There are times, though few they may be, when an example presents itself that allows us to broadly characterize a worldview. Right now is one of those times, and our example comes to us from the mouth of he who claims to represent the American right.
Here he is, in his own words:
I think in the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentlemen we have another crisis simply too good to waste. This will play right into Obama’s hands — humanitarian, compassionate. They’ll use this to burnish their — shall we say — credibility with the black community, in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community, in this country. It’s made-to-order for ’em. That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out there. Could not wait to get out there.
And he later added:
We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax.
I don’t want to waste any time discussing the specifics of Limbaugh’s comments because they speak for themselves. Instead, I want to focus on the implication of someone who addresses millions of people making these sorts of statements.
But before we go there, a brief sidebar: what is a redneck? If you skim the Wikipedia entry, you’ll find a series of definitions dating back to 1830s Scotland, where Presbyterian Church government supporters wore a red cloth around their necks to signify their political position. More modern usage includes the regional one we’re all familiar with (the red neck in this case being a literal description of a sun burn on the exposed part of a farmer’s neck), but also a broader definition applying to white, rural and usually poorer socioeconomic groups of people in any part of the country. And of course just about everyone has heard comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck…” routine that jabs at things like dating your first cousin.
While all of those pieces have their place in the etymology of the term “redneck,” I want to take the definition in another pejorative direction that has nothing to do with socioeconomic status, region, race, intelligence or one’s predilection for dating relatives. For the definition I am presenting here, the only prerequisite is that you read Limbaugh’s quotes, and then read them again, and then think about them for a few minutes.
If your takeaway after digesting his comments is that this is a man whose worldview is worthy of emulation, then you are, by the definition I am presenting, a redneck.
To put a finer point on that, you are either unable or unwilling to withhold cynicism in the interest of compassion. You either confuse or purposely conflate political motives with moral imperatives. You either passively or actively endorse insincerity and shamelessness as appropriate means of drawing attention. And you are paranoid, or at the very least willing to tacitly support paranoid messages designed to appeal to mistrust, fearfulness and anxiety.
There’s a sense in which I think we owe Limbaugh a thank you for clarifying something that usually isn’t so clear. By showing with unabashed ferocity the true face of his worldview, and then defending it without the least equivocation, he has given everyone a rare “in or out” moment. If his worldview is worthy of emulation—that is, if you’re “in”—then you fully deserve the title of redneck and all dubious honors thereunto appertaining.
I have to hope, though, that most people are “out” whether they’re on the right or anywhere else. Reasonable people on the right and left can disagree reasonably, and they deserve to have their positions represented by credible voices. Limbaugh has made perfectly clear that he simply doesn’t fall in that category. Instead, he’s established as strongly as possible, with words as plain as anyone can hope for, that he’s the manipulative voice of redneckism, and proudly so.