The 2016 Democratic Coordinated Campaign, in which we are declaring that Enough is Enough of failed Republican governance, is focusing on how Democrats have a better way to deliver opportunity, security, and unity to South Carolina. Previously I have posted about opportunity and security. In this post, I discuss what Democrats mean by unity and how Democratic policies will promote it.
In the wake of the horrific tragedy at Emanuel AME Church last June, South Carolinians of all political stripes from all walks of life came together to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds. The relocation of this odious symbol was a long overdue step toward moving beyond the division that has plagued our state for centuries.
But as Congressman Clyburn wrote in an op-ed soon after the flag came down, symbols matter, but they’re no substitute for substance.[i] And South Carolina has a long way to go until the substantive policies enacted by our elected leaders reflect and promote the unity they extol.
In her State of the State address in January, Governor Haley talked a good game on unity. “Disagreement does not have to mean division,” she said. “We are more than just members of warring political tribes, but brothers and sisters and fellow South Carolinians.”[ii]
But we can’t just declare that South Carolinians are united as brothers and sisters; we have to act like it.
Throughout her time in public life, Hillary Clinton has been guided by what she calls the “Chelsea test.” When assessing the needs of public schools, she would ask herself, “Would I send Chelsea to this school?” If her answer to that question was no, that meant the quality of that school needed to be improved—if a school wasn’t good enough for Hillary Clinton’s daughter, it wasn’t good enough for anyone’s child.
If South Carolinians are truly “brothers and sisters,” as Governor Haley proclaims, we must apply a version of the Chelsea test across the board.
Are all South Carolina public schools, even those in the Corridor of Shame, good enough for Nikki Haley’s children? Clearly not. So we must not accept them for any South Carolina child. Yet Republican elected officials have adamantly opposed adequately funding schools in low-income communities.
Would Henry McMaster still adamantly oppose Medicaid expansion if one of his family members were among the nearly 200 South Carolinians expected to die every year as a result of our state’s intransigence?[iii] I certainly hope not. So we must let our federal tax dollars come back to South Carolina to ensure that all of our brothers and sisters have access to life-saving care.
Would Mick Mulvaney have voted to cut Pell Grants[iv] if his children relied on them to go to college? Unlikely. Yet Republicans in our congressional delegation continue to favor cutting pathways to opportunity while cutting taxes for the rich.
Many victims of misguided Republican policies are not yet known. Our ramshackle roads have already cost hundreds of lives, making South Carolina roads the deadliest in the nation.[v] Continued Republican refusal to fix our crumbling infrastructure will result in more tragic deaths.
Tens of thousands of Americans die every year because of the stranglehold of NRA dollars and dogma on our Republican politicians. Victims’ families have movingly pleaded for sensible gun safety measures like universal background checks, but they have been stymied. If we truly view our fellow South Carolinians as our brothers and sisters, we should not allow anyone’s brothers and sisters to die needlessly.
Enacting public policies in this spirit of unity and siblinghood is the morally right thing to do. But it’s also in the interest of everyone, not just those most obviously affected. If poor South Carolina kids are denied access to education, we are denying ourselves the contributions that they would make to society if given an opportunity to grow to their full potential.
When Republicans refuse to allow federal Medicaid funds to pay for South Carolinians’ health care, they are harming not just the patients but also the health care providers. Southern Palmetto Hospital in Barnwell was forced to close as a result, bringing harm to the whole community, including those with health insurance.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, spoke of “transform[ing] the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” We all benefit from the beauty of this symphony.
Since Dr. King uttered those words, South Carolina has come a long way in overcoming our divisions. But we still have a long way to go. And while Dr. King was a brilliant orator, he was also an activist who knew we needed much more than rhetoric and symbolic gestures. It is often forgotten that the full name of the March on Washington was actually the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Genuine unity requires substantive action. Only Democrats offer the substantive action needed to unify us as one South Carolina and one America.