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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War by Joe Bageant

Published in 2007 by Crown Publishers

Just to get it out of the way, Joe Bageant (1946-2011) and I differ politically despite sharing similar roots. We both grew up in rural  America near a working class town. We both were educated in the local public schools and left to go to college and never really went back except to visit (although do I live in a working class neighborhood in the city). Admittedly, his town (Winchester, Virginia) is a little more poor and run down than mine but I may be remembering my home with rose-colored glasses and he may be intentionally focusing on the worst aspects of his.

But, Bageant did return to Winchester. He returned to be a foreign correspondent of sorts. His aim is to explain white working-class America ("...that churchgoing, hunting and fishing Bud Light-drinking, provincial America...the people who cannot, and do not care to, locate Iraq or France on a map - assuming they even own an atlas." [p.2]) to the left-leaning, college-educated urban wine and cheese set.

Bageant's prose is interesting and lively, but prone to exaggeration, much like a liberal version of P.J. O'Rourke or like the overwrought rantings of stand up comics like Dennis Leary or Lewis Black or Dennis Miller. His points are there and based on real situations but he takes liberties to make his point or to get a good punchline so take everything with a grain of salt. For example, he argues that Presidents don't come from modest beginnings in a rather nice rant but since FDR they all have except for JFK and the Bushes (and maybe Carter, but the other two families were far, far richer than his).

And, sometimes his devotion to a certain line of thought leads him to contradictory comments. For example, he deplores the way social security does not take care of widows very well and how it does not pay enough to really take care of a retired worker. But, he rants against any sort of privatization of Social Security over and over again (you may remember that Bush43 tried to reform Social Security right after he re-election) even though the proposed reforms were modeled after programs that let workers pass on the proceeds of their investments to their widowed spouses or even their children.  See page 236-242 for the longest rant on this topic.

Clearly, Bageant does not seem to grasp the religious aspect of Winchester. He does not completely belittle religious belief but he does not understand it. I was struck by an incident early on in the book. He does not grasp the profound generosity of a small congregation of relatively poor people that buys an old pickup truck for a couple that lost theirs to repossession. The congregation has little money and yet they pool what little they have together to  give two of its members an expensive gift (even an old truck costs several hundred dollars). I find that to be a remarkable act of Christian charity. Instead, he dismisses the whole thing with a single comment.

Bageant does a fabulous job of explaining guns, gun rights and notes correctly on page 129 that beginning in the 1960s the left  was "arrogant and insulting because they associated all gun owners with criminals but were politically stupid."

Generally, I found the book to be very entertaining, full of interesting commentary but incorrect in almost all of its conclusions.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Deer Hunting with Jesus.

Reviewed on February 16, 2012.

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