Will Folks teaches us a lesson
South Carolina Republicans should thank Will Folks.
Back in the early days of Folks’ career, he and I had our shouting matches. We had an adversarial yet friendly relationship. I was the pesky reporter. He was Mark Sanford’s staunch defender. When Folks left Sanford and I left the news business, I figured that would be the end of meaningful stories that featured the one-time punk rock bass player. Now, in the stark daylight of this sticky Nikki situation (or, Haleygate, as it is being called), I’m struck by the curious path Folks has chosen.
No matter how slimy this story is or the amount political seppuku going on all over the Palmetto State, Folks has peeled back the curtain on how politics operate here. (If you’re not caught up to the story yet, see: Nikki Haley, Will Folks: South Carolina politics as usual).
This morning, Folks released a series of text messages featuring himself, Haley’s campaign manager (Tim Pearson), one of the state’s top political reporters (Jim Davenport), and candidate Congressman Gresham Barrett’s “new media” guru (Wes Donehue). It’s a series of profane, icky, and occasionally threatening text messages that bounce back and forth in the run-up to Folks’ startling admission. The messages indicate Haley’s campaign knew about the affair allegations for a long time and had done its best to keep them out of the public eye. They further indicate Folks was doing all he could initially to keep the story from coming out.
While I won’t pretend to analyze the messages for their real meaning or even hope to understand Folks’ motivation for letting this play out so dramatically and publicly, I think there is a pretty important lesson here: most people have no idea how political campaigns work and South Carolina voters have no understanding of how their people really get elected.
Sure, it’s widely assumed that politicians are crooked, liars, and playing all kinds of crazy games behind the scenes. Even those people who get a real look under the rock after reading something like Game Change will still believe there is something noble and pure in the process. Folks, no matter whether you see him as a liar or crusader, has peeled back one more layer to show everybody the real bloodsport politics can be.
That is, if Folks is to be believed:
I’m probably not going to vote in the GOP primary, so I have no real dog in this fight. It’s political theater for me. Still, I think–love him or hate him–South Carolina Republicans owe Folks a word of thanks.
“For what?” people will scream. “He’s destroying our Sarah Palin!”
For what? Well, Folks hasn’t done anything particularly noble, but he he’s at least let you see what’s real. He’s let you see how Palmetto State politics operate.
What’s fascinating–and I even had this thought myself–is the rampant accusation was that Folks might have slipped off the rocker and created a story out of whole cloth simply to drive traffic to his website. And, there are people who are genuinely angry with Folks for airing dirty laundry in such a public way. They aren’t angry about everything up to that point. They are furious that Folks is exposing what a sewer South Carolina politics can be. It’s like knowing your mother is a whore, but hating someone for bringing it up in church.
Listen, Will Folks is no hero, and if it had been me, I would’ve kept my damned mouth shut. Still (and this is one of the strangest sentences I’ve ever typed), if Will Folks isn’t lying, he should at least be commended for telling the whole truth.
There are a lot of arguments to be made about infidelity, hypocrisy, and how to balance to two when deciding for whom you can stomach voting. In a perfect world, an ages old affair wouldn’t mean anything to a person’s professional life. In a perfect world, campaign ops wouldn’t double as assassins. In a perfect world candidates with double-digit leads wouldn’t feel the need to lie.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in South Carolina.