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Monday, September 4th, 2023

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


I am really confused about what’s going on in this country today.  At one time, the conventional wisdom was that the Democrats were for the blue-collar workingman, and the Republicans were for upper crust elites.  Now country music songs have entered the philosophical fray, and it’s hard to tell who is for what.

I wrote a column a few weeks ago about country music star Jason Aldean’s smash hit, “Try That in a Small Town.” The reaction from city dwelling columnists, particularly on the East Coast, was simply farcical and ridiculous. Now a new country hit that has also stirred up both widespread support as well and criticism has created another political divide.

Until a few weeks ago, Oliver Anthony was just a high school dropout who was living in his camper with a tarp over the roof.  But his self-written song, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” has come out of nowhere to be the number one song on the Billboard hot 100 chart.  This song has a pretty simple message.  The average working guy is getting screwed over by the system, while corporate heads are making off like bandits with huge salary packages.

I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day
Overtime hours for bullsh”“ pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away

It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh, it is

Sounds like the long-standing mantra of the Democratic Party going back to FDR who spoke about “the forgotten man,” or Robert Kennedy’s lament for “the shattered dreams of others.”  But wait!  Democratic publications are labeling the song right wing propaganda and “racist trash,” while Republicans are calling the song the “anthem of forgotten Americans.” Fox News even began their recent presidential debate with the song and asked all the candidates to weigh in on it.

Anthony may be on to something when he talks about the lousy pay that average blue-collar workers are receiving. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that blue-collar earnings were higher in 1969, adjusted for inflation, then they are today.  We talk a lot in this country today about race, but few politicians seem upset about class. In fact, many in the more liberal press label the white working class, particularly in the south, as little more than bigots. Harvard professor Michael Sandel, in his book “What’s Become of the Common Good?” argues that we live in an age of winners and losers, where the odds are stacked in favor of the already fortunate. The American credo that “you can make it if you try,” just doesn’t seem to work anymore.

Anthony rejects any political labels and considers himself “just some idiot and his guitar.”  He says that his song is meant to blast politicians on both sides of the political spectrum.  He’s very vocal in lamenting that “people talk about epidemics in this country, and the homelessness, and the drug use and the lack of skilled labor and the suicide rates. Those aren’t problems; those are symptoms of a bigger, universal problem”¦. We don’t talk about it enough.”

He picks up on a theme I wrote about some weeks back about the fact that fentanyl imported from Mexico kills over 70,000 Americans a year, yet we just don’t get that excited about such a crisis.  Losing hope and self-medicating has created a social great depression.  Columnist Nicholas Kristof points out that we lose more Americans to “deaths of despair” every 10 days than the total of all the service members killed in two decades of war in Afghanistan in Iraq.

The singer is apparently hitting a responsive note.  Internet sales of “Anthony for President” T-shirts are booming. His simple premise makes a lot of sense. Quit scorning our workers and give them a little respect.  Seems to make a lot of common sense for politicians in both parties to latch on to.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also listen to his regular podcast at www.datelinelouisiana.com.



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