It would be hard to find two more compelling, formidable women in American public life than South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and fellow South Carolinian and philanthropist Darla Moore.
They are, as we say, good ol' girls made good. Haley, the youngest governor in the United States at 39, is a first-generation Indian-American -- self-made through hard work and determination. Moore, born and raised in tiny Lake City (pop. 6,000-ish), went to Wall Street, made a fortune and returned to her home state to share her bounty, including more than $70 million to the University of South Carolina.
Thus, it was stunning a few weeks ago when Haley unceremoniously removed Moore from the University of South Carolina board of trustees, where she had served since 1999, replacing her with a local attorney and Haley campaign donor.
This jaw-dropping move has created a furor, prompting a statehouse protest and an anti-Haley campaign that has some talking about her political ruin. Others, such as former state Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson, shrug and say "there's a new sheriff in town."
Moore, meanwhile, seems poised for sainthood. Her response to Haley's insult was to offer the university another $5 million for an aerospace research center to be named for fellow Lake City star Ronald McNair, an African-American astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986.
As stories go, this one has, dare I say, good legs. It doesn't hurt that both women are attractive -- a Snow-White and Rose-Red pair of Southern sisters who are politely engaged in a war of, well, roses. In the nicest possible way, they are at each other's throats.
Speaking to about 400 students on the USC campus Thursday as she announced her latest donation, Moore began disarmingly: "While I quickly admit to enjoying the occasional opportunity to talk about the wonder of me, this is not about Darla Moore."
And then she commenced, without mentioning Haley's name, to shred the governor: "Neither you nor I need to be on the board of trustees to make this [improving higher education] happen. We need simply to hold our leaders accountable and tell them we understand that they may not help us, they may not be able to help us -- but we demand that they not hurt us."
As Haley explains events, Moore lost her seat basically because she didn't express sufficient interest in keeping it. She didn't return Haley's calls, as the governor tells it, and when Haley tried to meet with Moore, there was a three-week wait.
Haley's actions may be understandable in a certain light. She has the right to shape her army as she sees fit. But her actions also might be viewed as defiantly foolish. She has enraged establishment Republicans, a feat applauded by her tea party base. And she has placed at risk the beneficence of a proven and loyal leader when it comes to education and innovation.
Whether Haley has committed political suicide so early in her promising career -- or merely tightened the bolts on her pledge to remake South Carolina as a leader in education and business -- remains to be seen.
But if one were to put a name to the dual goals of educational excellence and business development, one would be hard-pressed to improve upon Darla Moore. Hence, alas, the building that bears her name -- the University of South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business.