a couple of years after a Wal-Mart Supercenter opened near the Charleston International Airport, two Piggly Wiggly stores in the vicinity shut down, and “The Pig” is not a weak company.

In the long run, one can almost make an office pool out of naming the first James Island grocery store casualty, and sure enough I expect there will be at least one within a year after the ribbon is slashed for the supercenter. Hopefully, it will be one of the stores within Charleston’s jurisdiction; let the city cannibalize itself for sales tax and property tax revenue.

Public backlash against Wal-Mart and similar big-box retailers has created a backlash of communities all over the nation opposing the company’s plans to build stores in their neighborhoods. But in this case, the retail giant is little more than a stage prop. Here, the skirmish is merely symptomatic of the larger issue – a government entity cramming its own will down the throats of area residents who have so steadfastly fought for their right to determine their own decisions.

Nothing sadder than a washed-up activist

He’s ba-a-a-ack!

The man widely considered to be the spoiler in the 2000 election is making another third-party run for President.

Ralph Nader says he’s not expecting to play that role again, as he doubts the electorate will pull levers for a “pro-war John McCain.”

Meanwhile, at McCain headquarters, it might be a good idea to wear a hard hat. I can’t swear to it, but champagne corks may already be flying there.

Nader is one of those third-party guys that some people will take seriously enough to actually vote for him. His votes will have to come from somewhere, and like in 2000 and 2004, that somewhere will be the Democrats.

Already, this may lend some confusion to what may be another tight November race.

In 2000. Florida was the key state. By the time all the recounts and whatever else was done, George W. Bush ended up with a 537-vote majorityover Al Gore. Nader? He didn’t do too badly. He gathered more than 97,000 Florida votes, pretty good for a third-party guy.

But the whole race was so close, Florida would be the decider. So Ralph Nader gave us eight years of George Bush. No wonder Ralph’s name is mud in many circles.

What’s especially ironic was that Nader, back in the day, was considered one of the leading lights of the fledgling environmental movement. But the man who lost the 2000 election, Gore, has done a lot more to put the environment front and center over the past decade than Nader has, even in his fantasies.

Now, Nader — who will be 74 in a few days — believes he’s still got his stuff.

“American politics is saturated in taboos and self-censorship to a level where the greatest issues in the campaign are off the table,” he says.

Which may be true. What’s even more true is that since 2000 Nader was largely irrelevant — that is, assuming he was still relevant during the election.

By the very nature of their work, activists have very short effective careers. These are the one-shot folks in our society. The best activists rise up for a short period, over a single issue, do their thing, and quietly fade back into the masses. It’s when they start tackling other issues that have little to do with what put them in the public eye in the first place that they become irrelevant. Or, more bluntly, when they start acting from ego rather than from a conviction.

Write this down: Few things are sadder to see than a washed-up activist in search of yet another cause. When they’re at that point, you know they’re feeding the ol’ ego.

Back in the 1980s I’d missed the opportunity to catch Cesar Chavez — remember him? — giving a speech at my college. I had a scheduling conflict, so I gave the assignment to one of our other reporters. Turns out I didn’t miss much. Chavez, who had done so much for farm workers 15 years earlier, couldn’t summon the same magic. Or even look like he could do it. My reporter came away unimpressed. All Cesar Chavez had was his name. He had become irrelevant.

One even wonders about someone like Martin Luther King, a man who had done a lifetime of good work in just a few years. Had he lived, would he have been able to stay relevant very long? Would he just be a name, a resume, and little else in today’s world?

Jesse Jackson, who had picked up King’s mantle, had his ativist moments, but stayed in the business a little too long — long enough to become irrelevant.

Ralph Nader shares that same fate. The Democrats don’t like him much — if I remember, the party suggested he sit out the 2004 election. His vote totals were much slimmer, 466,000 votes as compared to 2.8 million four years before. The voters, by then, had caught on.

Ralph Nader’s ego prevents him from likewise catching on.

Like 1980s liberals, conservatives lost in time

Maybe it was the wide-open field, and maybe the revamped primary schedule. But, in mid-February voters still feel they have some say in who will be the next President.

That is, except for the conservatives. Many are already feeling screwed, which is something that usually afflicts most of the populace by this time in any election campaign.

At this point the Republican race is pretty well decided, with John McCain as the clear frontrunner. Yeah, the McCain who was last seen co-authoring Senatorial bills with lefties Ted Kennedy and Russell Feingold. That McCain.

As soon as Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney stepped aside in this race, conservative talk-show hosts and callers threw the mother of all hissy fits. There goes the neighborhood, many said. Mike Huckabee is a non-factor outside the South, Romney is out of the picture, and Ron Paul (who was, to me, one of the few candidates to actually make a lick of sense around here) is considered fringe material. But McCain?

Many conservatives are suggesting sitting this election out, which is practically unheard of from that camp. Ann Coulter is making noises that she may endorse Hillary Clinton (Hillary can have her). But cooler heads are saying to go with the standard-bearer McCain, warts and all. Simple logic: Better half a loaf than no loaf at all. Suffice it to say, a lot of wagons are circling right now.

A few days ago, Cal Thomas penned a column saying conservatives should take a hard look at themselves and start living in the past.

There’s no disputing Thomas’ credentials. He’s one of the leading wordsmiths of the Christian Right, and has been since, well, the Reagan years. At one time he struck me as one of the more strident voices around, but maybe he mellowed some as he got older. Or, more likely, I was younger and far to the left of where I now sit on the political spectrum. Or even both.

But Thomas now says this: “Today’s conservatives … can’t seem to break with the past and the nostalgia for the Reagan years. Too many modern conservatives seem embedded in a concrete slab of pessimism, preferring to go over a bridge and drown rather than ‘compromise’ their principles.”

Thomas cites former Bush II speechwriter David Frum in saying that the issues today are different from those that brought the Republicans to power during the 1980s and 1990s. And this is true; back then folks were not as concerned about health care, carbon dioxide, obesity, terrorism, or immigration as they are now. Back then the great enemy was the Soviet Union, and that was on its way out anyway.

“If conservatives really want to win, they will adopt ideas based on old principles,” Thomas argues. “Conservatives are in danger of losing the coming election and future ones because they have not reinvented themselves for a new era.”

Thomas doesn’t mention this, but it’s worth noting that one of the things that helped put Reagan in power was that the liberals were living in the past. The Democrats were so busy looking for someone who would look, sound, and act like the Jack Kennedys and Franklin Roosevelts that the party was fast becoming irrelevant. Guys like Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Tip O’Neil – and did someone mention Ted Kennedy? – represented the old liberal line that was several decades out of date and really wasn’t all that promising when in vogue.

Bill Clinton did a lot more than make cigars fashionable. By his example he put the Democratic Party back into step with the times. As I recall, many old-line liberals had a hard time swallowing his ideas of coalition-building and cooperation across party lines. But in future years he may become the yardstick by which liberals will be judged, much as Reagan is now. (A footnote here, just because I couldn’t resist: Hillary is no Bill.)

I’m neither Democrat nor Republican, though my politics are decidedly to the right of where most folks accuse the media’s to be. And, while I have a real problem with McCain’s idea of “preemptive war” as is now being practiced in Iraq, I do like him. I’ve met him a few times back in Arizona, and he strikes me as a straight shooter, a transplanted Southwesterner who follows his own drumbeat. This in itself is not enough for him to earn my vote, and I’m still holding out for a late surge by Ron Paul, I’ve sat through enough November elections to know that the choices are rather limited by then.

For the conservatives who still yearn for the days of Reagan and Barry Goldwater (another straight shooter), McCain’s drumbeat may resemble a peyote shuffle in 5/4 time. But to those who realize the times are different than they were two decades ago, they may warm up to McCain yet.