Has John Mellencamp An Opinion? You Betcha . . . John Mellencamp isn’t content to simply offer his political viewpoints. He gets involved. With the same tenacity he has brought to his heartland rockers, Mellencamp has worked to make sure his beliefs are backed by solid efforts. How solid? For one, Mellencamp, along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson, is a founding member of Farm Aid. The annual Farm Aid concerts since 1985 have brought in over $37,000,000 to “promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture.” The organization stresses the importance of  family farm system that’s environmentally sound, economically strong and healthful for everyone. Farm Aid is not an organization in which participants, desiring to feel good by doing good, seek to “throw money” at problems. It’s an intensely involved group working across the nation to sustain livelihoods and improve the quality of peoples’ lives, whether spent working the land, or just enjoying its bounty.

In 2007, Mellencamp performed before a group of wounded troops at the Walter Reed Medical Center. His populist views compel him to sympathize with those caught up in the war-making machinery. One can feel deeply for the wounded warriors while opposing our costly and delusive wars. Those wounded are just kids, young Americans serving their country, many whose first trips more than 500 miles from home took them to battlefields.

This past Friday brought word of Mellencamp’s views on the Republican Party’s 2008 Vice Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. Coming from an Obama supporter, Mellencamp’s take is unique. His thoughts may not bring ready assent but they shed light on what the Democratic Party faces.  Palin “knows exactly what she’s doing” and “she wouldn’t be where she is today if she didn’t,” Mellencamp remarked, his assessment juxtaposed to that held by those long weary of the former Alaska Governor.

Mellencamp believes people underestimate Palin’s intellect “just because she says things and winks.” He goes on to say that “She’s pushing the right buttons and you can’t be stupid and do that.” Obviously Palin has done her share of button-pushing (You betcha). Her skills at such have made her the sweetheart of Red State America. That’s where she’s been embraced and fawned over. Her red state base doesn’t concern itself with how little she knows of basic, long-established U.S. foreign policy. From her fans’ perspective, such concern is just so much piffle. But the revelations that appeared in the recently published Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin should be worrisome to Americans, especially in this tense age. John McCain’s staffers were rightly worried. They were amazed over what she didn’t know as they prepared her for an interview with ABC News’s Charles Gibson. Game Change acknowledges their frustrations.

Before the flight to Anchorage, Schmidt, Wallace and other members of the traveling party met Palin at the Ritz Carlton near Reagan airport……… and found that, although she’d made some progress with her memorization and studies, her grasp of rudimentary facts and concepts were minimal. Palin couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations. She didn’t know what the Fed did. Asked who attacked America on 9/11, she suggested several times that it was Saddam Hussein. Asked to identify the enemy that her son would be fighting in Iraq, she drew a blank. (Palin’s horrified advisers provided her with scripted replies, which she memorized.) Later on the plane, Palin said to her team, “I wish I’d pay more attention to this stuff.”

Paying attention to such “stuff” suddenly seemed important. In a later campaign interview with CBS News’s Katie Couric, she was asked to name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with except Roe v. Wade. She couldn’t, simply declaring “Of course in the great history of America there have been rulings that there’s never going to be absolute consensus by every American.” Well, sure, we guess.

Sarah Palin came away from the Couric interview irritated with its reception, not her scant knowledge of American history. On the McCain team, eyeballs rolled, but Palin and her followers would put it behind them. Her political ascendency would rely on her peachy-keen, just-folks demeanor. She has spunk and utilizes a crazy-like-a-fox approach, which is likely what John Mellencamp regards as her greatest strength. It doesn’t matter that after 38 years of M*A*S*H* on television, she isn’t clear on why those American doctors were in Korea. But she does perceive Americans, especially tea party types, are tired of thoughtful discussions on manifold problems. Her followers want tax cuts and perkiness.

People in our country are beaten down with wars, terror alerts, high unemployment, big government deficits, the possibility of tax increases and serious cuts in their local and state services. One of Mellencamp’s most heartfelt songs, “Hard Times for An Honest Man,” (from his ’87 album, The Lonesome Jubilee) reflects on what many people feel today. They’re running low on cash and confidence. And many of the country’s honest men and women have fallen for the prattle of Palin and the tea-partiers. Millions of Americans have grown tired of trusting the lucid and educated. For example, they don’t care if a Palin wanna-be, Christine O’Donnell, running for the U.S. Senate in Deleware, displays ignorance about Supreme Court rulings and the Constitution. She’s allegiant to the hard right and that’s good enough for them.

In his latest Wall Street Journal column, Gerald F. Seib considers the findings in a recent poll indicating 68% of those identifying as tea party supporters would back a political novice, as opposed to the 10% favoring the experienced candidate. The country is in a throw-the-bums-out mood. As Margo Channing said in “All About Eve,” Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

In 1985, the year Mellencamp co-founded Farm Aid, he had a Top 10 hit with “Small Town.” The song imparted the strength and integrity Mellencamp observed in “those small communities.” The people there were rock-solid and sure of what they believed in. They often proved the most steadfast of Americans, but over the last three decades, their faith has been shattered. And on the hard right, there are opportunists looking to exploit them. Again. Now Americans in small towns, as well as the larger ones, are taking the change President Obama spoke of and turning it inside out. Just combine a nod, a wink, a winning smile with very little substance and there you have it: A rough ride in this new age of perkiness.

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Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes' Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.