Short skirts and cavemen

A partisan fight over a sexist joke brings the South Carolina Legislature to a standstill. Plus: Liberals celebrate the news of Bush's sagging popularity while conservatives blame the media.

By Anthony York

Published June 21, 2001 4:03PM (EDT)

Anger management

From the "Confederate Flag Ain't Got Nothing on This" Department comes word that summer budget negotiations in South Carolina have come to a virtual standstill as a partisan fight over tasteless jokes spins out of control.

It all started with a memo from a fictional "Men's Caucus" that suggested female House pages come to work wearing shorter skirts and no underwear. When word of the memo began to spread earlier this month, the Palmetto Insider reported "it was an inside joke shared among a small group of people and then thrown away. We've heard that after word of the joke leaked out to the rest of the House, Democratic members, including Women's Caucus members, dug through trash cans to track down the single copy that was printed."

Of course, images of elected officials rummaging through trash cans only confirm the suspicions of most loyal Red vs. Blue readers. But we digress ...

House Women's Caucus chairwoman Rep. Vida Miller demanded an apology and investigation into who was responsible for the memo. Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges agreed, and called for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's involvement in the investigation.

The question of who is responsible remains unanswered. Early suspicions named state Rep. Jim Klauber, but when those rumors were published in the Journal, Klauber fired off this e-mail:

From: James Klauber
To: "''"
Subject: Authorship of the memo
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 09:29:52 -0400

I just want you to know that the first time I read the memo was in The State newspaper. I did not see it, write it, or know about it until it made the newspapers. I would appreciate your removing my name immediately.
Rep. Jim Klauber

Republican sources speculate that Klauber's name was thrown into the Memogate fracas by Gresham Barrett, one of Klauber's opponents in the 3rd Congressional District primary.

Memomania continued when a speechwriter for Hodges cranked out a memo of his own, calling those responsible for the memo "cavemen."

Georgia gets "Dueling Banjos." South Carolina gets dueling memos.

The speechwriter was immediately suspended, but his actions were defended by Hodges' spokesman, Morton Brilliant. "That memo was a satirical response that labeled chauvinists to be cavemen," he said.

But like the Men's Caucus memo before it, some didn't seem to get the joke. Among those who do not find cavemen funny is Republican House Speaker David Wilkins, who called Hodges a hypocrite. State human affairs commissioner Jesse Washington said he plans to ask the federal government to launch a separate investigation into the caveman memo. Take that!

Signs of a cease-fire are on the horizon. Washington has agreed to attend a meeting with Hodges and Wilkins. Red vs. Blue sends the good people of South Carolina our thoughts and prayers.

Big buzz

Things don't seem to be getting any better for President Bush. Take this, from Thursday morning's New York Times:

"Despite his first overseas trip as president and the passage of his sweeping measure to cut taxes, President Bush's standing as a leader on both domestic and foreign fronts has diminished considerably, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows."

And if Bush thinks he can simply charm his way out of his problems, the Times/CBS poll had more bad news: "In addition, Mr. Bush's personal appeal -- one of his most potent qualities in last year's election -- has dipped to its lowest point since April 2000, after he was lashed by Senator John McCain of Arizona in the early Republican primaries. And, by widening margins, people say they are less trusting that Mr. Bush will keep his word."

Those sounds you hear are the choruses of "I told you sos" from liberal chat rooms after reading this in the New York Times. Let's take a look at what they're saying, shall we?

"Defeat at the Polls for Mr. Bush," screams the headline at

"The truth is getting out despite the constant propaganda and all the GOP apologists in the media. My favorite part.

"'A majority of respondents are skeptical that there actually is an energy shortage. More than 6 of 10 said Americans were being told there was a problem to give oil companies an excuse to charge more money.'

"If we had a real free press, that would be 9 out of 10. Time to dump your energy stocks."

Funny, the folks at the Free Republic blame the media as well. "To listen to all the cheap shots fired at Dubya before and during the trip [to Europe], you'd think he's just lucky he hasn't been impeached by now!" writes one Free Republic poster. "Just like Ross Perot said, 'You can tell who's winning by who's whining!' And the louder the press whines, the better I like it!"

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Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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