Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant

Ever since John McCain announced Gov. Palin as his running mate I’ve been trying to discover why people think she would make a good vice president/president.  Personally, I don’t see it at all and needed some information to process what I had been seeing and hearing.

I just finished reading this book and if you are also looking for answers, I highly recommend it.

The author grew up in Winchester, Virginia, but left as a young man and didn’t return until he was in his 50’s.  He saw some of the world during this time and returned home as a liberal Democrat, a fish out of water to be sure.

Because Joe considers himself, his friends and family members rednecks he’s in a unique position to tell the reader what makes them tick.  To be clear, rednecks are not synonymous with white trash (Joe’s word, not mine).  They are mostly Scots Irish descendants* who believe in hard work, are often fundamentalist Christians who are down home and suspicious of “fancy learning.”  And they like their guns.

These hardworking people work in chicken processing plants, as Wal-Mart clerks, in the few manufacturing plants left in the U.S., and as independent contractors in construction.  The pay is so low they can’t afford to save any money to send their children to college so many join the military, hoping to go to school on the GI Bill (which often doesn’t happen).  They also don’t make enough money to purchase homes or save for retirement. 

So with so few advantages in life, why are they attracted to the conservative right?  Primarily because the right has courted them.  The right has developed an underground of sorts that is used to convince the working class to vote against their own interests.  For example, the local big-shot real estate agent will hold court at the local bar on Friday nights and rail against whatever Rush Limbaugh has been complaining about all week long.  Most of the working class are in excrutiatingly boring jobs and are allowed to bring radios and headphones to work.  All day long they are being bombarded by right wing radio and will be intimately familar with the realtor’s rantings.

I imagine I’d be brainwashed, too, if I listed to Rush 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

These right wing operatives are trained in the four cornerstones of the political psyche:

  1. emotion v. thought
  2. fear
  3. ignorance
  4. propaganda

and they use this information to expertly get across points such as everyone knows the terrorists would rather have a Democrat in the White House, that Obama is going to raise their taxes, that Obama is an “elite” because he went to Harvard, that Palin knows more about your life than any Democrat, etc.

These simple rural people are also heavily invested in their churches where they get an added dose of right wing talking points delivered from the pulpit.  Those who can, homeschool their children and, if possible, send them to the ultra-conservative college, Patrick Henry College, which is heavily subsidized by right-wing conservatives.  One of Patrick Henry’s goals is to put more of its graduates into government and other highly influential positions.

Because of their religious beliefs, they are easily swayed by the culture wars because they firmly believe marriage must be defined as between one man and one woman, that abortion equals murder, etc.  Often these beliefs trump everything else, so they will vote year after year for a politician who promises to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they are never disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

And finally, there is the culture surrounding their guns.  I find this particular affinity difficult to understand so I’ll not say much about it here.  Suffice it to say they do cling to their guns and do feel threatened if anyone even remotely suggests the government might take them away.

In a nutshell, what Bageant calls rednecks, really are motivated by Guns, God, and Lipstick (representing family, I suppose) hence their willingness to fall for Gov. Palin hook, line, and sinker.

*My father’s family arrived from Scotland in 1750 and settled in Virginia before moving to Ohio and finally Wisconsin.  I can only imagine what my life would be like had my ancestors not felt the need and desire to find a better life.

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One Response to “Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant”

  1. i had heard of that book but can see it’d be a good one to read. I live in redneck country, sometimes call myself one because of my lifestyle and belief in the simple way of life. I have never seen it as a bad word anymore than blue collar is a bad word. It’s just how a person lives. I know the definitions can be less flattering. I heard one person say that many of us vote against our own best interests for a longer range goal. So the left often vote against someone who promises them lower taxes feeling that there are long range goals that matter more. I guess that is how the people in this book are doing. The problem for us all is to realize what are the long range goals that are really worth seeking leaders to enact. That takes logic more than emotion, and emotion is what people like Sarah Palin are playing like a musical instrument but to me one that is putting out a terrible song.

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