iOS app Android app More

Beth Arnold

Beth Arnold

Posted: September 5, 2008 10:54 AM

Can Democrats Learn to Speak Redneck?


Democratic pundits can shout to the Heavens above that Republican nominee John McCain's acceptance speech was old, tired, and boring -- not unlike the candidate himself I will add -- and that it doesn't matter. That what does matter is what the American people heard in his speech last night.

Unfortunately, I didn't find it so flat myself. Not as disconnected and out of touch as I would like to have heard in the vibe he was putting out. I would like to have felt from McCain's Republican beat that Americans would pay him no mind at all. But as easily as Karl Rove got George W. Bush elected before he brought W. and his whole party down, Rove and his Dark Circle are working overtime to spin the Democrats out of control. We all know how easy that is to do. They're already spinning on one of Obama's incredible strengths -- his charismatic, inspiring, and true leadership abilities -- by making fun of it, him, and his followers (just as Hillary showed them how to do).

We cannot give up this powerful and positive ground.

We cannot let this happen. We dim Democrats have got to stay on task here. As idiotic as it seems to have named Sarah Palin as his running mate, McCain has accomplished what he set out to do in some sense. This is what a long-time political watcher friend of mine said:

All this criticism of Sarah Palin is just whistling past the graveyard. And, it is solidifying her credentials with those in Middle America who were reluctant to vote for McCain.

We can take no chances. We all know that every vote is going to matter here. Not only do Democrats need to focus, they need to sound the alarm to take action. Not only do the Democrats need to register every young person they can scrape up, they must step outside their comfort zones and reach out to groups who live where they have become afraid to tread -- the gun toting speaking-in-tongues crowd. Hit Palin where she lives, in the territory she's claiming -- America's redneck frontier. Throw some barbecues, chili cook-offs, and raccoon, duck, or venison dinners. Slap in some bluegrass music and a pie-baking contest.

Let me tell you a story. A guy named Joe Bageant was plucked from the Internet by Three Rivers Press and has one of those publishing stories of which every blogger dreams. He'd developed a big readership of the very demographic that the Democrats lost a couple of decades ago and now desperately need to get back in the fold, and this publisher saw the $ potential in this segment of web mass consciousness (exactly what the Democrats ought to be going for). Bageant followed his Internet dynamic by writing a book called Deer Hunting with Jesus (Dispatches from America's Class Wars).

Deer Hunting has done okay in the U.S., but in Australia, it's been on the bestseller list for the past six months. Why? Is it because intellectual Democrat Americans are too insular? Republicans don't want to buy the book, and Democrats are too dim to try and get their brethren back in the fold in the ways that might actually do the trick.

Bageant's buddy and webmaster Ken Smith tells me that in the past two weeks, Bageant has been very big in the UK. He did his third BBC World radio spot yesterday morning. He had a guest column in The Guardian day before yesterday. Last week, The Times Sunday Magazine did a multi-page spread--interviews and photos. Last night Swiss TV broadcast a one-hour special on Joe. A Swiss producer spent a week with him--but yesterday, the Swiss special was edited to have a ten-minute segment on Sarah Palin, explaining why she is so popular with rednecks. Then it goes into 50-minues of Joe explaining why many Americans vote against their own self-interest.

At the Southbank Centre in London:

Joe Bageant opens our series on contemporary America, with his reports from the 'heartlands' of the nation. He discusses his book Deer Hunting with Jesus in which he returns to his home state of Virginia, and to the betrayed 'have-nots' of the rural working-class. These people will ultimately decide the outcome of the election, and Bageant looks beyond the stereotypes in giving them a voice.




'Bageant's bitingly funny report can at times make Michael Moore seem tame' (Entertainment Weekly).

What the Democrats need to do is just exactly this -- make these people feel like they're getting a voice. That they will be heard.

Bageant leaves Tuesday for a two-week tour of the UK and Ireland. Several TV appearances are scheduled, and there will probably be more. Not only is his UK publisher Portobello very good at booking publicity stops but non-U.S. citizens are more interested in taking a look into our culture and who's voting against their own best interests and why than we are. This is a serious Democratic mistake.

Getting back the red staters (and I totally dislike using red and blue state terminology but will to make the point here) is what we have to do. We have to talk the talk and walk the walk of these people to whom Sarah Palin will now appeal.

Here's what Joe Bageant wrote in The Guardian--and what the Europeans are learning about us that we don't want to know or hear about ourselves:

Meanwhile McCain's popularity in the red-state heartland took another jump with his selection of the moose-shooting ex-beauty queen, Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, as his vice-presidential running mate. The war hero and gun advocate "hockey mom" are obviously reaching American heartlanders: at some point the left is going to have to learn to reach the same people, especially in the swing states. And to do that they are going to have to learn to speak redneck.


Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To check out more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com.

UpDate: I may live and write in Paris now, but I've lived most of my life in Arkansas where my family has been rooted for many generations.

Follow Beth Arnold on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BethArnold