Senator Lindsey Graham during a town hall meeting at Furman University in Greenville, October 12, 2009.
Photo by Patrick Collard of the Greenville News.
I didn't get the chance to attend Lindsey Graham's raucous town hall meeting, since I was working late Monday night. But the right wing of his party showed up, solidifying those reasons why South Carolina Democrats rarely challenge him.
The upstate Bob-Jones-faction of the South Carolina GOP elected both of our Senators (who come from the upstate): Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham. Despite all the juicy rumors that have consistently flown around the still-unmarried Graham, he seems virtually untouchable as far as the vote goes.
And there is no question, Graham is not as far-right as DeMint, who makes him look like a bastion of centrism.
Just like the town hall meeting I attended in Travelers Rest (which is, incidentally, right down the road from Furman University), the local right wing came out in droves. I would not have enjoyed the spectacle. If Graham had shown up at the one I went to, I am sure they would have eaten him for dinner similarly.
But he didn't get to be Lindsey Graham for nothing. (I have written here before about how well he can work a crowd). He stood there, all 63 inches of himself, and staunchly defended his record as "conservative" (even when it isn't) and didn't back down:
Senator tells some to 'chill out' during town hall meeting at Furman
By Ben Szobody • Staff writer • October 13, 2009
An often clamorous crowd blasted, grilled and occasionally cheered Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in a town hall meeting Monday that centered on health care reform but returned repeatedly to his controversial positions on climate change, judicial appointees and immigration.(((sigh)))
Graham returned the fire with a grin, at times shouting over his most boisterous critics and telling some who questioned his Christianity and party loyalty that their minority conservative views wouldn’t succeed without the political coalitions he said are necessary to serve the majority of Americans and attract enough votes in Congress.
“If you don’t like it, you can leave,” he said.
The 75-minute forum filled several sections of Furman University’s Timmons Arena and attracted demonstrators, critics with handheld cameras, shouts of “traitor” and “Sotomayor” — and a smattering of supporters.
Graham repeatedly told those who shouted to “chill out” and addressed most of the hot-button issues that have rankled some in the state’s conservative epicenter, including a newspaper column he co-authored this week with Democratic Sen. John Kerry that called for climate change legislation.
One man told Graham he had “betrayed” conservatism and made a “pact with the devil” by working with Democrats and asked when Graham would switch parties. Pockets of the audience whooped, stood and stomped on the risers.
Graham said he’s not going anywhere and would grow the party instead, defending his conservative credentials on issues such as abortion and guns and calling the view of Libertarians who believe President Bush was a war criminal “nuts.”
Graham said, “We’re not going to be the party of angry white guys,” to more shouts and a sudden rush of personal cameras.
A woman who had been carrying a sign that condemned “unconstitutional, anti-Christ, socialist, federal, deficit-spending programs” told Graham that “God does not compromise” and that he had violated his oath of office by supporting federal ideas including health care reform that overstep states’ rights.
he was supported by more stomping, clapping and cheering. Graham asked her how she’d voted for president, and she identified Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party as her choice.
Graham then said he wasn’t there to please her, and that her party had lost the election “marketplace” of ideas.
He rejected the idea that the federal government should stay out of health care, saying few people want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare, and he defended his Christianity.
He drew some applause by saying he opposes Obama’s government option for health care because he said it would drive private enterprise out of business and add hundreds of billions of dollars in debt. However, he said he’s not afraid to ask people who can afford care, like himself, to pay more, and that more competition, deregulation and tort reform are all ways to lower costs.
“If we do nothing, we all lose,” he said.
On climate change, Graham said he’s working with Kerry because he wants to expand off-shore drilling and increase nuclear power as a way to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, and that some caps on greenhouse gases are a reasonable trade-off to get a bill through Congress.
On Afghanistan, he said it’s crucial to increase American forces to allow the safe training of Afghan police and soldiers. To make progress through congressional action, he said to some boos, it will take working with Democrats to form Afghanistan benchmarks.
On his vote to confirm Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Graham said he’s trying to return to the old way of confirming judges based on their legal qualifications to avoid the “never-ending assault” faced by nominees. He said Sotomayor is no worse than Justice David Souter, who she’s replacing, and noted that longtime Sen. Strom Thurmond voted for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is widely viewed as a liberal judge.
Graham told a friendly questioner that he is “dead-set” against hate crimes legislation that he said would elevate crimes based on sexual orientation to special federal prosecution, which he said is a precursor to recognizing same-sex marriage. Without a coalition, however, he said the measure will pass because there aren’t enough Republicans to stop it.
On illegal immigration — the root of many Greenville conservatives’ mistrust — Graham said he’s all for a border wall, as well as tamper-proof Social Security cards that will help the government crack down on employers who hire the immigrants.
He said he also wants to identify the 12 million illegal immigrants here now, make them pay taxes, learn English and hold a job, then send them home to the immigration line if they want to become citizens.
In the end, Graham told a decidedly right-leaning crowd that he wants to build coalitions that will keep the country’s politics “center-right.”
“America is not only worth fighting for, it’s worth getting criticized for,” he said.
And so, I stand between the proverbial rock and the hard place.
The lefty-politico in me despises how hypocritical I feel Graham is on most issues; I particularly despise his anti-woman and anti-gay politics. However, the human part of me smiles at Graham's scrappy-hound ways; one envisions the big dogs surrounding the little dachshund or chihuahua, who comes out unexpectedly snarling and snapping and scaring away the big bully-dogs. Tee hee!
But this is also, I realize, exactly how he keeps his job. He used this whole thing as one long campaign commercial: Damn, it's tough being moderate in a state with all these wingnuts, he winks at the audience.
He's probably right, too.
I still pine away for someone to take the place of Fritz Hollings. But as long as the upstate-economic engine keeps chugging along (page down here for my explanation of that phenomenon) and people keep moving here, upstate conservatives will still be calling the shots for the state. The right wing has successfully cut off all media access from liberals, as I have written before, and upstate lefties are without even an Air America radio station for ideological aid and comfort.
Aside: Do you see how white that audience is? This is South Carolina!