Turns out, the South is a pretty nice place to live

When I first moved to Washington D.C., my dad jokingly warned me not to hype home too much. “If they find out just how nice we have it down here, all your new East Coast friends will want to move to the South and our cost of living will go up,” he teased. In my family, we like to say the South is the country’s best-kept secret. But, as it turns out, plenty of people have discovered it: During the last decade, the South was the fastest-growing region of the country.

In his column today on National Review Online, Lee Habeeb, vice president of content for Salem Radio Network, chronicles his own journey south, from New Jersey to Mississippi. Habeeb cites all the usual suspects as to what makes the South appealing, from the slower pace to the lower cost of living:

“Have you lost your mind?” is the refrain I heard over and over from friends up north when I told them the news. It was as if I’d just told them I was moving to Madagascar. …

I then told them about the quality of life in Oxford, and how far a dollar stretches. And the ease of doing business. When I show them pictures of my house, and get around to my property taxes, things get positively somber. On a home valued at $400,000, my tax tab is $2,000. My parents in New Jersey pay $12,000. And for a whole lot less house. On no land. When I remind friends about the pension liabilities they’ll be inheriting from the state unions, things get downright gloomy.

I can relate to everything Habeeb writes — but in reverse. When I moved to Silver Spring, Md., I had a hard time swallowing the price of rent — because it nearly matched my parents’ mortgage payment. And when I called the customer service departments of coast-based cable and electricity companies and got nowhere with the representatives who answered the phone, I found myself frequently saying in as kind a voice as I could muster, “I just moved here from Arkansas. And I’d really like to be able to tell my friends and family back home that y’all are just as friendly and helpful as Southerners have a reputation for being.” At every turn, in other words, I was reminded that I was a long way from where I grew up. (I was going to say, “a long way from the South,” but, technically, Maryland is still the South — it’s featured in Southern Living, after all. And wasn’t the nation’s capital situated on the Potomac precisely as a concession to the southern states?)

That’s not to say I didn’t experience a new kind of camaraderie with fellow Metro riders when we all faced a broken escalator out of the subway station. Nor is it to say D.C. didn’t substantially unravel my OCD by giving me a chance to observe it in the high achievers all around me. Above all, it’s not to say I wasn’t stimulated by new ideas and engaging conversation morning, noon and night. Coastal cities have their advantages, from public transportation and easier international travel to endless restaurant options and topic-rich, thought-provoking public lectures (seriously, one of my favorite elements of the city!). Especially in what I think of as “The Big Three” (NYC, L.A. and D.C.), living in a city might mean you pass famous and powerful people on the sidewalk, have a chance to voice your ideas to someone who might actually be able to do something about them, or wake up one morning to the startling realization that the distance between your dreams and reality isn’t actually so great as you thought it was.

But the point is, the magic of those “quintessential” cities has already been brought vividly to life for all of us — even those of us who’ve never lived in them — by books and TV shows, songs and movies. Hollywood and Broadway — plus all the most prominent recording and publishing companies — are located in those places.

The advantages of the South — especially the advantages of the 21st century South — are less well known (and, somehow, Southern coastal cities are frequently overlooked as major cities). Oh, there are books and TV shows, songs and movies about Dixie — but, as Habeeb points out, they’re often misleading caricatures or dwell too heavily on the South’s past. Little has been done to update the popular image of the region, which is now economically inviting and culturally reassuring — perhaps because those who spin popular images, from the president to junior reporters, haven’t taken the time to really understand the South for themselves.

That happens to be Habeeb’s thesis:

Americans, black and white alike, are moving in record numbers to a part of the country where taxes are low, unions are irrelevant, and people love their guns and their faith. And yet we have heard hardly a peep about this great migration from our nation’s public intellectuals.

Why? Because their ideological prejudices won’t permit them to admit the obvious. They’d prefer to focus their research on the pre-1970s South because they are more comfortable with — and more invested in — that old narrative, while this new one marches on right under their noses. And their keyboards.

And so it is with a sense of puzzlement that this Jersey boy turned Mississippian watches the decision making of President Obama. Millions of Americans may have voted for him in 2008, but millions have been voting with their feet, and he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in understanding why. …

He should ask Americans like me who’ve moved South why we did it. And he should be especially interested in understanding why African Americans are fleeing his home city of Chicago for the South, too.

If he dared to ask, he’d learn that we are all fleeing liberalism and chasing economic freedom, just as our immigrant parents and grandparents did. …

It turns out that white Yankee migrants like me, African American migrants from Chicago, and businessmen owners in Illinois and around the world, see something in the South that novelists, journalists, academics, and our current president cannot.

The future.

Truth is, all joking aside, it’s a shame to keep it secret.