The following article, Supposedly Conservative National Review Published Piece Bashing Anti-Elite Anthem by Oliver Anthony, was first published on Flag And Cross.
A conservative does not wish to speak ill regarding either St. William F. Buckley of Sharon, Connecticut, or the monastery of right-wing thought he left behind, National Review.
After all, without Buckley and the publication he founded as a channel for his ideas, it’s entirely possible that the conservative movement in the United States — to say nothing of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Republican presidential nomination or Ronald Reagan’s two presidential landslides — would potentially never have happened. In addition to Buckley’s own prose, the magazine has also brought numerous conservative thought leaders to a wider audience. (On the other hand, it also played a part in launching David French’s career as a public intellectual, proving that no conservative institution — however influential — is perfect.)
However, on occasion, conservatives are called upon to stand athwart National Review’s reflexive anti-populist elitism and yell stop. The article published by the magazine on Oliver Anthony’s viral hit “Rich Men North of Richmond” is one of those times.
For those of you who haven’t heard Anthony’s cri de cœur about the forgotten men of flyover country — and given the fact it’s gone from social media to the No. 1 song on iTunes’ country music chart, I’m going to guess that’s not many of you — the previously unknown singer/songwriter laments the troubles of Middle America and how the “Rich Men North of Richmond” (i.e., the plutocrats in Washington) don’t care about any aspect of their lives aside from whether they’re squeezing enough tax revenue out of them and whether they’re toeing the woke line.
The chorus should give you some idea what Anthony means to say:
Livin’ in the new world
With an old soul
These rich men north of Richmond
Lord knows they all just wanna have total control
Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do
And they don’t think you know, but I know that you do
‘Cause your dollar ain’t s*** and it’s taxed to no end
‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond
WARNING: The following video contains graphic language that some viewers may find offensive.
Don’t even remember the last time a new song hit me like this
Be a shame if this anthem went absolutely viral
Oliver Anthony – Rich Men North of Richmond (FULL) pic.twitter.com/Qxm98Op9KI
— Jack Poso (@JackPosobiec) August 11, 2023
Suffice it to say, the usual suspects have come out condemning the song.
Take Rolling Stone, a publication whose writers were recently seen working themselves into paroxysms of anger over “Try That in a Small Town.” That publication was furious that “right-wing influencers” were embracing a song that “appears to allude to Jeffrey Epstein,” as if to say there was something untoward about a convicted sex offender with his own private island who just happened to cultivate relationships with a whole lot of those rich men north of Richmond. Apparently, there’s absolutely nothing sketchy about that to Rolling Stone — so long as most of his powerful friends were liberal, that is.
Wright, to be fair, noted that “[i]n a world full of Nashville pop-country sludge, Anthony sings with an authentic passion, and many people were instantly taken with his raw and raspy voice.” However, while he said the singer’s meteoric rise was “a great American story,” he confessed he didn’t “understand the adulation on the right for this song’s message.”
The first thing he had a problem with was the song’s first verse, in which Anthony sings “I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bulls*** pay / So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away.”
“My brother in Christ, you live in the United States of America in 2023 — if you’re a fit, able-bodied man, and you’re working ‘overtime hours for bulls*** pay,’ you need to find a new job,” Wright wrote.
“There’s plenty of them out there — jobs that don’t require a college degree, that offer good pay (especially in this tight labor market) and great benefits, especially if you’re willing to get your hands dirty by doing things like joining the Navy, turning wrenches, fixing pumps, laying pipe, or a hundred other jobs through which American men can still make a great living. If you’re the type of guy who’s willing to show up on time, every time, work hard while you’re on the clock, and learn hard skills — there’s a good-paying job out there for you. Go find it.”
It’s worth noting Anthony drew inspiration for the song from his time as a third-shift factory worker. Mark Antonio Wright, meanwhile, is the executive editor at National Review, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma at Norman and an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
There’s no disgrace in either career trajectory, but I have a fair guess regarding which one knows more about the opportunities for upward mobility afforded to blue-collar Middle Americans in 2023. Spoiler alert: It’s not the guy implicitly telling Anthony to “learn to plumb.”
And, as for the depths of despair Anthony describes in his song, Wright offers this piece of sage advice: “And if you go home and spend all night drowning your troubles away — either on TikTok or by drinking too much — my friend, that’s your fault, not Washington’s. Not that Washington is helping any — it’s not. But when we waste our lives, it’s still our own fault.”
Wright, apparently, cannot distinguish between blaming someone for directly encouraging an act and blaming someone for creating the conditions that encourage that act.
For instance, a California voter who approved of Proposition 47, which (among other things) reclassified thefts of under $950 as misdemeanors, likely didn’t cast their ballot with the perfervid hope that their local homeless population would loot the local Walgreens in the name of equity. However, it’s totally reasonable to say those voters created a profoundly perverse incentive for thieves to do just that.
Likewise, Anthony isn’t saying some Beltway creature came to his home in Virginia and poured a fifth of whiskey down his gullet every night until he woke up with the DT’s. Rather, he’s noting that when elites on both political wings encourage the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs overseas or an influx of illegal immigrants to do manual work at home in the name of making goods cheaper — then tell those displaced to learn coding or take up wind turbine construction — despair sets in, and vice isn’t far behind.
That doesn’t eliminate personal responsibility on the drinker’s part, mind you, but the Washington elites who created the conditions that led to certain entirely predictable outcomes don’t emerge with clean hands, either.
However, because Anthony didn’t include a can-do message about lifting ourselves up by our bootstraps and taking responsibility for our own lives, Wright can’t see why conservatives could possibly identify with “Rich Men North of Richmond.”
“We, as citizens, as men, still hold it in our power to ignore the corrosive effects of our politics and the popular culture and get on with living the good life: get a job, get married, raise your kids up right, get involved with your church, read good books, teach your boys to hunt, be present in the lives of your family and friends, help your neighbors,” he wrote.
The idea that art should employ our own personal ideas of relentlessly positive messaging to make its point is a deeply flawed one. Imagine a version of “Crime and Punishment” where Raskolnikov decides his shiftless nihilism is amoral and becomes a police officer, instead. Or “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” rewritten as an ode to antidepressants and learning to get over youthful alienation. Or a version of “Folsom Prison Blues” in which Johnny Cash lets the guy in Reno live and they end up starting a soup kitchen together. None of them quite hit home, now, do they?
As Sean Davis, CEO and co-founder of The Federalist, noted, “‘He should’ve written a song about this instead of that,’ is no different than a food critic trashing a steak restaurant because he wanted something vegan. It’s a temper tantrum, not legitimate criticism.”
Next time, National Review should consider putting gutter criticism like this where it belongs — in the garbage can.
“He should’ve written a song about this instead of that,” is no different than a food critic trashing a steak restaurant because he wanted something vegan. It’s a… https://t.co/DGJEPJfWGn
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) August 14, 2023
Nor, indeed, was he the only conservative who found the National Review piece to be elitist garbage:
WARNING: The following tweet contains vulgar language some readers will find offensive.
Don’t click on this shit, it’s garbage clickbait.
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) August 14, 2023
You know you’re the type of person the song was about, right?
— Kari Lake War Room (@KariLakeWarRoom) August 14, 2023
“You know you’re the type of person the song was about, right?” That’s pretty much the perfect summation of everything that’s wrong with Wright’s attempted takedown of Anthony’s hit.
The conservatives who openly fret over former President Donald Trump, his allies and his supporters — quite a few of whom have had a byline at National Review, it’s worth noting — don’t get that the conservatives who identify with Anthony’s message see Wright and his ilk as part of a uniparty elite whose two establishment factions, Democrat and Republican, have superficial squabbles among themselves but save their genuine enmity for what they see as the unwashed rabblement, who they think should just shut up and learn some different skills.
Whether or not that’s a valid lens to view American society and Washington politics through is another matter entirely. That said, in railing against that mentality, Mark Antonio Wright has provided a salient — if unintentional — argument in its favor. Nice work.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.