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Hank Williams, Jr: Bring Him Back, Buy Him a Beer -- and Invite Him to #OccupyWallStreet

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HANK WILLIAMS JR
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By now everybody knows that Hank Williams, Jr. was suspended from ESPN and Monday Night Football for that strange and now infamous interview where he seemed to compare the president of the United States to Adolf Hitler. I say: Bring Hank back. Bring him back with no conditions, limitations, fines, fees, or rules.

What's more, I'm publicly offering to buy the man a beer, at the time and place of his choosing, with no strings attached.

And if he's willing, I'll do something else too: I'll take him to an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. That'd get him off that weak, corporate-brewed Tea Party tea and onto the hard stuff (caffeine, that is). We all need some of that, because it's time to wake up and smell the coffee: The big banks and corporations are ripping us off, and we're being distracted by big media, big banks, and big money.

You said what?!?

I'm not defending his comments. The man they call "Bocephus" said a dumb, offensive thing. But if I refused to watch football with anybody who ever said something dumb, I wouldn't watch very much football. And you don't change anybody's mind by closing them out.

Besides, firing people because they said something you don't like doesn't feel a whole lot like free speech to me.

One takeaway is, don't ask Hank Williams Jr. any questions before noon. From the looks of him he wasn't hitting on all cylinders. And if you want misguided economic and political analysis, the airwaves are filled with people who do it professionally. Don't try it at home, kids.

But give the man a break. Give him his gig back, then tell him why you think he's wrong.

Another Family Tradition

Maybe I come at this a little differently because I played in country bands for so many years. I used to spend my days at the World Bank or the State Department, then spend my nights singing in biker bars or "Iron Horse conventions" in Virginia or West Virginia or Maryland. We got a lot of request for Hank Jr's songs in those bars, almost as much as for David Allan Coe's.

Compared to the people there, Hank Jr. is an effin' Noam Chomsky.

I was born almost nine months to the day after Hank's daddy died, so I used to think that maybe some of him got reincarnated in me -- that is, until I started writing songs and shot that theory down. And my brother John wrote a great profile of Hank Jr. in the 1970's. All of that made me predisposed to go easy on the guy.

But this isn't really about any personal biases for or against the man himself. The point is, we need to learn to disagree like we're having a family quarrel and not a war of attrition. Yes, it sounded like Hank Jr. was saying Obama was a traitor. But it's not a reason to treat him like one.

Besides, I bet Gandhi would buy him a beer. Gandhi tried to get along with everybody..

What was the question again?

Don't get me wrong: I don't live to meet famous people. And it's not like I can't live without Hank's ESPN song. I like it well enough, except for that line "Are you ready for some football?" Shouldn't the answer be self-evident? Of course I'm ready for some football, or I'd be watching the Food Channel!

But the song's part of the Monday Night ritual now. And it's a good gig for Bocephus, I imagine. You don't win people over to your side by punishing them. You win some of them over by, to use a Homer Simpson expression, "beering" them.

Hank Jr. should be open to this offer. After all, he's the guy who sang "Why Can't We All Get a Long Neck," where he suggests that the whole world work out its differences by getting drunk and dancing in a honky-tonk.

I don't drink anymore -- which means I don't dance anymore either -- but I'll still buy the man a beer while I drink a cup of coffee.

Not tea; coffee.

Teed Off

Here's part of the statement Hank Jr. released the next day: "Working class people are hurting -- and it doesn't seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job -- it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change."

It just so happens that I agree with every word of that. So do a lot of people.

Hank Jr. was way out of line about Obama, but he's right here. "Bipartisanship" has brought us nothing but trouble lately, because it means something different in Washington that it means in the rest of the country. Outside the Beltway, "bipartisanship" can be seen in the poll numbers that show that most people, including 76% of Tea Party members, are against cutting Social Security to lower the deficit. Yet the two men on that gold cart, Barack Obama and John Boehner, nearly cut a deal to do exactly that.

Obama's shifting gears now. His jobs act would put a lot of people back to work, but it's going to take hard work to cut through the right-wing noise machine and explain that to people like Hank Williams, Jr.

Here's a message that's easier to deliver: This country needs a lot more of our "bipartisanship" -- we want more jobs, no cuts to Social Security or Medicare -- and less of their "bipartisanship," which ends up with deals that only serve the interests of corporations and billionaire-funded "think tanks."

Sold American

Here's something else Hank Jr. said the next day: "Every time the media brings up the tea party it's painted as racist and extremists -- but there's never a backlash -- no outrage to those comparisons..."

Some of us have been saying for a long time that we need to talk to Tea Party folks, rather than insult them, because they're angry about some of the same things we are. We said there was trouble brewing in 2009, when country singer John Rich wrote "Shuttin' Detroit Down" and got Mickey Roarke and lefty hero Kris Kristofferson to act in the video. There was genuine rage out there, and we were warning people that somebody was going to tap into it.

The corporations did -- with money from the Koch Brothers and the services of longtime Republican Party hacks like Dick Armey.

Gotta give 'em credit: They saw an unfilled market niche -- anger at the banks that robbed the rest of us -- and filled it with policies that help those very same banks.

24-Hour Party People

When Obama decided to echo some of the banks' and corporations' talking points and policies, it only helped the banks fool the Tea Party folks. Most Tea Partiers are good people who know they've been shafted. They've just been tricked into blaming the wrong people.

Now the president and some other Democrats seem to be changing their tune. I'd say give some of them a chance. I'm not a political party operative, but one thing's for sure: The Republicans aren't the answer. If Democrats have been too willing to give Wall Street a pass, the Republicans have been standing at the bankers' tables like waitresses, steno pads in hand, ready to take their orders and serve them up with a smile.

Mitt Romney? John Boehner? Rick Perry? All they know how to do is walk up to Wall Street executives and say "May I tell you about today's specials?"

The Real Deal

Not that I'll bend Hank's ear about this stuff. We can just talk music, or football. Or if he'd rather drink with someone he knows, I'll nominate songwriter Bobby Braddock. He's right there in Nashville, a brave, lone liberal who makes a lot of sense. (Plus he wrote "Would They Love Him in Shreveport," a must-hear for right-thinking followers of the real Jesus that loves the poor.)

But they really should see Occupy Wall Street. It's what the Tea Party pretends to be: An uprising of real people who know they've gotten a raw deal and are determined to make things right. They've already won over some Marines and the tough, hard-working folks in the Transit Workers Union. They're the real deal.

So I hope Hank Jr. takes me up on my offer. But I do have to warn him: I'll start by saying, "You said a dumb thing, Bocephus." That's what Americans do when they're having an argument. That's what family does. We fight each other -- but we don't fire each other.

So why can't we all get a long neck -- or for some of us, a strong cup of coffee? Hell, I'll even buy the man a cup of tea if he insists. Why? Because it's like they say: Just 'cause he's wrong doesn't mean he's not family.