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Smith: Politics And Country Music

12/14/09 5:55PM By Mike Smith
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(HOST) Commentator Mike Smith has been thinking about country music, politics and what they have in common.

(SMITH) At the risk of incurring the wrath of many country and western fans, I just have to ask: Is Taylor Swift really country?

There's no doubt that she's talented, but to me it would be a stretch to label her as country.  Pop yes, but certainly not country and western.  Then again, my standards of who falls into the country and western genre are quite strict.  For example, Hank Williams, yes; but Hank Williams Jr, no.  Charlie Pride, yes. Kenny Rodgers, no; especially after he sang the 1960s psychedelic pop song "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)".  With his madman-like stare, Garth Brooks falls into his own category, called talented-but-strange.

To me, the beauty of country and western is that it embraces a wide variety of talent and music, and, despite my personal opinion, I accept that.  And because of this big-tent acceptance of many styles of music it remains extremely popular, not only in the United States, but worldwide.  Few other musical genres enjoy the same diversity.

Unfortunately, the two main political parties in the United States - the Republicans and Democrats - are moving in the opposite direction. Unlike country music, they are focusing on exclusionary politics instead of big tent politics.

Some Republicans are actually advocating a purity test for Republican candidates.  If you don't score 80% or better on a list of policy statements then you won't receive election funding from the Republican Party.  Now the current list of policies is pretty broad, but what if the list were to become more restrictive in the future?  It's a safe bet that if the Republicans really were to institute a purity test the party would only become more conservative.  No big tent politics here.
But the same can be said of the Democrats. In today's political environment if you vote against the wishes of leadership then you are signing your own political death warrant.  Future campaign money will dry up. You may face a primary opponent. And forget about anything for your constituents.  Clearly today's Democratic party is headed in a much more liberal direction because the leadership is headed in that direction and requires the members to follow along.

If these trends reach their logical conclusion it seems likely that we are headed down a path where we will have to redefine the two political parties and call them the conservative party and the liberal party - instead of Republicans and Democrats - with all members walking in lockstep with their leadership.  

Given that the vast majority of us consider ourselves to be independent voters, a purity test - whether implicit or explicit - would be alienating.  

Vermonters take pride in the independent voices of our politicians.  I would think our political parties would take notice and be more like country music - adopting a big tent philosophy instead of becoming more selective and restrictive. Taylor Swift for Congress, anyone?
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