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Thursday, November 18, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Backstory: The values vote and the redneck woman

By Michael Green

If Democrats want to understand why more Americans voted for George W. Bush than John Kerry, they have to understand Gretchen Wilson.

The singer of "Redneck Woman"? Yep.

What? A liberal college professor citing a country singer? Well, if Andrew Kiraly can take a cruise, anything is possible. And since we Mercury types are getting personal, here's a dirty little secret: Each Saturday night when I am home, I listen to the Grand Ole Opry on the computer. This endangers my marriage, but I'm a thrillseeker.

Wilson is a vast improvement over many Nashville performers who wouldn't know country music if someone hit them over the head with Hank Williams' body. I'm not Wilson's biggest fan, but neither is Cynthia Guenther, and thus the point about the election.

Guenther writes for bushcountry.org, a website "promoting the ideals of conservatism." Her article, "The Redneck Woman Is No Lady," pointed out that country music stood for traditional values and avoided profanity, but Wilson is a potty-mouth who lives with her boyfriend and their daughter. Guenther lamented similar behavior by country stars like Tanya Tucker, known for three out-of-wedlock children and many conjugal frolics.

Let's set aside that country music's traditional values include much drinking and cheating, in songs and in real life. Republicans may prefer to forget Tucker singing at their 1992 convention, where then-Vice President Dan Quayle (that's how his name is spelled, although he may not know that) discoursed on family values. The Republican who booked Tucker was fired.

I read Guenther's article and agreed that songs ought to avoid profanity. But I wrote to the website, and have yet to receive an answer to my question: If profanity is such a concern, why do Guenther and its other authors support George W. Bush, who publicly referred to a respected journalist by a seven-letter word for anal portal, and Dick Cheney, who suggested that Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy execute a four-letter sexual gymnastic maneuver?

The website never answered, but the voters did. About 59 million don't care about that hypocrisy or others: for example, claiming to be moral while murdering American soldiers and questioning other people's decency, neither of which fits with the teachings of Jesus as I read them.

It's easy for Democrats to gnash their teeth and make such statements. But until they--we--come to grips with Gretchen Wilson and figure out how to reach redneck women (and men) who raise hell on Saturday night and attend church on Sunday, all we'll be able to do is brag that our Massachusetts liberal managed to get 54 million votes, so we should be proud of our performance.

Democrats who get this have pointed to the only two Democrats to become president in the last 30 years: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Southerners, both Baptists. They knew how to talk to voters about faith and values without sounding condescending.

On one hand, Carter and Clinton are overrated. Carter barely beat Republicans still reeling from Watergate, and Clinton benefited from Ross Perot draining right-wing GOP votes, although Perot also hurt Clinton's numbers. And lest we forget, Al Gore was elected president; he just screwed it up and never took office.

On the other hand, Democrats can and must learn from Carter and Clinton. Looking down on rural or less educated voters is not only bad politics, but wrong, pure and simple. Democrats are supposed to stand for a better-educated, more civilized society that uses government to do what individuals cannot--protecting our shores, feeding and clothing those doing without and guarding workers against such admirable businesses as Enron.

Accomplishing such worthwhile tasks from the opposition is hard. And Democrats certainly can claim the 2000 results and polls today show most Americans support most of what they stand for. But trying to do good works while disdaining those you are helping is hypocritical, and voters won't stand for it--especially when their ministers, in whom they put great store, tell them that.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and the Democratic Party can't rebuild in a day. But we can take steps in the right direction: paying James Carville whatever he wants to run the party and keeping Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean as far from power as possible--not because their hearts aren't in the right place, but because they do not and cannot speak to and for Middle America as Democrats should. Nor does it hurt that the new Senate Democratic leader happens to be Mormon.

And Democrats should seek their next presidential candidate in the South and Midwest, and especially from a statehouse. Carter and Clinton won in part because they had been governors and had no record to run against. Kerry was an excellent candidate; post-mortems tell us his campaign blundered at times, but that shouldn't diminish admiration for his patriotism and decency, no matter what the lying cowards who make up the Swift Boat Veterans say. But senators vote on national issues, making it easier for Republicans like The Rug to attack them and deflect attention from their own criminality.

Speaking of which, Wilson's bodyguard was arrested at the Country Music Awards for unlawful weapons possession. That's another part of this equation, which we'll discuss later. For now, back to the Opry.


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