With the Republican voters of South Carolina once again playing a leading role in choosing their party's presidential nominee, it might be helpful to look at the race in terms of the Palmetto State's cultural and/or pop-cultural touchstones.
The Big Chill: The popular hit movie was filmed in Beaufort, and it offers lots of parallels for the current race. The entire movie is about the aftermath of a suicide -- and mass political suicide is what Republican voters will be committing if they select either of their two supremely weak general-election candidates, Willard Mitt Romney or Newton Leroy Gingrich, to be slaughtered by Barack Obama's $800 million machine. Like Mitt Romney's entire "do better than my father" political genesis, the genesis of the movie characters' friendship began in Michigan (university of). What movie critic Dave Kehr wrote about the whole movie could also be applied to the Romney campaign: "The material is gratingly familiar…. There is no place for depth or nuance in this slickly engineered complacency machine."
Then, of course, there is the casual adultery in the movie -- but at least the movie's adultery doesn't carry the stench of hypocrisy. (Esquire, on Gingrich and his then-wife Marianne: "He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused. He'd just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he'd given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values. The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, 'How do you give that speech and do what you're doing?' 'It doesn't matter what I do,' he answered. 'People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live.'")
Finally, the movie has Meg Tilly playing Ron Paul's role of the squeaky-voiced oddball who doesn't quite fit into the group. Perfect!
The H.L. Hunley Submarine: This is the perfect match for the Rick Perry campaign: A successful launch and spectacular first impression, followed by a mysterious sinking, never to be seen again. Then again, the Perry effort also reminds one of golfer Mark Calcavecchia's monumental collapse in the famous Ryder Cup "War by the Shore" in 1991 at Kiawah Island, where he blew a 4-up lead with four holes left. (Announcer: "That might have been the strangest shot by a pro I've ever seen.")
"Mudslinging: The Legacy of South Carolina Pottery": Gingrich again, with his leftist attacks on Bain Capital. Who know it was a South Carolina arts tradition?
Deliverance: Filmed mostly in South Carolina, this near-cult film took place on waters so dangerous that during the year after its release, 31 people drowned while attempting to paddle the same portion of the Chattooga. Sounds like the South Carolina Republican primary itself, which has been the political grave -- after being the last real stand for -- a boatload of candidates from John Connally in 1980 (Rick Perry redux?) to Bob Dole, Pat Robertson and Jack Kemp (1988), Pat Buchanan (1996), John McCain (2000), and Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, and (for most purposes) Romney in 2008. Again, Perry's polling numbers indicate a political drowning here -- and Newt Gingrich several times has said his campaign might effectively be over if he doesn't beat Romney here. Will he squeal like a pig if he loses?
Gamecocks: The feisty fighting birds, the mascot of the University of South Carolina, fight to the death. All the candidates are implicated in this analogy.
Colonel Banastre Tarleton: Key operational leader of the supposedly invincible British fighting forces in the key theatre of South Carolina during the American Revolutionary War -- this was where, really, most of the heaviest fighting and most consequential fighting occurred during the war -- he acted with regal disdain for his opponents. And, again and again, he lost, especially at the key battle of Cowpens. Will this perhaps be the fate of today's candidate with all of the establishment advantages, Mitt Romney? We'll see.
The Swamp Fox of the Revolution: Francis Marion was perhaps the single pluckiest of all the American revolutionary leaders, and certainly did more with less than anyone in the whole war (with the possible exception of George Washington himself). Mel Gibson's movie The Patriot was largely based on Marion's exploits. Leading a small band of unpaid, poorly provisioned volunteers, the Swamp Fox lived off the land, did massive damage to the British forces, and established a hallmark for honorable guerrilla fighting that still stands as a model today. This year, Rick Santorum -- underfunded, never given a chance, living off the land, remaining in the fight despite the odds -- is trying to play Francis Marion's role.
If he succeeds, it will be one of the greatest in a long line of terrific South Carolina stories.