Web columnist Bageant returns to his hometown to investigate why a permanent underclass perennially votes to keep itself that way.
Having busted out decades ago to serve in the Navy and then live in hippie communes and on an Indian reservation, the author decided in his 50s to take stock of the situation back in Winchester, Va. There, the liberal-minded Bageant found the expected co-mingling of fundamentalists and rednecks (his words), often distinguishable from each other only in terms of whether alcohol was eschewed or abused. He spent time down at Burt’s Tavern holding his tongue while cataloging the hallmarks of a downtrodden, working-class community. While many struggle with chronic health problems and are just a lost paycheck or two away from homelessness, the author chronicles, they—or at least the minority who bother to vote— represent a solid block of support for the Republican Party and President Bush. Bageant personally sees the GOP as the font of economic policy designed to maintain, if not widen, the gap between America’s rich and poor. Here he attempts an analysis of the religious and social underpinnings that account for this apparent contradiction. He finds that, in this community, largely Scots-Irish, with a Calvinist Protestant tradition, prejudices are sustained and even propagated largely as a result of the sheer ignorance that is the inevitable outcome in a place where education has never been a priority. The town’s well-off clique of realtors, lawyers and business owners, the author further rants, sees no problem in maintaining its pool of “cheap hillbilly labor” exactly as it stands. His warning to other liberals: Stop overhyping gun control, but when it comes to the Christian evangelists’ push for theocracy in place of democracy, be very afraid.
Blunt and often revealing, though at times the author wanders off on personal tangents.