By Frederick Cosby
Maybe it’s the mustard-based barbecue sauce, or too much hot sauce on the Low Country shrimp and grits, or perhaps too much Shag dancing at the beach.
Whatever it is, there’s something going in South Carolina that’s making its politics and politicians crazy. The latest case in S.C. of foot-in-mouth disease occurred last Thursday when Republican State Sen. Jake Knotts scored a racist two-fer on a local Internet radio show by insulting frontrunner GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley – who was raised a Sikh – and President Barack Obama in the same breath.
“We already got one raghead in the White House; we don’t need a raghead in the governor’s mansion,” Knotts said.
Knotts isn’t Don Knotts – the deceased comedian who played Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” – but he fancies himself a funny man. The state senator blamed partially blamed his verbal transgression on poor comedic timing and on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
“If it had been recorded, the public would be able to hear firsthand that my ‘raghead’ comments about Obama and Haley were intended in jest,” Knotts said in a half-hearted apology statement. “Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It’s like a local political version of Saturday Night Live, which is actually where the joke came from.”
Apparently forgetting that the SNL cast was originally called “The Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” Knotts completed his pseudo-mea culpa by saying: “I still believe Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did, but I do apologize for the unintended slur.”
Even Knotts’ own party said he crossed the line from funny to inflammatory.
“The racially charged comments made by Knotts during the ‘Pub Politics’ webcast were disrespectful, inappropriate, and have no place in today’s society,” former Lexington County (S.C.) Republican Party chair Katrina Shealy said in a statement. “…The people of Senate District 23, Lexington County, and the entire state of South Carolina deserve a voice in Columbia that will not provide any unneeded, additional negative publicity or material for late night comedians.”
Indeed, several South Carolina political experts rolled their eyes, shrugged their shoulders, and said Knotts’ comments were just business as usual in the state that gave America the late Sen. Strom Thurmond and the late Lee Atwater, the campaign dirty trickster who made Willie Horton a household name on the way to getting President George H.W. Bush elected.
“I’m not surprised, it’s South Carolina,” Todd Shaw, a University of South Carolina political science professor told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “It speaks of a racial anxiety that’s been pretty much in South Carolina’s history.”
“It’s unfortunate,” Shaw said of Knotts’ comments. “But it’s not an aberration.”
South Carolina has been on a roll lately when it comes to embarrassing politics at its racist and horniest core. Haley, a married family-values candidate who has been endorsed by the ex-wife of maritally unfaithful Gov. Mark Sanford, as well as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has been beating back accusations from two men they had sexual relationships with her.
One of the men, Larry Marchant, was a campaign consultant of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who is running against Haley. Bauer made headlines of his own last January when he compared poor people to stray animals.
“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why, because they breed,” he said. “You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior.”