The Critical Mass

Are you ready for an ignorant redneck?

I was talking with the writer David Sedaris Tuesday evening – that’s right, I hang with all the cool kids – and the subject of Hank Williams Jr. came up. “I read the transcript of that interview,” Sedaris said. “Was he drunk?”

If Williams wasn’t, he probably is now. You’re probably familiar with the story. The supremely untalented country performer (His daddy, Hank Sr., and son, Hank III, prove the old adage that talent skips a generation) is best known as the guy who sings the theme song for Monday Night Football. During a Monday morning interview on the morning TV bullshit-news show Fox & Friends, Williams made an incomprehensible comparison of Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler. Host Brian Kilmeade said he didn’t understand the analogy. “I’m glad you don’t brother, because a lot of people do,” Williams roared, the epitome of white trash ignorance. “They’re the enemy. Obama! And Biden! Are you kidding? The Three Stooges.”

We now know two things. One, Williams can’t count. And two, he’s unemployed. We’ll never again hear Williams bellowing: “Are you ready for some football!” ESPN has dropped its association with this extraordinarily unlikeable creature. I doubt even Dancing With the Stars would touch him now.

Like another washed-up musician who comes to mind, Ted Nugent, Williams evidently fancies himself as a conservative political pundit. No one’s buying the records, might as well say something stupid to draw attention to yourself. Williams tried out for the position in 2008, during appearances with Sarah Palin during her run with John McCain, in their attempt to turn this country into something very unfortunate. He crow-barring “Left-wing liberal media” into a song lyric  in a song called “McCain-Palin Tradition,” which he debuted while on tour with the Republican presidential ticket. Gershwin it wasn’t. “The Democrats bankrupted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac just like one, two, three,” Junior crooned, again showing math isn’t his strong suit, before going for the slanderous talking point that I’m astonished was missed by the Grammy nominations committee: “They don’t have terrorist friends to whom their careers are linked.”

So we’ve been here before, haven’t we, Mr. Williams? He did make a half-hearted attempt to salvage the Monday Night Football situation. First, Williams blamed you. “Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood,” he wrote on his web site. I don’t think there was any misunderstanding. A difference in political viewpoints is not equivalent with the Holocaust and plunging the planet into a world war. 

Then, Williams tried directing attention away from what he’d done by attacking convenient targets, the media and politicians. “Every time the media brings up the tea party it’s painted as racist and extremists – but there’s never a backlash – no outrage to those comparisons… Working class people are hurting – and it doesn’t seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job – it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change.”

And finally, he wrote, “I am very sorry if it offended anyone. I would like to thank all my supporters. This was not written by some publicist.” That is the classic non-apology apology. He is sorry if he offended anyone. He himself is not sorry. He is not wrong. He wouldn’t want to alienate his base, the racist and extremist Tea Party people who support these kinds of unhinged comments.    

 When the news broke about ESPN’s final decision, a few days after the initial suspension, Williams quickly responded that it was his decision, not the sports network’s, with this note on his web site:

After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct. 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.

Apology no longer necessary, he says. Suddenly, it’s a First Amendment issue.

 Back to Sedaris. He was born in Binghamton and raised in North Carolina, but now splits his time living in homes in Paris and just outside of London. Being in Europe, Sedaris said, gives him a unique perspective on what’s going on in this country. He’s shocked by the anger, the uncivil discourse. “America,” Sedaris said, “feels like one overwhelming tidal wave of hatred.”

“But that’s also what it feels like from here,” I replied.

“It looks even worse,” Sedaris said, “from over here.”