Joe Bageant Essays

Joe Bageant Essays-68
He paints vivid portraits of the locals he knows and cares about, the feudal economics that keep them poor, how Christian fundamentalism is woven into their lives, and why they vote against their own interests.

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What, they wondered, happened out there in the heartland, the iconographic one they’d seen on television and in magazines, the one bright with church spires, grange halls, stock-car races, and community heritage festivals.

And why had the working class so plainly voted against their own interests?

I know everyone’s last name, whose daddy was who, and who boinked whom when we were in high school.

So when I moved back after 30 years out West, it was as if my heart was back where it belonged. It didn’t take too many visits to the old neighborhood tavern or to the shabby church I attended as a child to discover that here in this neighborhood in the richest nation on earth folks are having a hard go of it. Two in five residents of the North End do not have a high school diploma.

[ Joe Bageant grew up in poor, conservative Winchester Virginia, which is like tens of thousands of other small towns in America.

He is one of the few who escaped and got a college education.One thing the thinking left and urban liberals have not done is tread the soil of the Goth—subject themselves to the unwashed working-class America, to that churchgoing, hunting and fishing, Bud Light–drinking, provincial America.To the people who cannot, and do not care to, locate Iraq or France on a map—assuming they even own an atlas. Here in my hometown, Winchester, Virginia, it is impossible to avoid the America that carried George W. Winchester is one of those southern places where the question of whether Stonewall Jackson had jock itch at the Battle of Chancellorsville still rages right alongside evolution, gun control, abortion, and whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. The area is solidly fundamentalist Christian and neoconservative, steeped in the gloomy ultra-Protestant assumption that man is an evil, worthless thing from birth and goes downhill from there.And you’re gonna do it for a working-man’s wage—for about ,000 a year if you’re a cashier, ,000 if you’re one of those team assemblers.Yet this place from which and about which I am writing could be any of thousands of communities across the United States.So when he retired there in 1999, he knew hundreds of people.Bageant gives readers a visceral, gut-level understanding of what life is like in “red” Republican bible-belt territory.Few educated liberals will ever find themselves sucking down canned beer at the local dirt track or listening to the preacher explain the infallibility of the Bible on every known topic from biology to the designated-hitter rule or attending awards night at a Christian school or getting drunk to Teddy and the Starlight Ramblers playing C&W at the Eagles Club. You can make lightbulbs at the GE plant, you can make styrene mop buckets at Rubbermaid, or you can “bust cartons,” “stack product,” and cashier at Wal-Mart and Home Depot.But whatever you do, you’re likely to do it as a “team assembler” at a plant or as a cashier standing on a rubber mat with a scanner in your paw.It is an unacknowledged parallel world to that of educated urban liberals—the world that blindsided them in November 2004 and the one they will need to come to understand if they are ever to be politically relevant 1999, when, after a 30-year absence, I decided to move back to my hometown and saw the creeping (and creepy) way the lives of my working-class family members, my neighborhood, and my community had been devalued and degraded by the forces against which left-leaning people have always railed—the same forces my family and town so solidly backed in the voting booths.


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