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How does Merle Haggard do it?

Country Musings by Robert Loy, March 2009

This column is being written during the first 100 days of Barack Obama's presidency, in a weird national mixture of hope and fear, the likes of which haven't been since the days of the great D-word back in the 1930's. All of which makes me want to write another political column.

And that series of loud sounds you just heard? That was editor Jeff Remz bursting a blood vessel, banging his fist on his desk and shouting "Over my dead body!" Don't worry, Jeff; I'm tempted, but I'm not going to wax political. I know how divisive politics are these days, and I don't want to alienate any readers.

Besides, I've mellowed a lot lately. I'm trying these days to see and respect all sides of the issues, realizing that these are dangerous times, and things are not nearly as simple as the haters on both sides on the political spectrum would have us believe. I'm just trying to sort it all out, and I'm scared to talk about it because I don't want to get into an argument.

Maybe if I was Merle Haggard, I could express my political opinions, and nobody would get mad about it. After all, the Hag is the only entertainer I can think of who's not only tolerated, but embraced by both sides of the political spectrum as one of their own.

To those on the right, Haggard is revered as the writer of Okie from Muskogee and Fightin' Side of Me. Speaking for those who don't approve of marijuana use, draft-card burning and "running down our country" earned him a place as one of their spokesmen, and the fact that he wrote a song endorsing Hillary Clinton's presidential run does not seem to anger them. They write it off as a sign of advancing senility.

And those on the left believe that Haggard's been a liberal all along. Listen to songs like If We Make it Through December, Working Man Blues and Daddy Frank, and you'll see that Hag's heart has always been with the disenfranchised, the poor working class that has historically been the backbone of the Democratic Party. And they'll tell you that "Okie" was a joke.

And the right says, get real, this is the guy after all would receive a full pardon for his crimes from California Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972, sang for Richard Nixon at the White House and voted for George W. Bush.

Never mind who he voted for, the left counters, or who he sang for. What about all the fact that he's consistently criticized the oil company backers and the "politics of fear" employed by the GOP?

And on and on. But the thing is both sides are mad at each other - so much so that they can't speak to each other without vitriol. But nobody's mad at Merle Haggard.

How does he do that? I honestly don't know. I only know two things about current American politics.

1.) We really need to learn how to get along and talk to each other, despite our differences of opinion.

2.) Merle Haggard would make one heck of a diplomat.