Getting Past the Culture Wars
Understanding and Healing the Red State/Blue State Divide
red vs blue red vs blue red vs blue
by Robert Winter

My son tends to be appalled when he hears me playing country music.  For my own part, I’m a bit less likely to have it on the radio when the windows of my car are rolled down, because people might be too quick to pigeonhole me.

I feel a bit the way white people who listened to black music in the early 1950s must have felt.   The people I normally associate with might not consider the music adequately "polished," but what I hear in it is something that's often much more intensely alive than what my peers listen to.

As of this writing, one of the songs being played on the country stations is an ode to simple pleasures.  Its chorus goes like this:

You know, I like my chicken fried,
Cold beer on a Friday night,
A pair of jeans that fit just right,
And the radio up…

Since it’s a country song, the word “up” is sung in about five syllables—and with the kind of strong, rich harmony that only country music seems able to deliver.

The song is sprinkled liberally with simple wisdom about what’s important, such as:

…it’s the little things in life that mean the most
Not where you live or what you drive or the price tag on your clothes…

It’s a feel-good song, and by the time the lead singer invites you to raise your glass in a toast to these simple pleasures, you want to do just that.

Eventually the song goes into a salute to the Stars and Stripes, and more pointedly to:

The ones who died
The ones that give their lives, so we don’t have to sacrifice
All the things we love
Like our chicken fried…
Cold beer on a Friday night
A pair of jeans that fit just right
And the radio up…

At this point, a bit of the luster starts to come off the song for me.

I start to get my back up, the way I do whenever anybody tries to play that weird contemporary game of “capture the flag” with me.  (I hate it when people attempt to characterize everyone who isn’t in lockstep agreement with them—on the war in Iraq, on George W. Bush’s virtues, on whatever—as “unpatriotic.”)

At this point, though, I realize I’m probably being a little too hard on the band and its song. 

I don’t think the guys who wrote it really meant to try to force their  political beliefs on anyone.  More likely, by the time they hit that last verse, they were just groping around for something else to raise a glass to, and decided that patriotism would go as well with cold beer and fried chicken as it has through the years with more traditional accompaniments like baseball and Mom’s apple pie.

Still, I wish they had given just a little more thought to what they were saying.   Regardless of your political orientation, those last lyrics just don’t hold up under any kind of closer reading.

For starters, does anyone seriously believe that Saddam Hussein had it in mind to prohibit Americans from eating fried chicken?  What about playing radios loud?   Had he hatched a sadistic plot to get us out of our blue jeans and into ill-fitting trousers?  And why on earth would he have wanted to stop us from swilling down beer?  (Even if you believe everything that was ever said about him, it seems like we'd make better targets drunk.)

Okay, maybe the band isn’t singing just about men who have died fighting Saddam Hussein.  But do the lyrics make any more sense in the context of other historical opponents?  Does anybody ascribe comparable intentions to Hitler—or to Ho Chi Minh? How about the Kaiser? Lord Cornwallis?

Curiously, the only “enemies” who could plausibly be suspected of harboring  intentions like these are domestic ones:    tofu-eating, wine- and latte-sipping, NPR-listening, natural fiber-clad “media elites,” artists, and intellectuals.

Americans harbor a lot of suspicion and animosity toward one another these days.  And it’s not a new story—just the latest twist, with a bit of role reversal, on a sadly ongoing tale.