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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.


Spending Time Outside My Conservative Bubble

Maybe bubble talk is kind of stupid.

October 8, 2018

Returning from a week in Portland, Oregon where I accompanied my wife for her continuing education conference, I’ve been reflecting on how different (or not) it was to spend an extended period outside my conservative bubble.

Wait, what’s that? you may be thinking. Surely regular readers have noticed a leftward tilt to my personal politics, and as a long time college instructor – in the humanities no less – the idea that I live in some kind of conservative bubble and that Portland would feel strange rather than familiar is simply wrong.

But having lived in the South since 2002, in South Carolina specifically since 2005, it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced day-to-day living in anything other than conservative spaces.

There were many differences between South Carolina and Portland, like the receptacles for used needles along the riverfront park where I went for a jog one morning, a jog spent dodging the seemingly thousands of Portlanders commuting to work by bike. The morning news weathercaster was dressed in dark wash jeans and a cowboy style shirt with pearl buttons. He had a soul patch.

The temperature never got above 65 degrees.

There isn’t a plastic bag to be found in the city and if you want a straw, you have to ask for it. Nose rings abound, and there is a famous donut shop (Voodoo Doughnuts) which offers several “pornographic” varieties. 

Pot is legal. I don’t partake, but it was spoken about as a matter of fact, rather than a source of scandal.

There are some similarities. Like South Carolinians, Portlanders are friendly. I heard “How’s your day going so far?” a dozen or more times a day, including first thing in the morning.

Perhaps the most notable difference was in the political ads for the Oregon governor’s race, in which each candidate is vying over which of them has the superior vision for what government can do for Oregon’s citizens, government as a potential route towards solutions, as opposed to the source of everyone’s problems as its framed in South Carolina.

During the primary season in South Carolina, one Republican candidate, Catherine Templeton called herself the “conservative buzzsaw” championing her ability to cut through the thicket of government regulations and aired one add that had her loading and then firing a .38 pistol at a snake (meant to represent corruption). 

Knute Buehler, Oregon Republican gubernatorial nominee, champions his plan to make sure there’s no unsheltered homeless persons in the entire state by 2023. Buehler is pro-choice and pledges to work for universal access to health care.

I’m confident my politics would fit nicely within the Portland community, heck, I may even be a touch more conservative than average, but I cannot say that I felt any more at home in Portland than I do in my Charleston, South Carolina home.

A big part of this is my status as white, middle-aged male, who – despite some recent complaints from the political right – really are welcome just about anywhere you can think of. If it is truly open season on white men, the news has not gotten to Portland.

But I also think part of it is that even as polarized as our politics have become, very few of us truly live in bubbles.

Just like when I go to the gym at home, the gym I visited in Portland seemed to feature Fox News on every other treadmill television.

Even as conservative as South Carolina is politically, the county I live in is almost evenly split in terms of how it votes. If we didn’t have a truly ridiculous gerrymander that joins neighborhoods in downtown Charleston to downtown Columbia in order to corral the minority vote into a single district, we would have a hotly contested congressional seat liable to flip back and forth election to election, a seat responsive to the people it is meant to represent.

As is, even with the incumbent (Mark Sanford) going down in the primary to a politically problematic Trump bearhugging challenger, a historically promising Democratic candidate, and a wedge issue (offshore drilling) that has some local Republicans endorsing the Democrat, in anything short of a blue tsunami, the seat will be Republican for the infinite future.

The conservative bubble of my home leads me to experience a kind of political impotence. While I vote in every election – I love the act of voting – my vote quite literally does not matter, the results a foregone conclusion on every level. Even with widespread dissatisfaction over the operations of the state government, a win by the Democratic nominee (James Smith) over the Republican incumbent (Henry McMaster), would signal a seismic shift.

From what I could glean, Oregon is going through something of the inverse, having not elected a Republican governor since the 1980’s, but low approval for the incumbent perhaps creating an atmosphere conducive to change.

Having spent a week in the liberal bubble and seeing people concerned about so many of the same issues that plague South Carolina, I’m thinking the game might be a little bit rigged, and those who want to talk about who does and who doesn’t live in a bubble are wasting everyone’s time.


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