Thursday, January 13, 2005

I can't really claim to know Armstrong Williams, but I did once, and before anyone else did.

We shared a county together, and once or twice encountered each other. I was working at The Marion Star in Marion, S.C. in the early 1980s. My family lived in Mullins, the neighboring town in the same county. There's this deeply rural area called Rains, also in Marion County, and that's where Armstrong is from, if memory serves.

Anyway, one day I was arguing with a conservative co-worker and indulging in my favorite youthful passion: parroting the salient points of a New Republic article and passing them off as the product of my own thoughtful, intelligent, well-researched opinion. The article was on the Voting Rights Act, which frankly I didn't even know existed until the magazine informed of it, and why it should be maintained. (In case you've forgotten, the Voting Rights Act was a Johnson Administration initiative which regulated the voting practices in states with a history of voting abuses, and around this time Southern states were itching to get rid of it because they preferred to think the days of segregation and firehoses and so forth.) Anyway, anyway, we're arguing, this friend and I, and in strolls Mr. Williams for some reason. Forget why. But he was listening to us, and then he got involved. And he takes her side. My mouth dropped. I didn't know what to say. I had never met a black Republican before.

Every now and then I would still hear from Armstrong. It seems like he was working for Thurmond, then. One time he sent in some very politically-oriented press release taking some kind of stand against some policy of the then-Democratic governor, Dick Riley -- and I remember him getting very pissed off at me on the phone when I said I would have to call the governor's office to get their side. He wanted it printed verbatim. Naive on his part, but it does kind of throw a small amount of light on the present situation he's in, doesn't it? Maybe even then he was just used to the idea of mixing news and politics.

Through the years I've followed Williams' moderate rise with some interest. I would read his occasional column in The State newspaper (which, along with everyone else, has given him a very public dumping.) I always felt glad for him, eventhough I never got the impression he was super-bright where punditry is concerned; he always struck me as a parrot. (I know my own species.) Everything he said always sounded like rote opinion, processed and packaged; I don't recall him having an original thought. But I always wished the best for him, because he seemed so nice and so ambitious and he seemed to want it so bad. I'm sorry it turned out so bad and hope he can avoid lasting damage to the repuation he didn't know he had. That's the sad thing -- he's more famous now than he ever was.

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