There is a saying that it is not polite to discuss politics or religion. Based on my own experience, people seem to follow this maxim (unless, perhaps, they are with close friends or family). If politics among strangers is rarely discussed, how do we discover the prevailing political beliefs within a given community? More specific to us, what barometers do we have to assess the political climate in Charleston, and to determine whatever it is that can be done to improve that climate?
You can obviously tell a lot about a community by the people it elects. Statewide, based on the fact that our state sends Jim Demint and Lindsey Graham to the U.S. Senate (as opposed to someone like a Dianne Feinstein or Charles Schumer) one could safely assume that the majority of people in our state are conservative. Still, elections happen only every so often, and the elected officials of a community can only tell us so much about political opinion within certain localities. Just because our state elects two particular senators, it does not mean that everyone in South Carolina agrees with them on every issue, nor does it give you a clue as to how citizens feel about other things.
You could go to community meetings and listen. When there is a proposed road widening or tax increase, attendance at a neighborhood or council meeting might give an indication on how people feel about that particular issue. Still, many people are not active in local politics on that level, and unless one could attend all such meetings, there would be no way to ascertain how the community felt as a whole.
Some say that there is no better way to gauge the political temperature of a community that to read its local newspapers. This viewpoint has merit. If a newspaper is doing its job of reporting on the relevant issues within a community, as well as the actions and viewpoints people have with regard to these issues, then it will be an accurate window into a community's political beliefs.
Still, there are several mornings when I read the letters to the editor in our local paper and say to myself: "Do people in Charleston actually think like that?" A casual reading of The Post and Courier editorials and the letters to the editor over a period of time would lead one to believe that a majority of Charlestonians are ultraconservative, hate Obama, want the Confederacy to rise again, despise tourists, and are against development of any kind. The online comments to various newspaper articles only further this impression. Could this be what a majority of Charlestonians think?
I take the position that this is not the reality. Charleston County in 2008 went for Obama, a majority of its residents voted Democratic in the same election, and we have had a Democratic mayor for the past 32 years. There is a wide disparity between what a frequent reading of the local newspaper might tell you, and election results in our city. How then to account for the difference?
This is where political opinions come in. It seems that an extreme conservative mindset (which certainly pervaded Charleston and much of South Carolina in the past) still pervades our area and remains the status quo. To the extent that new thoughts, new ideas, and progressive opinions exist, they rarely are expressed in ways which are broadcast publicly. We need more expression of progressive political opinion to move past this collective mindset.
This is the season for resolutions. The next time you see an extreme conservative opinion in print, resolve to write a response. Our city will benefit as a result.