Politics & Government

No lie! S.C. voices dominate '09 top quotes list

Congratulations, South Carolina.

You dominated the list of notable quotations for 2009.

You can thank your colorful politicians and your reputation as an outspoken critic of government for the distinction.

This year, the state made a name for itself with its disappearing governor, a heckling congressman and its voice in the debate over health reform.

"It's been a wild year," said Robert Oldendick, a political science professor at University of South Carolina. "If there's only 10 quotes and we're one of 50 states, by probability we shouldn't get any on it. We've, unfortunately, invited a lot of publicity."

Fred Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, chose three statements made by South Carolina residents in his top 10 list. Shapiro published his book in 2006 and has released a list of 10 memorable quotes each year since then.

Shapiro's number one quote was this gem, spoken by an unknown citizen at a town hall forum last summer in Simpsonville: "Keep your government hands off my Medicare."

"The first quote reflected the debate and how much polarization there was," Shapiro said.

Other notable quotes connected to South Carolina were U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie!" during a President Obama speech on health care reform. And, the now infamous statement released by Gov. Mark Sanford's press office, "The governor is hiking the Appalachian Trail."

Shapiro said he picks quotes that reflect the spirit of the times. This year, the only other theme that matched South Carolina's presence in the quotes list was health reform.

And South Carolina accounted for two of those three references, thanks to the Simpsonville resident and Wilson.

No one could identify the speaker at the Simpsonville town hall meeting. But U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., said he could remember where the older man was sitting during the forum.

"I remember he was pretty agitated," Inglis said. "You're standing there in a town hall meeting and you think, 'This is going to take so much time to explain.' I had to explain to the fellow that Medicare is a government health insurance plan."

While the quote is not attributed to a specific person, Shapiro said similar quotes were repeated across the country in newspapers, televisions and blogs.

"That's a generally anonymous quote," Shapiro said. "What I looked for was the earliest trace of it I could find."

That came in a July 28 Washington Post article where Inglis retold the story to a reporter.

"That's exactly what he said," Inglis said Wednesday when asked about the notable quote.

No one has to search hard to verify Wilson's "You lie!" He yelled it on national television on Sept. 9 when President Obama said illegal immigrants would not receive free health care under his reform plan.

The then-little known congressman from Springdale instantly became a household name. And he and his Democratic opponent in the 2010 2nd District congressional race raised millions for their campaigns.

"It struck some kind of chord with people," Shapiro said. "People who didn't like the president loved the quote. People who liked the president hated the quote."

Pepper Pennington, Wilson's press officer, sidestepped questions about her boss's presence on the notable quotes list.

"He's moved on to the important issues of the day," she said.

But Oldendick, the political science professor, said the quote will live on in 2010 as Wilson campaigns against Democratic challenger Rob Miller.

"After Labor Day when the general election heats up what's the first story someone's going to write?" Oldendick said. "In the wake of 'You Lie'..."

And Sanford knows all too well how famous statements come back to haunt you. Six months after his disappearance to meet his Argentinean lover, he is still embroiled in a political battle over his disappearance.

"Appalachian Trail" became the punchline for endless jokes after Sanford revealed his true whereabouts.

"It seemed for a time that 'hiking the Appalachian Trail' was going to become a euphemism for sex or extramarital sex," Shapiro said.

But the statement was issued by the governor's press office, not the governor himself. Shapiro notes that in his list but does not name the person who actually said it.

For the record, the statement was issued in an e-mail at 10:01 p.m. on June 22 from Joel Sawyer, the governor's press officer. The media had been hounding Sawyer about the governor's whereabouts all day.

Sawyer, who no longer works for the governor, tried to have a sense of humor about his presence on the list.

"At first, I didn't know whether to be upset or relieved that my name was left off of it," Sawyer said. "I decided to be relieved."

Shapiro said he did not attach Sawyer's name to the statement for a reason.

"It wasn't his scandal," he said. "He was just the messenger."

While South Carolina's contributions to the 2009 notable quotes list may not represent the most shining moments in state history, Shapiro said state residents should not be ashamed. There are dozens of positive quotes by notable South Carolinians in his original book.

He offered these examples:

"One man with courage makes a majority," by President Andrew Jackson.

"Say it loud - I'm black and I'm proud," by soul singer James Brown.

"Truthiness" by Stephen Colbert.