South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s new book is sure to cause three differing reactions:

  • Tea partiers will fall in love with Haley again for wearing their white hat and repetitively incanting the rhetoric of limited government that bashes the political establishment.
  • Mainstream Republicans and moderates will spend a lot of time rolling their eyes at the 200-plus pages of gratuitous, preening arrogance, inane recollections and my-way-or-the-highway declarations of revisionism.
  • Liberals won’t be able to finish it because it’s such an obvious political attempt to propel the governor to Washington, sooner as a vice-presidential candidate (despite lots of protest by her) or later as a U.S. senator.

If you like Haley and want to be pumped up, go ahead and spend $28 for what seems more like a transcribed version of a lot of self-taped conversations than a book. Otherwise, don’t bother. Haley is trying too hard to be a real-life fairy tale.

Nevertheless, here are some observations of Haley’s Can’t Is Not an Option: My American Story:

Childhood tale. The best part of the book is the beginning in which Haley delves into her childhood as a member of the only Indian family in Bamberg. She talks convincingly about challenges, goodness and the American Dream without too much tea party propaganda.

Philosophical insight. When you read about how Haley worked as a bookkeeper as a teen-ager for her mother’s store, you get a better understanding of the anti-government rhetoric that fuels her politics. One such lesson:

“I learned early that we couldn’t control our revenue stream – we couldn’t control who decided to walk in the door of the store and spend their money. All we could control was our expenditures. So we were constantly focused on tightening our overhead. … I noticed how hard it was to make a dollar and how easy it was for government to take it away.”

What rankles about this statement by Haley, a self-professed policy wonk, is its naiveté about government. Unlike business, government can control revenue streams by raising or lowering taxes, or by providing incentives to bring in more businesses, all of which will increase the amount of money put in the state’s pot.

Second, government can’t always be run like a business, regardless of the GOP talking points. Sometimes, government is the only entity that’s large enough or has enough of a cushion to do really big things, such as provide electricity to rural areas, build interstate roads, provide affordable college opportunities to millions, take care of the health of old people and more. For Haley, government is not a pathway to progress, but an impediment that has to be overcome. In the long term, that kind of vision of government isn’t in South Carolina’s best interest.

Courage. In the book, Haley often describes how she had courage to take on the establishment which “blackballed, demoted and humiliated” her for trying to get recorded roll call votes to boost accountability in the state House. Interestingly, she did not name the leader of the establishment, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, although she cut at him left and right for eight pages. Then in prose that would gag even a teen romance writer, she celebrated a “turnabout is fair play” moment as governor when she signed into law the bill she had pushed while in the House:

“The day didn’t belong to me. It belonged to the people. I looked out and saw my parents, and I thought of what they had always taught me: If you fight for the right things, God will take care of the rest. It had taken a little while, but in the end my parents were right. The people had fought. Their cause was just. And now God was smiling down on South Carolina.”

Playing the victim. Haley also complained about people who saw themselves as victims, but within pages she would paint herself as a victim of Harrell, Gov. Mark Sanford or something else. After a while, it got more than a little monotonous.

Bottom line: Plant a garden. It’s spring. There are better things to do than read this book.

Editor's Note: This story first published at
Andy Brack

Andy Brack

Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a twice-weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, A former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack also is president and chairman of the Center for a Better South, a nonprofit regional think tank. Brack received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. He, his wife, two daughters and dogs live in Charleston, S.C.