Red State, Blue State

RED STATE, BLUE STATE….Julie Saltman links to this David Brooksian rumination from Phoebe on blue staters visiting a red state:

As a Blue-Stater in a Red State (or an urbanite in a rural area) there’s really no acceptable reaction to your new surroundings. Either you sneer and note the lack of Vietnamese restaurants/museums/sample sales, and you’re an elitist (“What, corn dogs again?”), or you bubble over with David Brooksian enthusiasm for wholesome exurbia, in which case you’re seen as smug and patronizing, or as pro-rural only to make a political point (“Mmm, corn dogs!”). A rural person visiting a city can act either awed or horrified, and either reaction is generally considered to be understandable. So what’s a stranded-feeling, smile-forcing Blue American to do?

I have to confess I don’t get this ? the same way I don’t really get it when Brooks does his schtick either. I was born and raised in suburban California, so I’m pretty thoroughly blue, but I’ve also visited red states plenty of times on both business and pleasure and it’s never seemed like that big a deal.

Lots of churches? Yeah, I guess so, although we build ours a lot bigger here in Orange County. I just drive by them. Quieter? Definitely. Restaurants? About the same, really. There are regional differences, of course, though with the growth of chains even regional differences aren’t that dramatic anymore. Accents? Yeah, but I’ve never had any trouble understanding anyone. More Wal-Marts? Sure, but I’ve got two CostCos and several K-Marts within ten miles of my house. The difference isn’t that noticable.

There’s no question that if you get into serious conversation in small towns you’ll find some bedrock differences pretty quickly: they really are more religious and more conservative on average. But we’re only talking about visiting here, and on my visits I’ve never found red staters to be any pushier about this stuff than anyone else. What’s more, while every place has its share of loons, when you stick to average people and normal staples of conversation (TV shows, the weather, good places to eat, how business is doing, etc.) there’s not that much difference. My impression is that small town residents tend to be a bit less rich and bit more friendly than city dwellers, and it’s true that they don’t have many opera houses, but aside from that the differences don’t surface all that strongly until the first Tuesday after the first Monday every four years.

So….just act normal. That’s what I always do, and it seems to work fine. If that doesn’t work, pretend you’re in France and think of everything as charming. That works well too.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation