Johnny Cash for Governor 2010

By Don Rollins

If you see any progressive South Carolinians (okay, enough already with the snarky, oxymoronic comments) wandering glassy-eyed around your neighborhood, please return them as soon as possible. We need their votes.

You see, Palmetto State Dems should be happy as Christine O’Donnell at a Wiccan ritual right about now. After nearly two-and-a-quarter centuries, the Land of Strom Thurmond is poised to elect its first-ever female governor. A thirty-something minority to boot. What a coup, right?

But no so fast, Zippy. Nikki Haley is (gasp) a Republican. A tax-cutting, NRA-pandering, anti-choice, corporate-adoring, Tea-Party-darling Republican. She’s a one-woman, quintessential, good news/bad news scenario for South Carolina’s Democrats and Greens. No wonder they’re banging their heads and walking around like zombies.

Although Haley is coming in for some last-minute moral scrutiny, every poll has her with a double-digit lead over her Democratic challenger. But this is no time for handwringing. This is a time for action, friends. And, man, have I got a plan.

As of now, I’m announcing the ultimate gubernatorial write-in campaign, for the ultimate gubernatorial write-in candidate: Mr. Johnny Cash. True, there are a few, considerable glitches to work out. (Not the least of which is that the guy’s dead as a mackerel.) But hear me out, ‘cause if there’s a state in this man’s union willing to put a dead man in its statehouse, by God, it’s South Carolina.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Johnny’s in the running. What could he bring to the table nobody else could? Populism. Populism, the like of which Columbia hasn’t seen since Hendrix McLane in the 1890s. And the beauty part is that the guy doesn’t have to make a single speech. Three songs and he’s in.


Although not written by Cash, “Oney” is an homage to the working underclass. It’s about the ever-diminishing dignity of the worker against the ever-increasing profit margin of the corporation. South Carolina is in sore need of somebody who will champion its working men and women in the modern era. I say let’s dig up Johnny and put him to work.

What Is Truth?

South Carolina ranks at or above the national average in teen pregnancies, infant mortality rates, percentage of children living in poverty and school dropouts. Not exactly the best place to be young. Cash’s self-penned song, “What Is Truth?” is a searing essay on how children and youth are sacrificed for the sake of ideology, convention, fear, even war. Do you think for a minute that a Governor Cash would let such gross negligence stand? I say bring on the guy in the preacher’s frock and turn him loose on Columbia’s ultraconservative status quo.

The Man In Black

And then there’s what some of us believe to be J.C.’s signature song, “The Man In Black”. This is Cash at his steely-eyed, iconoclastic best. He’s all about “the ones who are held back”. ‘Round here, it’s the ones living in Columbia’s hellhole neighborhoods. It’s the ones camping on the streets of Charleston, dodging cops in order to panhandle tourists. And it’s the ones, black and white, young and old, scratching out an existence in the poverty-riddled hills and hollows of the Upstate region. Cash says these people need somebody up front who can carry some darkness for their sake. I nominate him.

Hold on, I’m not delusional; at least not to the degree above. Johnny Cash is gone, and he’s not coming back. Furthermore, this is not just about South Carolina. In states across the nation, populism is fast becoming an historical footnote. What the spirit of populism needs now is another phase, not another martyr. What it needs now is grassroots lobbying, within the Democratic oligarchy, with an aim to stop the party’s ongoing rightward drift.

It’s probably not realistic to think that here in South Carolina a modern populist — perhaps not even a live Johnny Cash — could overcome Nikki Haley and the hard-right forces she and her handlers have assembled. But a true, Democratic populism would at least move the public discourse in the direction of the regular stiff. And if that could happen here, it could happen anywhere.

So, wherever you live, what say you find out the date, time and meeting place of your county’s next Democratic Party meeting. Drop by. Listen. Say your piece. Take a chance. Maybe even play a little Man in Black on the way over.

P.S. God’s rest, Johnny and June. We miss you.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2010

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