Book Review, “Deer Hunting with Jesus” by Joe Bageant

I bought a copy of this book after seeing a reference to it on a mailing list to which I’m subscribed (the Flyfish@ list, for the curious). A quick trip over to Amazon and it was on its way. I’ll confess that the title sold it pretty quickly, though this book does explore a subject that interests me…the inability of centrist Democrats to connect with the “Red State” vote. Growing up in eastern NC and being within a decade of age of the author provided me a bit of affinity for the subject. For the past 30 years, however, I’ve lived in Chapel Hill, NC, which will skew your perceptions of North Carolina politics a little bit in the Blue direction 😉 . I thought reading this book would help me remember why there are a lot of Red folks in NC, and maybe give me a bit more insight into the illogical (to me) phenomenon that sends voters from economically depressed areas to the polls in droves, punting for the Republican candidate more often than not. These are the same folks that, out of concern over the possible policies of the then-putative Obama administration, bought guns and ammunition in droves.

On to the book…

I really enjoyed the read. I’ll confess that it got off to a slow start for me. The Introduction and the first chapter, “American Serfs” are, while descriptive, the area where I feel that I am the least in sync with Bageant. I do believe in capitalism (with appropriate regulation!) and I don’t think that globalization will be going away…rather than fighting globalization, we need to educate and adapt, and we need policies that support that. As the book continues, it resonated much more with me. This is where he delves into the cultural factors that influence the political leanings of the denizens of Winchester, VA. I thought that he did a really good job of describing, in very personal terms, the culture of gun ownership and use. Then, his chapter on religion, “The Covert Kingdom” was also good, and in particular Bageant’s discussion of his relationship with his brother, a fundamentalist minister. I thought his best chapter was “The Ballad of Lynddie England.” Here he talks about how the abuse at Abu Ghraib could come about, and the historical cultures that still have significant influences today.

Bageant’s key point is that to be relevant to this constituency, the Blue politician has to go where these people are and be a part of their lives. Technical, logical debates from afar may work with the classic urban liberal wing of the Democratic party, but in an increasingly complex and challenging world, having foot soldiers among the voters who can package issues in ways that are relevant to the lives of Bageant’s contemporaries is the key to success. Foot soldiers carrying the “Red State” vision are there today, and are being highly effective.

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