Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Friday pushed back against some left-wing critics of singer Oliver Anthony’s viral sensation “Rich Men North of Richmond.”
In a Substack post, Murphy observed that conservatives have celebrated Anthony as a working-class hero while many progressives have mocked him as another “right-wing zealot.” The senator remarked that both sides have politicized Anthony and his music, with the “political establishment” treating him as either “with us” or “against us.”
“I saw it somewhat differently, and I think so did many people outside of the political establishment,” wrote Murphy, a progressive Democrat. “For instance, probe the positive replies on social media to the song, and you won’t just find rural white conservatives, but urban young black men too. Anthony’s lyrics don’t add much color to what he considers this “new world” to be, but the viral reaction to the song suggests most people have a pretty good idea what he’s referencing.”
“There is a growing spiritual emptiness in American life, in which profit matters more than character, virtual connection has replaced real connection, everything not nailed down has been turned into a commodity, and the personal meaning that comes from true economic agency has been stolen from millions of families,” Murphy wrote.
But while Murphy identified several themes of Anthony’s song he agreed with, the Democratic lawmaker said he was frustrated by how Anthony “carelessly and incorrectly labels boilerplate conservative complaints, like food stamps and taxes, as the culprits for his economic and spiritual malaise.”
“And it is likely that some of those cheering Anthony’s critique are angry at a “new world” where women and immigrants have more power,” he added. “But the truth is, if Anthony and his friends are having trouble making ends meet, that’s because political and economic elites have deliberately created an economy that is rigged to incentivize low wages and high shareholder returns – not because some other poor people are getting nutritional assistance for themselves or their children.”
Murphy goes on to blame “neoliberal economic policies” for creating a life that feels “empty and devoid of meaning,” while defending “gender equality” and “continued immigration”as positive goods that are “nothing to fear.” And he urges Democrats not to mock Anthony but rather to consider how they might reach the “white, conservative working-class men” who resonate with his song. “The question then becomes: should Anthony’s misplaced blame be a reason to ridicule and dismiss him and his song’s enthusiasts outright, a route eagerly taken by many of his critics?” Murphy asks of the left. “Why not instead view the reaction to his song as an opportunity to engage with his followers on the song’s critique of modern life and force a real conversation about whether it is the politics of the right or the left that are the best antidote to the social ills that Anthony laments (and through his own scapegoating, exposes)? Why not see the reaction to his song as a chance not to simply deepen the existing trenches between right and left, but instead engage in a conversion exercise in order to grow our coalition?”
Anthony, speaking for himself in an emotional video on Friday, rejected Republicans and conservative media who have tried to “act like we’re buddies” and criticized the left for mischaracterizing his message.
“The one thing that has bothered me is seeing people wrap politics up into this,” he said in the 10-minute video. “It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me like I’m one of them. It’s aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we’re buddies and act like we’re fighting the same struggle here, like that we’re trying to present the same message.”
He said it was funny that his song was featured at Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate on Fox News when moderator Martha MacCallum asked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis why “Rich Men” was resonating so strongly with people. “It was funny seeing my song in the presidential debate, because I wrote that song about those people, so for them to have to sit there and listen to that, that cracks me up,” he said, laughing. “It was funny kind of seeing the response to it, like that song has nothing to do with Joe Biden, you know? It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song is written about the people on that stage and a lot more too, not just them.”
Anthony said the left had also mischaracterized some of his lyrics as an attack on the poor, pointing to some of his other music that showed he defends those in poverty. Some liberal sites took exception to his line about welfare and paying for overweight people’s “fudge rounds,” interpreting it as punching down. ABC News said that critics heard “racially tinged dog whistles” in parts of the song.”It references the inefficiencies of the government because of the politicians within it that are engulfed in bribes and extortion,” Anthony said. “If we can fuel a proxy war in a foreign land, but we can’t take care of our own, that’s all the song’s trying to say.”
“This isn’t a Republican and Democrat thing,” he added. “This isn’t even a United States thing. This has been a global response, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. It’s my belief that divine intervention has put me in this position and this point in time to get a message across, and that’s all there is to it. I’m nobody special.”
Anthony’s song is a lament for the working class he characterizes as kicked around too long. He sings in “Rich Men” about working “overtime hours for bulls— pay,” high taxation, substance abuse, the suicide epidemic and other social ills.