Yesterday, South Carolina Democratic Party representative Todd Rutherford told reporters that the increasingly strange Alvin Greene saga was “not even funny, it’s just sad.” It’s a sentiment that’s becoming increasingly common, as Greene, the surprise winner of South Carolina’s Democratic Senate primary, finds himself ever-deeper in the muddy water that is American politics.
Despite the fact that he won Tuesday’s primary fair and square, with 60 percent of the vote, common wisdom now holds that Greene somehow cheated on his way to the top. For his part, Rutherford went on to suggest that Greene is mentally handicapped and isn’t in on the “joke.” House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn has made a serious call for a federal inquiry into Greene’s victory, telling a radio DJ on Thursday: “I don't know if he was a Republican plant, he was somebody's plant.” And now, a panel of experts has convened to look over South Carolina’s election results in order to ensure Greene didn’t somehow find some ingenious way to put himself over the top. Anymore, it seems as if the only person who believes in Alvin Greene is the man himself, who’s refused the state party chairwoman’s request he drop out of the race.
I can’t help but find all this handwringing about Greene’s win on Tuesday to be slightly insidious, tainted by the ugly stains that so frequently mar America’s political processes: racism and classism.
In the years since the United States began electing officials, her citizens have deemed fit for office everyone from convicted felons to Sarah Palin to dead people. Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, a formerly unemployed everyman-type with no political familiarity whatsoever (much like Alvin Greene), was just last month voted onto Ohio’s Lucas County Republican Committee. That Greene—an inexperienced, poorly spoken, alleged criminal who barely had any campaign at all—could win an election in South Carolina isn’t that wild of an idea to anyone who’s been paying attention for the past few hundred years. It is an unshakable fact that American voters—to put it kindly—have a history of choosing unqualified leaders.
And yet as Alvin Greene sets his sights on Republican Jim DeMint and the general election, glaring back at him is an entire skeptical nation, Republicans excited to beat him, Democrats excited to have him disappear from TV and memory.
Pondering this collective incredulity, I don’t think one can ignore the fact that Greene is an African American. I don’t think one can ignore the fact that Greene didn’t go to Harvard or Yale, but the University of South Carolina. I don’t think one can ignore the fact that Greene is far from wealthy—especially not when so much of the ire being directed at him includes the sneering question, “Just where did someone like you get that $10,000 registration fee?” Stranger things have happened in politics, so why now is everyone choosing to question what sense any of it makes?
Having spoken to Alvin Greene for an extended period of time, I’m absolutely certain I wouldn’t want him in any political office, high or low. But as a person of color, I can’t help but question the motivations of the minions who agree with me.
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.