Deer Hunting with Jesus

Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus is one of those enjoyable reads about relevant issues that seems to call you to action--but ultimately leaves you at the bar wanting to order another beer instead.

The premise is great: Instead of an Ivy League liberal writing about why Southern and Middle American working-class people vote Republican (as if they were prehistoric mammals to be studied), Bageant, a self-proclaimed redneck who became a liberal, goes back to his working-class town in Winchester, Virginia, to actually talk to the people he knows and try to answer the question himself.

Bageant is definitely what you would call a colorful writer, and that's the real appeal of the book. A guy who embraces the term "redneck"--both for himself and other people--has the instant anti-PC appeal that a lot of liberals secretly crave. He scores big points in some areas. He offers some insight into what it means to have Scots-Irish roots. He offers a little bitch slap to the Left on why the Second Amendment is no less relevant than the First. He meaningfully communicates that for a culture where value is determined by work, and the biggest insult is to say that someone "doesn't want to work," it's unlikely that someone will complain when they have to work three jobs to have the same life their parents had with one.

But in the end, Bageant kind of thinks everyone is stupid and ignorant--the people in his town and the liberal politicians who fail to communicate with them. Rednecks are ignorant because they don't get multiple sources of information, they follow a Rapture-based religious scam, they don't see how globalization takes their American Dreams away, they've drunk the Kool-Aid that unionization is a form of weakness, they don't see education as a way to improve their lives, they don't see (or refuse to acknowledge) the environmental degredation around them, and they fail utterly to see how profit-driven healthcare and shady real estate financiers are consciously marching them toward death and debt.

And liberals look at this and say, "lost cause."

So basically, the point of the book is that conservatives embraced opportunity where liberals gave up. Knowing that the machinations of the world would continue to make life miserable for the people of Winchester, conservatives pounced on the opportunity to shield them from that reality while using them as a means for generating votes, rising to power and staying there.

Okay, but this still leaves me intellectually unsatisfied. It's too easy to argue that conservatives have won because they're the only ones talking. If the message itself doesn't resonate, that tactic doesn't work. The message obviously resonates. So for me, it's still a marketing question of why. You might be raping someone with a bogus mortgage deal on a manufactured home that's never going to appreciate--and will fall apart in the first rain storm--but by making that person feel like an "owner" for a few months, you're appealing to something primal. And (much to my chagrin) liberals continue to fail in their effort to tap that vein.


The Wordman said…
"But in the end, Bageant kind of thinks everyone is stupid and ignorant"

sounds like the truth to me... can't we just retire to our ivory tower of progressivism surrounded by a wall of tazer-wielding thugs? sounds a helluva lot like Plato's Republic, the more I think of it.

from one philosopher-king to another,

Marc Conklin said…
A philosopher king is better than a cowboy CEO, I'll admit that.

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