Liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof defended country singer and viral internet sensation Oliver Anthony from the left’s scolding in a piece published Wednesday.
“What’s wrong here?” Kristof asked readers.
“A self-described high school dropout living in a camper with a tarp on the roof sings a plaintive cri de coeur about blue collar workers being shafted by the wealthy, and it is right-wing Republicans who rush to embrace him while Democrats wag their fingers and scold him for insensitivity,” he wrote. The situation, Kristof argued, aptly describes the polarized political response to Anthony’s breakout hit, “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The song contains elements that harken back to “F.D.R.’s speech about ‘the forgotten man’” or even “Robert Kennedy’s elegy for ‘the shattered dreams of others,’” he wrote.
But that didn’t stop “some on the left,” the columnist claimed, from attacking the song as “right-wing propaganda and even as ‘racist trash.’”
Kristof called on progressives and the left in general to reconsider alienating “working-class Americans” that have been “screwed over,” and added, “as the Harvard professor Michael Sandel has noted, one of the last acceptable prejudices is disdain for the less educated.”
“Does the left really want to leave battered, angry workers to be defended by a G.O.P. that periodically guts unions, targets Social Security, resists health care coverage and opposes increases in the minimum wage?” he asked. Kristof wrote that while he didn’t agree “with everything” in Anthony’s song, the singer who lives on a Virginia farm has honed in on a real American problem: working-class suffering.
“He’s also correct that both parties bear some responsibility and have twiddled their thumbs as working-class Americans die by the tens of thousands from drugs, alcohol and suicide,” the columnist wrote. “I’m all for Anthony bellowing his frustrations and calling attention to these issues.”
It is a problem that Kristof called a “social great depression” as many blue-collar Americans “have lost hope and are self-medicating or simply killing themselves.”
Kristof also said the cause of liberal criticism against Anthony stem from their “blind spot about class, driven in part by unfair stereotypes that members of the [W]hite working class are invariably bigots.”
“It’s partly this condescension that has driven many working-class voters, initially [W]hite voters and more recently brown and Black ones as well, into the arms of conservative politicians who would shaft them even more,” Kristof added.