As critics continue to deride the surprise hit ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ as right-wing, I’ve noted here at BASEDPolitics that in a different era it could have been a left-leaning folk song about working class struggles. Imagine the 1968 Newport Folk Festival…‘A round of applause for Joni Mitchell and Oliver Anthony!’ Coming to the stage next, Joan Baez!’
But in 2023, the relatable life concerns sung by Oliver Anthony—overtaxation, a devalued dollar, welfare lifers, elite control—that have resonated with so many people from different backgrounds apparently don’t have much of a home within a contemporary Left now so consumed with identity politics.
Maybe Anthony should identify as non-binary.
So, maybe the critics are correct: regular working-class worries are now right-wing?
Especially in the libertarian way, as the New York Post’s Daniel McCarthy notes, “The song isn’t simply a class-war complaint — the trouble with the rich men north of Richmond isn’t that they’re rich, it’s that ‘they all just wanna have total control / Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do.’”
McCarthy has a point. Anthony’s broadest theme is that elites seem to want to control everyone.
He’s not mad they’re rich. He just wants to be left alone.
Listeners might have thought of federal COVID mandates and lockdowns upon hearing the lyrics. My mind went to government mass surveillance and censorship. No doubt countless small business owners are tired of expensive and controlling regulations. Many parents are tired of teachers’ unions dictating where their kids go to school.
There are a myriad of ways in which Americans feel controlled by others more powerful than them.
“Anthony, real name Christopher Anthony Lunsford, is a throwback to the folk libertarianism that gave us the American Revolution,” McCarthy added.
Two-and-a-half years ago, I made the argument at The American Conservative that while the influence of nationalist conservatives eager to use government toward right-wing ends was on the rise, the environment at the time was just as ripe for a vigorous libertarian populism, picking up on an idea the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney promoted in 2013.
Carney said Republicans should focus on how Big Government and Big Business tries to have total control over the little guy.
I wrote in late March 2021, “Carney’s libertarian populist agenda then included breaking up big banks, cutting or eliminating the highly regressive payroll tax, ending corporate welfare, voting against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, a cleaner tax code, healthcare reform, abolishing anticompetitive regulations, addressing political privilege, and more.”
I added, “Today, a libertarian populist agenda could also include opposing bailouts for hedge funds or anyone else. It could include taking on the teachers’ unions and fighting for school choice, an issue popular with a majority of voters and particularly black and Hispanic Americans. Healthcare reform could top such an agenda, as many Americans wonder why their premiums are going up as the insurance and pharmaceutical companies become wealthier.”
This was written right before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the US. Before the Twitter Files and Facebook Files revealed that the US government had been working with Big Tech to censor Americans. Before spending trillions in pandemic and Ukraine aid and the accompanying runway inflation where everyone’s dollars “ain’t s***.”
McCarthy continued, “The song’s economic agenda is in fact notably Reaganite, as Anthony directs his ire at inflation (‘dollar ain’t s–t’), taxes (‘it’s taxed to no end’) and welfare as a substitute for work (‘if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds / Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds’).”
“That’s not just a rejection of progressive nostrums,” McCarthy observed. “it’s a powerful rejoinder to complacent conservatives who think that moving to Florida is a substitute for sound monetary policy and an anti-tax agenda designed to appeal to people like Anthony, not just rich men north of Richmond.”
“Moving from one end of the country to the other doesn’t help anyone escape inflation…” McCarthy added.
Nope. Plus, Oliver strikes me as the kinda fella who might like his home.
My early 2021 argument about the possibility of a libertarian populism potentially being more successful than a national conservative agenda or the old Republican establishment’s agenda is truer today than it was then. The frustration with elites by millions of Americans has only continued to grow over time.
Those who can voice this effectively, in politics, media, music or elsewhere, might find an audience larger than anyone ‘in control’ could have ever expected.