A few months ago, the editors of The American Conservative flattered me with an invitation to write an essay on the the career and politics of John Mellencamp, and consider why so many Republican politicians play his songs at campaign rallies, when he is a liberal.
The essay – “Rock for Republicans? How the GOP Misunderstands John Mellencamp’s Heartland Ethic” – appears in the newest issue of The American Conservative, which has a focus on localism.
Mellencamp writes what he calls “plainspoken” lyrics. There is no other songwriter who moves me to think, feel, and reflect deeply on my life and my community more than Mellencamp. As I attempt to explain in the new essay, his politics, however, are complicated. There is no doubt that he is a leftist, but “his is a community-based leftism that distrusts bureaucracy and hates paternalism, yet believes in social assistance for the poor, sick, and hungry, the widows and orphans that the Bible identifies. Mellencamp inhabits common ground with libertarians on social issues, and he is a consistent opponent of war and foreign intervention, but he does not believe that an unfettered free market will solve every social problem.”
Mellencamp’s firebrand version of antiwar, left populism is exactly what is currently missing from the ivy league, elitist, and impotent liberalism of the mainstream media, the Democratic party, and the sanitized neighborhoods of lefty chic where people believe the world’s biggest problems are plastic bags, inadequately sized bicycle paths, and indoor smoking.
Next year the University Press of Kentucky will publish my book All That We Learned About Living: The Art and Legacy of John Mellencamp. In the book, I will elaborate on Mellencamp’s politics and further draw out interpretation of how his music embodies many important ideas about the American story.
Politics will make up only one chapter of the book, as it is comprehensive and covers Mellencamp’s entire life, but readers who enjoy my essay for The American Conservative, should look forward to additional reading next year.