If you read only one book this year, let it be this one. I picked up Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus at a used book sale because of the title alone. The blurbs on the back suggested it would be hilarious, and even the subtitle, Dispatches from America’s Class War, didn’t sink in until I began reading. Written during the dark ages of the Bush administration, the contents are a bit dated, yet timeless. Although there’s humor here, I, like Bageant, was born and raised in a working class environment. My father was a house painter (before it became chic) and my stepfather was a blue-collar Joe who did the kinds of jobs nobody else wanted to do. Life was coarse and rough at times, but the people I knew were fiercely patriotic and staunchly Republican. Most adults I knew had never read a book since they’d managed to escape from high school. Deer hunting was nearly as religious as church, and anything you heard in either venue was to be taken absolutely literally. And yet government programs to help them get along were merely shams that politicians knew they couldn’t see.
Like Bageant, I feel at home among the working class. I am one of them. My job may be in Manhattan, but the sensibilities that got me this far are from the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Those who know me outside the office still occasionally call me a redneck. Perhaps it’s an affectation, but it is an affectation born of deep appreciation of the honesty of the worker. They’re no saints, the working class. They will get away with what they can (what bobble-head wagging above a white collar can honestly claim that it doesn’t as well?), they will laugh at the crudest jokes, and they will be mean and turn on each other if provoked. They are, however, good people caught in a system that won’t let them improve. The only possibility is education, the one service governments slash at every opportunity. The system, as Bageant shows, was built just to do that. Like Moses, throughout the book, he calls them “my people.” I know exactly what he means.
When I visit my hometown, it’s like a Bruce Springsteen song. Windows are boarded up and the streets seem even meaner than they were when I was a kid. These are people in ill health with a government that would rather not spend the money on them—we’re used to it, and Uncle Sam knows that—so it assures that the only businesses that thrive are fast food and liquor stores. You can also find a television and rifles, but not much else. The liberals, as Bageant states, don’t know how to relate to the common man. In my own experience, the redneck who earns a doctorate won’t have a chance of getting a job. The university liberals have their own agendas, too busy trying to save the planet to worry about the real people who make their lifestyle possible. I picked up Deer Hunting with Jesus as a joke, but found it the most important book that I’ve read in many years. Please read it and try to understand.