It's open season on incumbents

CANTEYVILLE, S.C. -- If thy name is Incumbent, you might want to start packing up those D.C. tchotchkes.

November is likely to be a cruel month.

That, at least, is the view from "Canteyville," which you won't find on a map. There is no town by this name in South Carolina, though there ought to be. Canteys are as common as front porches in this part of the country.

For these purposes, Canteyville is a state of mind, a late-night invention born of spirited conversation at a sporting clay club in the state's unfortunately dubbed "Midlands."

This particular Cantey — yet another Joe — is famous in certain circles. Most recently, that would be among the gun-toters so often feared and misunderstood by urban and coastal dwellers.


Cantey's fame stems primarily from his having been a six-time world champion clay shooter. Before he was a shooter, he was a renowned thoroughbred racehorse trainer (including Belmont Stakes winner Temperence Hill). Before that, he was bound for the Juilliard School on a scholarship when an automobile accident ruined his trumpet lip.

What's all this got to do with incumbency? Consider the following a local anecdote presented in the service of a larger lesson.

The biographical sketch is meant as a reminder that not everyone with a gun rack in the back of his truck is a racist, gay-bashing, Confederate flag-waving redneck. That said, if anyone were entitled to take pride in the old battle flag, it would be Cantey, whose forbearer James Cantey was a brigadier general in the Confederate army. A legislator in civilian life, he also served valiantly with the Palmetto Regiment in the Mexican-American War.

This is familiar history to locals, but not because Cantey ever mentions it. He isn't the sort to toot his own horn, earlier talents notwithstanding. He isthe sort to invite neighbors, clients, friends — and their canine companions — to open-air vittles on Wednesday and Sunday nights at his 1,500-acre Hermitage Farms just off Tickle Hill Road in Kershaw County.

The scene: A long winding road leads through a walled gate into a clearing with two structures. One is the clubhouse, featuring a kitchen and walls crammed with shooting awards. A large bison head presides.

The other structure is an open-sided pavilion with a dozen picnic tables and an array of outdoor cooking equipment. A plaque reads: "Canteyville, Population 4." Several tables are filled with men and women, talking quietly over paper plates filled with chicken, mashed potatoes, salad and biscuits. Dress code: jeans and camouflage. Smoking allowed; drinking not discouraged.

Also in attendance are seven or eight dogs of the highway variety, the smallest of which perches on an empty tabletop.

A city slicker happening upon this scene might imagine hearing the strains of "Dueling Banjos" from the movie "Deliverance." Said slicker would be mistaken, as earlier bio confirms. The Southern sportsman is as likely to make an appearance at a black-tie dinner dance as at a Joe Cantey cookout, though he'd undoubtedly prefer the latter.


Nevertheless, it is probably safe to say that this is not Obama country, even though plenty of Cantey's clients and friends voted for the president. These days, most think Washington doesn't have a clue. They think the tea partiers might.

The evening's conversation circled recent events — health care, spending, etc. — which may be summarized as follows:

"Do they have any idea up there what's going on out here?" one fellow asked me.


"Wasn't Scott Brown a hint?"

"Shoulda been."

Heads shake.

Then it was my turn: "Do you guys see the November election as a big turnout day?"


"You better believe it."

There's something grounding and instructive about sitting in the woods on a cool spring night, away from the green rooms and talk shows. It is important to touch the bare, unmarbled earth now and then, something too few inside Washington do often enough.

At the risk of sounding patronizing, the camo-boys at Canteyville are the "ordinary Americans" that pundits and politicians love to invoke while utterly ignoring them. The resulting anger recently on display is not only political theater. And the conversation at Joe's pavilion isn'trare.

The Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress have acted on the conviction that they know best and that citizens eventually will come around. This may sometimes have been historically true, but here's another truth: If you can't convincingly explain the beauty of a policy to the educated, hard-working people of Canteyville, you might have a policy problem.

Incumbency will tell.

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