- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

J. Lester Feder is half-right to contend that country music wasn’t always a bastion of conservative politics. He writes over at TAPPED:

Country music married into the conservative movement - it wasn’t born there. Country music’s roots are as much populist as reactionary. Always fiercely allied with working people, the earliest country stars were old enough to have campaigned for populist champions like Tom Watson; FDR was celebrated in songs of the Depression; and Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash were feted by liberals for speaking up for the downtrodden in the ‘60s. Country music only became synonymous with mainline conservatism — indeed, only became consistently political - in the late ‘60s, a shift that not only helped buoy Richard Nixon into the White House, but reshaped the media landscape. The wars of the Dixie Chicks are the legacy of these years, but so are Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Fox News — the conservative noise machine itself. The idea of values-based marketing to conservatives began with country music.

Relying substantially on Chris Willman’s book “Rednecks & Bluenecks,” I tried here to make the case that the Dixie Chicks were far from pioneers in their escape from the conservative country ghetto. In fact, redneck/blueneck split dates as far back as World War II, and — here’s where Feder gets it half-wrong — the Nixon-Vietnam era was actually the period in which country rebels gathered force and became a rival genre unto themselves.

I’ll do the bloggy thing and quote myself:

“…country’s cultural cleavage began in the 1940s, when Woody Guthrie traded in his hillbilly cred and moved to avant-garde New York City. The Vietnam era proved most inviting for country crossovers. In the early 1970s, Mr. Nelson took up residence in bohemian Austin, Texas, creating a kind of rival papacy to the country music industry’s traditional seat in conservative Nashville, Tenn. Later that decade, Mr. Nelson was an overnight guest in Jimmy Carter’s White House, on the roof of which, legend has it, he smoked a joint. Then the pendulum swung back again. The country trended in a more conservative direction. President Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, helped erase memories of an impotent foreign policy, and country music, more than any other genre, became the soundtrack of the country’s renewed patriotic vigor. In the changed climate, liberal country artists such as Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and Lucinda Williams found themselves on the margins of mainstream country music.”

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