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GOP Country: A Troubled Marriage

Back in February, music historian J. Lester Feder published an article in the American Prospect entitled “When Country Went Right.”  As Feder would have it, country music wasn’t always as “conservative” as it is today.  Once upon a time, it seems, country music was a left-leaning, “populist” American art form.  Then Richard Nixon, taking his cue from George Wallace, invited country-music stars to join him on the 1968 campaign trail and was fêted, in turn, by the Country Music Association at the opening of the new Grand Ole Opry House in 1974.  “Once fiercely allied with working people,” claims Feder, country music “married” into the conservative movement and never looked back.  It is certainly true that, in recent decades, mainstream country music has become increasingly identified with Republican politics, and that the music’s fealty to its hillbilly and blue-collar origins has all too often been compromised by Nashville’s craven appetite for popular acceptance (and the sales figures it generates).  It is also a fact that, before the 1960’s, to the extent that it was political at all, country music and its fans were firmly Democratic.  But the true story of country music’s migration from the Democratic Dust Bowl to the Republican Tar Pit is a tad more complicated than what Feder chose to reveal.

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