South Carolina Focus: Alvin Greene
First off, quality of the candidate aside (and I will explore that in a moment) Alvin Greene's win against all odds and with almost no money is an earthshattering event. It can't even be called a grassroots victory because Greene had almost no campaign to speak of. How can a complete unknown win against an entrenched establishment?
Several theories have been put forth to explain his win. None of them, from what I can tell, can accuont for a nearly 60% of the vote going to a complete unknown with no campaign funds against a well-funded establishment candidate. Many of the theories pretty much depend on Rawls, Greene's primary opponent, having no name recognition. This is a condemnation of Rawls and the party establishment not of Greene. There are some questions about the voting machines used which, as I understand are similar to ones used in Georgia that are strongly thought to have been programmed by the company that makes them to illegally alter the results in 2002. I think the question of voter machine tampering remains an open one, yet if it happened I think it highly unlikely to have been done by Alvin Greene in any way. Perhaps the Republicans did something to influence the election because they considered Greene the easier opponent to beat. However, no one has expected the general election to be all that close so it is unclear to me why the Republicans would do this.
I believe two things may have contributed to Greene's win. First is the fact that there may be residual enthusiasm in the black community from Obama's election and tha could have helped Greene, the black candidate, win. However there is no evidence for this and it has been pointed out that Greene had so little campaign presence that it is quite possible no one KNEW he was black. But I don't think we can comlpetely rule it out as a factor. Here's a sort of off the cuff article on the subject seems to suggest that it MAY have been a factor, but if so a small one. Which brings us to the theme of the year: anti-incumbent sentiment (which in this case translates to anti-establishment, pro-outsider sentiment). Combine that with low voter turnout and you have an election season where you will see things like teabaggers beating moderate Republicans and someone like Alvin Greene defeating an establishment candidate.
In a sense I like the fact that relative unknowns with an anti-establishment, outider message can win. But it means teabaggers and Alvin Greenes have a better shot than usual. Craziness gets more of a shot at such times and I don't like that aspect of such sentiments. In the case of teabaggers they have plenty of money interests behind them, so the anti-establishment/outsder image is often partial or complete bullshit and wealthy, corporate interests are taking advantage of the sentiments of the times to get more radical right wing candidates in office. In the case of Alvin Greene I can't see that he is anything but himself. He may well be the purest, most genuine example of anti-establishment, pro-outsider sentiments. In this sense his candidacy and success is not necessarily a bad thing.
Now some background on Greene. On paper he isn't as bad a candidate as most of us have heard and assumed. On paper he actually looks pretty good. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in political science. He is a veteran who served in the Army, Air Force AND National Guard. He received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, the Korea Defense Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal. He has definitely done his service to the country. He comes from no money or big business interests and is currently "employed" (not officially but let me tell you he deserves credit for it) taking care of his elderly father. I see all sorts of reasons to EMRACE Greene as a candidate. Unfortunately, despite all this he also comes off as a lousy candidate.
Why is Greene such a lousy candidate?
First his interviews and his whole approach to campaigning come off as incoherant and somewhat crazy. He does not come off well and cannot articulate a clear message.
Then there is the fact that he received poor evaluations in the military calling him ineffective, disorganized and unable to express himself clearly. This certainly is reflectd in his campaign and his interviews! Greene was honorably but involuntarily discharged from the military. All of this indicates a very poor candidate for political office...but it can be countered by the fact that this is the same guy who received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, the Korea Defense Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal from the same military! He clearly has some very strong qualities...and some very weak qualities.
Then there are questions about how he raised the filing fee. South Carolina requires a $10,440 filing fee and Federal and State laws require a candidate to pay the filing fee out of his/her own pocket. Now I have some problems with these laws. Doesn't it mean you have to be rich enough to have some $11,000 extra lying around? Isn't this discriminatory against poorer candidates? Regardless of the fairness, though, Greene has claimed to qualify for a public defender in an obscenity case (see below) and the question of how he could raise the filing fee while qualifying for a public defender is a problem that may haunt him. It has been shown that the funding was legit, but it still is a conflict with his claiming to qualify for a public defender. This could taint him as being a liar, but it could also be seen as merely a technicality being held over him by the establishment and could actually help him a little if the Republicans play their cards wrong.
Finally there is an obscenity case against him which just led to an indictment. Basically he is accused of showing an 18 year old a pornographic picture on the internet and coming onto her. The charges are felony charges but from what I can tell there is no accusation that he didn't take no for an answer. How will this play? It is definitely a weapon that can be held against him, but how effective will it be coming from the same political party that gave South Carolina Mark "hiking the Appalachian Trail" Sanford. Compared with the Republican record on sex scandals, Greene's obscenity charge doesn't come off so bad.
What about Greene's political positions? I think he can be described as a left-leaning populist. From Wiki:
Greene describes himself as a moderate Democrat. His campaign slogan is "Let's get South Carolina back to work." Greene favors measures to lower the price of gas and supports offshore drilling. He supports a united Korea under a democratic system of government. He would let the Bush tax cuts expire and supports reform of the financial industry. Greene supports job creation and would increase highway construction projects and pursue alternative energy sources. He has also called for better school facilities and pay raises for teachers. On the subject of firearms, Greene said he supports the Constitution. Greene favors winding down the wars in the Middle East and "using that money for domestic programs, such as job creation, education, and Social Security."
As Southern Democrats go, these are not bad positions and they can be presented in a way that appeals to a wide range of working and middle class Americans. IF Greene was articulate, he could well be an ideal candidate for a long-shot race.
I have by now known personally a wide range of politicians. I have to say that there are long-term incumbents who are far worse than Alvin Greene. Even in the Senate. Greene is not a candidate I'd go out of my way to endorse or support and he may well be a disaster waiting to happen...or even in the process of happening. But I also don't think we should dismiss him altogether. He is certainly better than the Republican, has a reasonable service record with medals to be proud of, and has a political platform that actually is both more progressive and more populist than the average Southern politician. We could do worse. If only he could learn to express himself more effectively and clearly. On the one hand, Obama learned to transform himself from a lousy speaker to a great orator. However, I don't think there is any question that Obama is far smarter than Greene and so better able to make such a transition.
Does Greene have a chance? All signs point to his losing miserably. This race isn't really on anyone's radar except for the strangeness of Greene and his unexpected win. But there it is...Greene's unexpected win. No one...and I mean NO ONE...predicted Greene's primary win. I think it is just possible he could surprise us again. I doubt it, but I certainly don't rule it out. This is a highly unusual year politically and someone like Greene in some ways is the embodiment of what people are looking for: an average Joe, complete outsider who bridges the policies of both parties. And come on...is he really any less articulate or crazier than Sarah Palin?
I leave you with this interview of Alan Greene by Kieth Olbermann:
and Rachel Maddow talking about Alvin Greene (mostly based on Olbermann interview):
And here is a good article from a Georgia blog covering Al Greene: The sad, strange tale of Alvin Green gets sadder and stranger.