Won’t buy nothing he can’t fix
With WD-40 and a Crafstman wrench
He ain’t prejudiced he’s just made in America
Not only does the old man gladly pay higher prices for American goods – he favors sustainability and self-reliance. Instead of the unthinking consumerism that leads people to buy crap and replace it with more crap when it breaks, the old man only buys things that he can use long term and fix himself. The fact that he wants to buy American doesn’t mean he thinks less of anyone else – “he ain’t prejudiced” – he’s simply a product of his culture and the values that have shaped him.
Born in the heartland
Raised up a family
With King James and Uncle Sam
Here is a man with a strong sense of place, of family, of morality. He knows right from wrong and he loves his homeland. I’ve known not a few self-identified liberals who ridicule such parochialism as ignorant and backwards. And yet they’re all too happy to slap “save Tibet” bumper stickers on their cars in support of the simple rural ways of folks half way across the world. When it comes to Nicaraguan peasant farmers or Mongolian herders, their way of life is noble and heroic; when it comes to conservative American country folks, they’re stupid hicks. I won’t deny that I see lots of misinformation, confusion and yes, ignorance at play when it comes to questions of politics among conservatives (again, see Jim, the self-identified Republican who had never heard of Rick Perry). I routinely hear people whom I love and respect spouting vague, paranoid nonsense about “government control”, “socialism”, “taking away our guns”. But it’s not because they’re bad or stupid. I could spend all day ranting about Fox news, the “paranoid style in American politics”, and the co-opting of religion by the Right, but I’ll leave that for another day since I’ve already drifted from my main point.
Tribalism is an essential part of our humanity. Although I fervently hope that one of the beneficial side-effects of globalization will be the wide-scale embrace of the humanness of others from different cultures, we still have to live with our neighbors. Fellow-feeling is generated by proximity, by shared experience, by investment in a common cause. Simply put, it makes sense that we should want to invest in our own communities. There is a reason for patriotism and love of country, and it’s the same reason we love our family members more than strangers: we love what we know, and our own success is directly tied to those who share in our everyday lives. If America goes down, so do we all.
Buying local isn’t just a precious liberal whimsy, or an expression of conservative nationalism and xenophobia: it’s a rational response to an economic and moral crisis. Local manufacturing means businesses must be accountable to workers and consumers. American workers wouldn’t tolerate sweat-shop conditions, and it’s for that very reason that their jobs have been outsourced. Buying local means buying from people you know, who are familiar with your needs and desires and the particularities of culture and geography in your area. It means buying something that was designed with specificity, with you in mind, that will be more efficient and economical than something designed for the mass market. It also increases the potential for barter and trade: my granola-making, pagan, hippie friends routinely trade farm produce for welding services from my gun-toting, Bud-drinking, redneck friends. This type of informal exchange threatens and subverts the anonymized, globalized economic system that impoverishes the many while enriching the few.
In conclusion: I think Toby Keith’s got a point. I think distinctions between “liberal” and “conservative” are, for the most part, a load of crap. While there are real and abiding ideological differences that keep people from agreeing, I believe that the “culture wars” are a dog-and-pony show designed to keep people from recognizing their common interests as non-gazillionaires who don’t make a living doing convoluted math and raping the world. The Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement, while seemingly radically opposed to one another, have as their basis a few fundamental ideas: individual sovereignty, liberty and dignity. One movement thinks it’s corporations and big banks that trample our rights, the other thinks it’s big government. In a way, I think they’re both right. And though I know it’s an oversimplification of an incredibly complex problem, it seems that corporations and the lobbyists that represent them have pretty much bought our government. No amount of progressive legislation or social welfare programs are going to change the fact that American manufacturing is in its death throes and that American jobs are being shipped overseas en masse. It’s not that people in Bangladesh and Ghana and Cambodia don’t deserve jobs. But shouldn’t people in Bangladesh be manufacturing irrigation systems and solar lamps that work well in a local context instead of cheap T-shirts to be sold in America? Shouldn’t farmers in Ghana have the opportunity to profit from feeding their communities instead of just growing cocoa for export? And shouldn’t Americans have access to jobs with high enough wages so that they can buy things that are made by other Americans who are making a fair wage? Buying local isn’t just patriotic, it makes good sense. And that’s something Toby Keith’s old man and I can emphatically agree upon.