Commentary: This ol' political plot in South Carolina
WASHINGTON -- It is often said that there are no new stories, just different ways of telling the same ones. Familiar plots persist through literature: man versus nature, "rags to riches," the hero quest, and so on.
And then there's Alvin Greene -- the nobody who becomes somebody, suddenly and without anything to recommend him but sheer dumb luck. Our literature is no stranger to the type.
Forrest Gump, from the 1986 novel of the same name, is an exemplary accidental "someone" -- a sweet, "uncomplicated" young man utterly without guile or malice who somehow manages to stumble from one record-setting success to another. From war hero to world ping-pong champion to entrepreneur, Gump boggles all minds but his own, busy as it is considering the existential mysteries contained in a box of chocolates.
A few years earlier, Chauncey Gardiner was an unlikely hero in Jerzy Kosinski's 1971 novella, "Being There." Subsequently made into a movie by the same name, "Being There" is the tall tale of a gardener who becomes a favorite to run for U.S. president following an unlikely series of misunderstandings.
The first occurs when Chauncey is turned out of the mansion where he has lived (and gardened) his whole life upon his benefactor's death. When someone asks his name, "Chance the Gardener" is heard as "Chauncey Gardiner." Thereafter, everyone Gardiner meets projects his or her own needs and expectations onto this kind but empty-headed "nobody." In their minds, Gardiner is the wealthy aristocrat they need him to be, his mundane gardening observations sublime metaphors filled with timeless wit and wisdom.
Clueless are us.
Thus we come to Alvin Greene, whose story is familiar by now: No campaign, no ads, no yard signs, no website and no funds except the $10,000 he managed to produce for the filing fee. An unemployed veteran who lives with his father in Manning, S.C., a town of about 4,000, he was virtually unknown until 100,362 of his fellow citizens, most of whom had never heard of Greene, voted for him.
Surprising no one perhaps more than Greene himself, this remote, expressionless man of very few words defeated Vic Rawl, a judge and former state representative whose name apparently also failed to ring a bell. When in doubt, it seems, South Carolinians can be relied upon to act alphabetically.
After weeks of speculation and wonderment about how this man materialized without anyone's notice, Greene finally spoke Sunday to a gathering of about 500 and was rewarded with a standing ovation. He didn't say much, but the people heard what they needed to hear. Greene said he wanted to "reclaim our country from the terrorists and the communists," and get us back on the right track.
He also wants to create "green" jobs and has suggested manufacturing action figures of himself. Well, why not? A military veteran who returns home to become the first African-American nominated to the U.S. Senate in South Carolina since Reconstruction is legendary stuff.
In fact, Greene, who earned a bachelor's degree in political science at the University of South Carolina, accumulated an impressive number of accolades before departing the service.
It was while stationed in South Korea that Greene says he first began thinking of a future in politics. He just saw the country going downhill and thought, if not he, then who? And, please, who is to say that Greene wouldn't bring some of that long-missing common sense and those cherished small-town values to Washington?
If Greene were to defeat incumbent Jim DeMint -- and stranger things routinely happen in the Palmetto State -- Republicans would have to be gracious as one of their favorite tropes became manifest. That would be William F. Buckley's famous statement beloved by conservatives that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty.
At a time when "ordinary" is the new cool -- and know-nothingness a badge of honor -- Greene is a man in full. When nearly everyone associated with the Obama administration is Harvard-groomed, Greene is poison to their ivy league.
Joe the Plumber, meet Alvin the Gump.
Buckley may have been sincere in his preference for everyday Americans over Harvard elites, but H.L. Mencken may have hit a larger truth with his distillation of this all-American story: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."
Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org