I have a friend named ... well, let's just call her Jennifer. Jennifer is nearly 50 years old, a native and lifelong resident of Charleston County. She lives on a road that bears her family name, on a small remnant of a 17th century royal land grant to one of her ancestors.
Jennifer has a psychology degree from Charleston Southern University, though she has never used it professionally. She makes her modest living as a film driver, meaning that when a movie production company comes to town, she hires on to drive the actors and other bigwigs around. You probably didn't know there was such a career as a film driver. Neither did I before I met Jennifer.
She was born and raised a Baptist, but has not been going to church much in recent years — something about a falling out with her minister. She said she is actually tilting toward Pentecostal these days, but even when she does not attend church on Sunday morning, she assured me that she watches a service on TV. Even so, there is nothing in her theology that prevents her from enjoying a cold beer or a Margarita when the situation calls for it. But she has never touched marijuana or any other illegal drug.
Jennifer doesn't read a newspaper. She doesn't read much of anything, really. What she knows of the world she has learned from CNN, Fox News, and Channel 5 News. She doesn't know much about local politics or politicians either. When we were having lunch in a Charleston restaurant a couple of years ago, County Councilman Tim Scott walked in with several other men and took a table near ours.
"That's Tim Scott," I whispered to Jennifer.
"Who's Tim Scott?" she whispered back.
But she voted for Scott for Congress in last month's election, not out of support for his words or deeds, but because he is a Republican. In fact, she voted a straight GOP ticket, with the exception of lieutenant governor.
Jennifer has voted GOP in every presidential election since she was old enough to vote — with one exception. She supported fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter in 1980.
She certainly voted against Barack Obama two years ago. "I hated Obama ... I just don't like him." She couldn't explain her feelings, except to say that he "has no substance."
But she understood why she voted for Nikki Haley for governor. She knew nothing of Haley's or Democrat Vince Sheheen's platforms, but she knew that Sheheen supported Obama, and that was enough. She said she was particularly moved by Haley's ads comparing Sheheen to Obama.
Jennifer's political attitudes seem at odds with the reality of her life. She has no health insurance, but she was opposed to healthcare reform because it is socialist and includes death panels, she told me. Her mother spent the last years of her life heavily dependent on Medicare, but Jennifer does not think there was anything socialist about that.
As a film driver, she is a member of the Teamsters Union and acknowledges that union membership is what makes it possible for her to earn up to $1,500 a week hauling movie stars around. She also appreciates the job protection it offers when she is working. She doesn't seem at all conflicted in supporting a Republican state government that does everything it can to limit union power and boasts that South Carolina has the lowest rate of union membership in the nation.
Film production has not been good in the area lately. She has gotten only one gig in the past year. As a result, she has spent much of the year on unemployment, and she frets constantly that her benefits may soon be cut off. I tried to explain to her that it is the Republicans who want to take away unemployment, but she would hear none of that. She thinks that state government should offer more incentives to bring film companies to the state. I have not pointed out that such policies defy the laissez-faire rules she seems to support for everyone else.
Jennifer is not a racist or homophobe, like so many of her fellow GOPers. In fact, I can say that she is one of the most generous, big-hearted people I know. But when it comes to politics, like most white people in this state, she is guilty of groupthink. She cannot separate herself from the herd, and she cannot see the effect her behavior has on her own circumstances, and on the larger society.
Until white people in South Carolina can open their eyes to what is happening around them — and to the role their behavior plays in it — this state will remain economically and socially undeveloped.