Do simple country folks tend toward conservatism or liberalism?

July 8, 2009

Where I live, if you like country music and going to church and believe in good old down home values, it is automatically assumed that you are a Republican conservative. After all Democrats are by definition in popular thought here Godless, unpatriotic, and tolerant of the gay lifestyle (although the gay thing has caused a lot of soul searching among so many who look around at their own family members).

Good old down home country folks like to listen to the Grand Ole Opry it is thought.

But why then is there a program on public radio (or as one right wing bloviator calls it “communist radio”) that spews down home country values, but with a liberal undercurrent. I’m talking about “A Prairie Home Companion”, hosted by out and out liberal Garrison Keilor. Of course his show is a spoof, but then again, isn’t the Grand Ole Opry a spoof of sorts? It is a spoof of itself (and I’m just mentioning the Grand Ole Opry as a symbol – I’m not sure many country fans around here actually listen to it anymore – don’t even know if you can get it here). And besides, today’s country music resembles that of the just-passed Michael Jackson more than the long-passed Hank Williams.

Of course the Prairie Home Companion takes place in the setting of the mythical Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, whereas the Opry is out of Nashville, Tenn. Both have rural backgrounds, but one identifies with the Union forces in the American Civil War and the other with the old Confederacy and slavery and what was called down south The War Between the States.

For some reason over the years being “countryfied” has taken on the identity of being from the South. But there are country folks in all geographical areas and they don’t all speak with a drawl. Some of them speak with that clipped accent (if I’ve described it correctly) of those who have Scandinavian or Germanic ancestors, or Yankees from New England, not the twang and drawl of Scotch-Irish.

And I recall the actor Ralph Waite unsuccessfully ran for public office as a Democratic liberal. He had been the father in the TV series The Waltons, those homespun country folks of rural Virginia. His bookish son John Boy always seemed kind of liberal to me. And his dad was not a churchgoer, even though the rest of the family were faithful church attenders. But I do recall Grandma Walton referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s work programs as “boondoggle” (yes I know it was not real, just a TV show).

And what made me think of all of this is that two natives of Anoka, Minnesota, which is somewhat the model of Lake Wobegon, are the afore mentioned liberal Keilor and the ultra-right wingnut of a congresswoman Michelle Bachman. She has implied that the Democrats caused swine flu, that global warming is a liberal hoax, that the U. S. Census is a liberal plot, and that President Obama is anti-American, among other things. Not only are her ideas nuts, but fact checks often note that her supporting evidence is actually in error.

I just read a blog by Keillor extolling the virtues of England’s socialized medicine and complaining that in the U.S. folks have to hold fund-raisers to pay medical bills.

And why are those dressed as outlaw bikers so patriotic and seemingly so right wing these days? Back in the Vietnam era, motorcycle gangs were by their very actions, drug running and debauchery, the anti-thesis of the right wing of the time’s cherished law and order. And for some reason they paired up with the hippies of San Francisco. Of course the short-lived peace loving hippie movement quickly morphed into a violent drug subculture. But that was yesterday and this is today. Old habits die hard, but people change their minds.

Actually I’ll bet a large number of the folks who keep this nation running and get things done and who don’t stand in the way of individual freedom by supporting too many laws on personal behavior or by insisting on political correctness belong to that vast middle of the road, neither particularly liberal nor particularly conservative, and maybe think of themselves as practical – and wish everyone else was too.

They have horse sense like those from the Grand Ole Opry, and all their children are above average, like those of Lake Wobegon.