There are several thousand fresh young faces in town right now, if you haven’t noticed. I’m speaking of the freshmen at the College of Charleston and The Citadel.

Many are from South Carolina, but others come from around the country and the world. I don’t know what they had heard about this city before they got here. I’m sure they knew it was warm and beautiful. Magnolias and live oaks. Sand and surf. The standard chamber of commerce images.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is only half the truth. There are many ghosts in our attic and skeletons in our closet. These ghosts and skeletons have distorted our politics and culture in strange and unpredictable ways.

In July, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint made himself the spokesman for the wingnut contingent of the GOP by challenging President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan with the now famous words, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

Just two weeks ago, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) embarrassed himself and his state by interrupting Obama’s healthcare address before a joint session of Congress to shout, “You lie!” He apologized to the White House later that evening by phone, but one doubts his sincerity in light of the fact that he has since promoted the incident to raise some $2 million from right-wingers around the country.

I think that even Mark Sanford’s dereliction of duty and flame out over his Argentine mistress in June can be attributed to the cavalier attitude this state’s ruling class has always taken toward its responsibilities.

Altogether, it’s been a Summer of Shame for South Carolina. Our elected leaders have kept Letterman, O’Brien, and the rest in fresh material almost nightly. By the time they realized what was happening, it was probably too late for most freshmen to change their college commitments.

This was going through my mind last week as I sat in McAlister Field House on The Citadel campus, waiting for the opening of a town hall meeting featuring Arizona Sen. John McCain and our own Sen. Lindsay Graham.

The Citadel — a.k.a. the Military College of South Carolina — is a venerable institution whose graduates have been fighting our wars and leading our state’s business and politics for generations. I found myself surrounded by some 600 cadets and townsfolk who had come to share their views on healthcare and other issues with the Republican duo. The crowd at the field house was almost as white as the teabaggers who had gathered in Washington two days before. I counted about 20 black people in the crowd and a somewhat higher percentage of women.

Lindsay Graham opened the event with a shout out to Fox News, and for over an hour the two senators took questions. Early on, somebody asked Graham the question that was on my mind: Why had he not organized this forum at the Medical University of South Carolina, where there was a more representative population and many medical personnel to ask questions. The good senator simply smiled and said it was his event and he scheduled it where he wanted it.

There were a couple of telling moments in the forum. One cadet stood to say that he didn’t see anything about healthcare in the Constitution and asked Graham to comment. I guess he thought he was tossing the senator a softball and would launch him on a rant against Obama and “socialized medicine.” To his credit, Graham gave the young man a very measured lecture about the complexity of society and governance, pointing out that Social Security and Medicare are not in the Constitution, either, but they are necessary and valuable to modern society.

At another point, on the subject of cap-and-trade legislation, Graham asked the crowd how many doubted the reality of global warming. To my amazement, a majority of cadet hands went up.

Today, man-made global warming is as much a scientific reality as evolution and germ theory. The fact that it is still publicly debated is a testimonial to the power of right-wing media and the fossil fuel industries. That so many cadets are not aware of this suggests that The Citadel’s academic standards committee has its work cut out.

Throughout the event, the cadets were well behaved — certainly better behaved than some of the “old yellers” on the fringe of the crowd.

So, whether you are a freshman at the College of Charleston or The Citadel, let me welcome you to the Holy City. Have fun! Study hard! And remember: Regardless of what your football or basketball teams do, politics is the most exciting game in town.

See Will Moredock’s blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight.