Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Deer Hunting with Jesus-A Parrothead Book Review
By the late and great Joe Bageant.
Several years ago while reading the inscrutable and always cantankerous Fred Reed’s column I was introduced to a curious aberration of the American South, Mr. Joe Bageant who passed away a few months ago. I call him an aberration only in the sense that after reading his columns I realize I had found a kindred soul in this self-described “Redneck Socialist.” In a land where Jesus, guns, and NASCAR all qualify as religions in one sense or another it was mind blowing to finally discover I was not completely alone or crazy in my own liberal political viewpoint without rejecting the good parts of my southern upbringing.
Mr. Bageant was no friend to corporations or their high-paid sycophants who regularly broadcast propaganda over a particular cable “news channel” and numerous talk radio shows, but neither was he a stereotypical warm and fuzzy liberal/progressive out to eat tofu all day while puzzling over their horoscope. He stayed connected to his roots and kept a strong affection for the place he was raised and the customs he learned from his kinfolk. Yes, that meant he hunted, fished, and did other things that often send pretentious and sanctimonious left-wingers into seizures. Some liberals will turn up their noses at that last remark figuring they could never taint themselves by associating with bigoted and idiotic, nose-picking, republican voting fools not just in the south but across the country but they do that to their own detriment.
This is where Bageant’s book “Deer Hunting with Jesus” comes into play. After living in other parts of the world for many years, he and his wife returned to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia to find it greatly changed. Like much of small town America, he found the residents of Winchester becoming part of a new permanent underclass unable to break out of a cycle of growing poverty and ignorance.
Yes, the blame for this situation at least partly rests on the shoulders of those clinging to their guns, god, and glorious ignorance. However, the liberal establishment should also earn some culpability for their willful abandonment of a whole segment of the American people. I offer this review of “Deer Hunting with Jesus” not as some attempt to absolve poor ignorant whites from blame but as a strategic assessment as to why they vote against their own best interests and how liberals might be able to crack that voting bloc forcing the republican party to move more to the center.
Liberals have a hard time accepting it and many will even go to great lengths to deny it but they have one huge Achilles heel, their view of poor white people is hopelessly flawed and self-defeating. This is a godsend for conservative media and their corporate puppet masters, while liberals rightfully champion every oppressed group and cause through inattention or outright contempt poor whites are often cast aside leaving them out in the cold.
Why does this matter in the greater scheme of things? Because of the 33 million Americans living at the poverty line or below Bageant’s book states 19 million of them are poor whites. I checked into this figure and after digging around enough census data to make me dizzy I found the figure to be 15.3 million as of 2001. Since his book was written in 2007, I have to believe his figure is more accurate. Bageant also mentions those who consider themselves “middle class” but who finance their lifestyle with credit cards as working semi-poor so that number could be far larger.
Conservative media and their owners make full use of this population who vote far more than other groups. This gives the likes of Fox Noise and its allies a huge advantage in every election cycle. Poor and semi-poor whites are not completely stupid, they see their economic positions declining with the gap between them and the rich growing wider. Conservative media conveniently comes floating in taking this insecurity and with ever-increasing fearmongering neatly uses it to secure a permanent, large, and very dependable voting bloc.
It is so very easy for some liberal urban dwelling intellectual to look down their noses at folks who actually go out to hunt for their food. Never mind that as recently as the 1960’s here in the poor rural south and many poorer parts of the north that was how some families put meat on the table. That they hunt now is viewed by these same intellectuals as a barbaric redneck practice even though they would regard it a natural part of the culture of people native to the African bush or the Aboriginals of Australia. This maybe too simple for many to understand but for many Americans hunting is just as much a part of their culture as it is for other native peoples around the world. And as you might expect other native peoples to react, criticizing a person's culture will normally result in a very bad reaction, especially when what they do does not affect you. If you're wondering, yes I have hunted Bambi in the past and we still chow down on the forest prince when venison is served.
Even worse for some calling themselves intellectual and out to liberate the dumb masses is how some people dare to cling to a spiritual side of life and believe in God. Many liberals will find this hard to believe but most Christians have no desire to overthrow the United States Constitution and establish a theocracy. The vast majority are actually quite decent folks who want nothing more than to be left alone and in many cases do their best to help someone in need.
Yes, Joe Bageant does mention the subset of radical Christians that make the Taliban look like a peaceful civic society. Bageant also mentions that this subset has grown darker and ominous in recent years using terms that would make H.P. Lovecraft cringe in fear.
The most tragic and depressing part of this book was the story Bageant related about the business relationship between a huge manufacturing factory in his hometown and the inhuman but huge national retailer where “Always Low Prices” are proudly proclaimed on the outside of every building. This manufacturing plant for years provided good pay and benefits to its employees until the retail company came in and said that the manufacturer was going to have to greatly lower the price for the product or they would take their business to companies who made the same type products outside the United States.
The decent enough manufacturing company was forced to slash pay and benefits for its employees just to keep some business. While the retailer may portray itself on the national media as a happy place looking after its customers in my opinion it is actually slowly killing them.
Long story short Bageant ‘s basic point is, and speaking from my own vast experience, your average redneck while dumber than dirt is for the most part a honorable individual caught up in massive forces changing the world he or she do not comprehend. At the same time, they feel abandoned and looked down upon by the groups who claim to defend the poor. This leaves them open to slick propaganda and political candidates who promise to return America to its glory when Ozzie and Harriet and other aspects of 1950’s lifestyle were the epitome of the American dream.
That is why conservative leaders know a real education beyond the basics of wiring, carpentry, and advanced lawn care procedures have a liberalizing effect on the population. It is also why they go to such great lengths to demonize anyone with enough education to know the moisture falling down on them is not rain but the rich pissing on the unwashed masses. The point I will conclude with is that Mr. Bageant writes that if liberals had not looked down upon the growing blue-collar angst as unenlightened “Archie Bunkerism” and instead offered up some gutsy, comprehensive, and practical solutions we might have blunted much of the damage this conservative era we live in has caused.
This is a fantastic and very enlightening book with far more detailed information about poor white folks than I can mention. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to know why largely decent people can believe idiotic things.