Last month, I questioned some of the motivations behind the bipartisan attacks on South Carolina Senate candidate Alvin Greene. Despite having won nearly 60 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, Greene—a less than qualified candidate, to be sure, but still the winning candidate—was immediately battered by politicians and the media alike, who insisted that his run was in some way invalid.
For whatever reason, nobody attacked the ostensibly poor political knowledge of the more than 100,000 South Carolinians who voted for Greene. Instead, the villain was Greene himself. “He couldn’t possibly have afforded the $10,000 candidate registration fee,” was the initial outcry, which failed to consider that, having been a single military man with few expenses for 13 years, it’s actually very possible to save up $10,000, if not more. Others wondered whether Greene, who has a degree in political science from the University of South Carolina, had been a beneficiary of faulty voting machines. When that theory didn’t pan out, everyone just got mean: South Carolina State Rep. Todd Rutherford told Fox News he thought Greene was retarded. And, in perhaps the most unprofessional interview of his career, CNN’s Don Lemon demanded of Greene, “Are you mentally sound?”
One would be hard pressed to think of a modern political candidate—regardless of how unfit—who took a public beating like that given to Alvin Greene. The harshest anyone ever got to Sarah Palin’s face was asking her to name her favorite newspapers. Perennial Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman once said Southern Baptists weren’t held under water long enough; that earned him a cult following and a magazine column. Greene’s ambition and eccentricity got him the opportunity to be called stupid on live television, and I can’t help thinking that’s due in part to the fact that he’s a working-class black man.
Today, the treatment of Alvin Greene, who’s still hoping to defeat incumbent Jim DeMint in November, takes another ugly turn in an interview with the Guardian. It turns out that Alvin’s father, James Greene Sr., 81, once ran for city council in rural South Carolina, and his results were surprisingly similar to his son’s:
And the suggestion that he is mentally ill? "That's an insult!" The answer is barked out, with distinct anger. But it doesn't come from Alvin. It comes from James Sr, who is shuffling past in his slippers just as we reach this point. "Back in my day black people who registered to vote were turned away. They called the doctor and treated them as crazy."
Alvin's father, as a younger man, stood for office in the local council, but lost. I ask him whether he faced the same insults and opposition. "Oh yeah." What things? "They told me I would never make it."
James Sr. didn’t make it, an unsurprising outcome for a black man born in 1920s South Carolina. In November, Alvin Greene will lose, too. While that’s also not a shock, what is is how intent on chipping away at both Greene’s votes and his dignity some people seem.
Like so many others in the black community, for the Greene family, the traumas of the father are also the son’s.