Whenever I find myself back in the upper Midwest, and have conversations with those family, friends, and acquaintances who have the misfortune of being conservative politically, it strikes me again that these folk have their opinions formed in part (large part, I tend to think) by a context in which they (more or less rightly) find themselves surrounded by progressives. This is, of course, fairly obviously true for folks living in Milwaukee, Madison, and the Twin Cities, and especially folks who have a connection to universities there. If they are intellectuals, they tend to perpetually pissed off at having been scoffed at or dismissed because of their conservative views, if they have ever presented them in the usual intellectual environments.
Whenever I have occasion to note this, I always think to myself that it would be nice to see these folks suffer with living in an area where the policies they support have been enacted, or are in the process of being enacted. Places such as, say, Tennessee or Texas. I have absolutely no doubt that 98.5% of these Northern conservatives would find themselves horrified if they had to suffer through Tennessean or Texan life, and the reasons for their disdain would go far beyond music and accents and BBQ taking the place of brats.
I know that many of the reasons these people would hate the South would have to do with the results of political policies these folks embrace - the socio-cultural ramifications of having third world levels of income disparity in so many Southern locales, a lack of unionization and a legal hostility to unions ("right to work" laws, etc.), the überbanal Christianization of education (such as TN's "don't say gay" bill), the lack of well funded state offices (try going to the DMV in WI and TN in the same year - the contrast between the experiences is surreal), and perhaps most especially, the rabid, racist, and crass levels and manifestations of class distinction in the South - as much as Northern conservatives espouse meritocracy, and love the meritocracy talk they hear coming from the mouths of Southern conservative politicos, it won't take that many years in a place like Memphis to learn that class, and not merit, has a hell of a lot more to do with which locals are rich in Memphis, and, indeed, that many Memphis cultural traditions are not just different from, but hostile to, the (relatively) meritocratic traditions of domestic life in the upper Midwest, so framed as it is by Germanic and Scandinavian cultural influences. Rich people in Memphis don't work on their own homes. Most rich people in MN and WI still do, as in actually do substantial physical labor on their own properties, and not just plan out what the servants will do. In the upper Midwest, do-it-yourself is something of a religion. I would love to take some of these Northern conservatives to some of the petit-bourgeois Memphis neighborhoods I have had the misfortune of going into to install light fixtures I made, and introduce them to the staff in those homes, and have them get a glance at the owners of those homes and how they treat their hired help. Of course there are social anomalies everywhere, but given enough exposure to the norms, I think these Northern conservatives would be well put off by what they saw in the South. They like to bitch about their taxes going to public schools, but I'd like to take these Northern conservatives to visit, say, 10 suburban public schools in suburbs of Memphis, Nashville, Dallas, Houston, etc., and compare these schools to suburban public schools in WI and MN. The contrast, at least as witnessed by any reasonable person, will be chilling.
My aunt, from Ohio, is an NRA loving Rush Limbaugh listening conservative, and decidedly working class. When she has come to Memphis she has never failed to express her displeasure regarding bad experiences with working class culture there. One time, when buying beer with her at a gas station, she chastised the gas station clerk for not being able to speak something in the ballpark of proper English (the clerk spoke thick Ebonics). But of course it doesn't occur to her to think about the economic and political factors at work behind gas station clerks in her area of Ohio (they are likely enough to be black there as well) and gas station clerks in Memphis. My Northern conservative folks want to walk into a gas station and have it reasonably well kept up - they want there to be credit card receipt paper at the pump (there never is at my local gas station in Memphis), they want the bathroom to have been moderately cleaned in recent days, and so forth. But these sorts of expectations come with a price, and when you enact the social and economic policies that are enacted in places like TN and TX, you get predictable results.
One could argue that it is culture, and not politics, which is the driving force behind these sorts of differences. In a word, bullshit. Culture of course will have noticeable effects - someone from a Germanic background in MN is generally going to approach their property in a different manner than someone from a Scotch-Irish background in the South. When a Northerner in a middle class neighborhood works on his house it is in order to improve or protect the integrity and worth of the home. When a Southerner does it - it is in order to display eye candy, and this display is nearly always motivated by class motivating factors. So sure, culture is a part of it. But a guy I used to work with at my shop in Memphis, a fellow who had been a Piggly-Wiggly manager, as had his father, told me about the differences in employee work ethic in Memphis grocery stores in the 70s, when grocery clerks were paid $10 an hour, and in the 00s, when they were paid less than that. The work ethic norms transcended race, so that was not a factor (and the guy telling me this was a racist). White or black, when grocery clerks were paid a living wage they performed their tasks much "better" than when paid peanuts. Of course, the reason clerks were paid more back then was because even when not unionized, there was the potential threat of unionization, and that threat is now gone in places like TN and TX. The only grocery stores in Memphis with union employees currently are Kroger stores, and they are only union because of union pressure placed on the company outside of the state of TN. Talking to a union worker at Kroger (though not all Kroger employees in Memphis are union) as opposed to a non-union worker at another Memphis grocery store is another experiment which reveals sharp contrasts. If you are on the winning side of things in the class war in the South, you might get to live in a pristine house and drive a decent car and eat at niceish restaurants and put your kids in elite schools, but so much of your civic life, or life outside your little class based enclave, will be ugly and course and unstable, and I'm confident that very few of these Northern conservative folks could handle that - as much as they might think otherwise, they have been reared to intuit certain expectations of the social and civic orders, and they tend to be disgusted when those expectations are not met.
My wife and I spent a bit of time in Milwaukee this week, and at one event some rural WI folk had to come to a family gig in a "bad" neighborhood in Milwaukee. My wife and I laughed about this. Even in the "bad," minority neighborhoods in Milwaukee, the gas station employees still refill the credit card receipt paper at the pump, and the floor appeared to have been mopped that morning.