By Alan Bean
Texas Democrats are using Ted Nugent’s outrageous remarks about Barack Obama to embarrass Republican gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott and, of course, raise money for the Blue team. That’s business as usual politics. But I have two questions. Why does Nugent talk this way, and why, given his rhetoric, is Nugent such a hit with the politicians?
If you aren’t familiar with Nugent’s history, this Wikipedia article should bring you up to speed.
To my knowledge, I have never heard a single Ted Nugent song, but for the past 40 years I’ve been aware of the man. In the early 1970s his image was everywhere. Nugent’s album covers (see the example above) combined images of electric guitars, wild animals, sleazy sex and shotguns. I found these images less than titillating and had zero interest in hearing the man’s music; but with 30 million albums sold, a lot of people must have been eating this stuff up.
Ted Nugent talks like a pro wrestling heel–the guy who loves to be hated. Extreme lyrics, album covers and violent concert antics gained him an enthusiastic following in the 70s. With the decent of his musical fortunes, Nugent maintained a measure of notoriety by making outrageous comments, such as calling Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel”.
Nugent, like many Americans before him, mastered the art of foul invective because, when he speaks like a reasonable human being, nobody pays attention. If you crave the limelight, and you have no genuine insights to offer, one must resort to slander and violent rhetoric. Conservative and liberal lesser lights put a different spin on the ball, but the principle is the same.
Having answered my “what makes Ted so nasty” question (at least to my own satisfaction) I turn to question # 2: “why is Ted so popular with Republican politicians?”
If you read the Wiki article on Nugent, you will note the simplicity of his world view. He likes rural America, especially the folks who share his enthusiasm for hunting wild game with guns and crossbows. This naturally sets him at variance with the animal rights people.
But that’s not what makes Nugent a favorite with conservative politicians.
Nugent has become a political phenomenon because he divides America into two groups: rural Americans who work hard, play by the rules, love guns, their families, the constitution and the US of A, and, conversely, lazy “urban” Americans who supplement the proceeds of drug dealing with government handouts.
In other words, Nugent divides the American universe into good white people (real Americans) and bad black people (who don’t deserve the privileges of citizenship).
Of course Nugent doesn’t put it that crudely; but his comments are sufficiently crude that no other interpretation seems possible.
It could be argued that the world of Ted Nugent has little to say about the majority of white people who couldn’t kill and clean a wild animal if their survival depended on it or the majority of black people who work hard at demanding jobs. And what about Latinos, Asians, Jews, etc?
But such quibbles miss the point. Nugent’s bipartite worldview has political value because it resonates with a particular type of white voter. It feels right. More to the point, it feels good. It’s therapeutic, a balm to a particular kind of troubled soul.
Which explains why Ted Nugent is prized by politicians like Greg Abbott. Abbott may not be turned on by Mr. Nugent’s music, indeed, the Attorney General of Texas may be creeped out by some of his supporter’s more over-the-top comments. But Abbott knows Ted has a therapeutic effect on millions of white Texans (most of them males) and he wants to be associated with that vibe.
For a twenty-first century politician, the challenge is to associate yourself with a bizarre, demonstrably false and patently racist ideology without looking bizarre, false and racist. When the guy selling the snake oil is Ted Nugent, that’s a tough sell. Abbott can’t just turn around and admit he made a mistake without alienating all the truck driving, gun owning, white males who feel warm and fuzzy every time Ted opens his mouth. (I choose to believe, by the way, that the majority of men in this category aren’t turned on by Nugent’s persona.)
No one can criticize Ted Nugent for having strong political views and stating them in vigorous, colorful language. But when the man suggests that Obama’s bi-racial identity disqualifies him for office or when he calls Obama’s supporters a bunch of lazy welfare recipients, the pitch of the racial dog whistle is so low the average post-racial white American can pick it up.
If we are observing this melodrama through partisan lenses we will either lament Mr. Abbott’s political judgement or we will revel in the embarrassment it has created for the Red team. But when we view the Nugent phenomenon from the standpoint of simple, American, right-and-wrong morality we must conclude that something has gone seriously awry in our America.
Ted Nugent has transformed himself into a weird, anti-Christian, racist, woman-hating lizard because it’s better than being overlooked, or utterly forgotten. That’s pathetic, in the sense of being riddled with pathos. Nugent is a tragic figure, but real tragedy is the kind of American that shaped him.
It will take some repentance, probably a lot, but we can do much, much better.