Why I’m Staying Put

Following in our series of moving for politics, TPM Reader TA explains why he’s stayed put in his native South …

This is a subject I’ve been fascinated by for a long time.

I’m a liberal who has chosen to stay in his native South, despite having lived in New York City for a while, and having very close friends in California who frequently encourage me to move out there, where I will fit in better. And once upon a time I did go as far as interviewing for jobs in, you guessed it, Portland. But I stayed.

Staying in the South doesn’t make me any kind of hero, or even a pioneer, like JR. I grew up in this culture, so I know how it works and I know how to function within it and maintain my sanity . . . more or less (there’s a lot of silent swearing and gallows humor involved). And I don’t have kids, so I don’t have some of JM’s concerns; on the other hand, that’s also more and more true of liberals in general.

So, I get it: it’s easier for me. A liberal moving here from the Northeast or the West Coast would have severe culture shock.

Nonetheless, in a lot of what I hear from my fellow liberals, there’s a certain degree of turning out the lights and cursing the darkness, and it’s annoying. Everyone is shocked and appalled at how wingnutty the red states are, but when the liberals continually congregate for generations in a fairly small number of places that already are liberal and are, for the most part, geographically concentrated at the edges of the country, what do we expect the places they won’t live in to be like?

For several years, I’ve been mentally short-handing this phenomenon as “gated community liberalism.” It’s the kind that sits in a safe, comfortable place, surrounded by allies, and snipes at those outside the gates. It’s the kind that talks about how much America needs to do for “the Global South” (I agree), but has nothing but venom left for the original. The kind that stresses how important it is that, contra conservative hawks, we remain constructively engaged with countries we disagree with, like Iran (a view I share), but can only crinkle its nose at half its own country.

How many stories have their been about how terrible Wal-Mart or Tyson Foods or Chick-Fil-A or other Southern companies and industries are? They’re all valid. But at least those companies are here. They’re generating revenuehere. Creating jobs here (non-unionized though they may be). Paying taxes here (unjustly low though they may be). Funding community centers here, and business schools and science labs at universities here. The leaders of those companies are bringing their talents and connections to the boards of museums and orchestras and zoos here.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of those companies and industries. They are bad employers and bad stewards of the environment and the people who run them typically have terrible ideas for how a society should operate.

But it’s also galling, after a while, to hear nothing but criticism of them from people who don’t invest anything here and, frankly, never would. Not their time, not their talent, not their money. Nothing.

Wealth attracts wealth and talent attracts talent, and I realize there are all sorts of historical factors at play in why both concentrate outside the South. Some of those factors are inhuman and indefensible choices the South deliberately made. Some of them are just the accidents of history and geography.

But if my fellow liberals really want red America to stop being so infuriatingly red, then, sooner or later, they have to do what JR is doing: get out of blue America and invest their time and energy and money and talents and votes and lives in the rest of the country. For generations. That’s what it took to build the places liberals concentrate in; it’s not going to just magically happen in “flyover” country.

Pointing out problems and advocating change from a distance isn’t pointless, and I’m not saying stop doing it; but no amount of it is ever going to get the country where liberals want it to be, either.