Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War
by Joe Bageant
Broadway Books (2000)
Deer Hunting With Jesus is a graphic account of the abandonment of the white working class by the American liberals and progressives – a process that left the door wide open for right wing fundamentalists to claim their allegiance.
According to long time journalist Bageant (now deceased), class warfare is very real in the US. Unfortunately it isn’t between workers and the employers who exploit and demean them. It’s between the educated and uneducated. The goal of Deer Hunting With Jesus is to examine exactly how the white working poor of the rural south and Texas have come to internalize key values of the gangster capitalist class. For example
- Labor unions are bad because they have priced Americans out of jobs.
- Entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, food stamps) are handouts that encourage laziness.
- The rest of the world envies us (these are people who are one paycheck away from the street) and wants to steal our freedom.
- Wars are good because countries get out of line and need to be put in their place.
- Wall Street should take over Social Security because they’re better at managing money than bureaucrats.
The Advantages of a Cheap, Unquestioning, Compliant Work Force
The conservative PR specialists who spawned Fox News and talk radio personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have been extremely skilled in exploiting the fear and ignorance of blue collar males. An ignorance, according to Bageant, that Republicans have deliberately created by systematically dismantling the public education system. There’s nothing the corporate elite likes better than a cheap, unquestioning, compliant labor force that pays high rents and medical bills.
According to Bageant, approximately half of all Americans are illiterate, semi-literate or functionally literate. He breaks down the statistics as follows:
- Approximately 30% of Americans can’t read at all.
- Another 10% can’t read well enough to fill out a job application or understand food labels.
- Another 12.5% can’t read well enough to understand a business contract.
Liberals Feel Uncomfortable Around the Working Class
Redirecting blue collar anger against liberals has been incredibly easy, as the working poor have far more contact with Republican business leaders and slum lords – in small town churches, taverns, and fraternal organizations like the Elks – than with liberals. The latter feel uncomfortable around the working class and shun them socially.
The working class only have contact with liberals when they go to a doctor, lawyer, social worker, or parent teacher conference. Who more likely than not insult and talk down to them – unintentionally, of course. Most educated people are unaware of how they come across. However based on my own working class background, I can confirm how common this is.
How Democrats Bungled the Gun Control Issue
Given my personal opposition to Obama’s current gun control campaign, this chapter was my favorite. According to Bageant the only good call the Republicans every made was to side against the gun control lobby. Unlike the Democrats, they understand the deep reverence for guns and meat hunting passed down over generations in rural communities. While urban liberals with no experience with guns – and who never have to take the bus alone after a graveyard shift – typically decide they know what’s best for everyone.
This section includes detailed analysis of Congressional Budget Office research about the decline of gun violence and women’s use of firearms to protect themselves against sexual assault.
Bateant quotes Hubert Humphrey (a middle of the road pro-Vietnam Democrat) during his 1968 presidential campaign:
The right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.
It’s really sad how radical these views sound in 2014.