Editor's note: FoxNews.com is pleased to present an excerpt from "Dispatches From Bitter America" the new book by Todd Starnes. host of Fox News & Commentary.
I am a gun-toting, chicken-eating son of a Baptist. And according to the president of the United States, I am a bitter American.
President Obama delivered the diagnosis for my condition during the 2008 presidential campaign. In one of his rare, unscripted moments, then Senator Obama vented to a group of supporters in San Francisco about white, working-class voters.
“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,”1 he said, according to a transcript on The Huffington Post.
What a relief! I can pack away the antacid tablets. I always thought that bitter feeling in my belly was an upset stomach. But I don’t have acid indigestion. I’m just a bitter American. I can’t begin to tell you how indebted I am to the president of the United States for diagnosing my condition.
The antithesis of bitter Americans, I imagine, would be our countrymen who’ve been educated in Ivy League schools, who listen to highbrow music, and who dine on arugula and fermented soy. They are well-bred men who marry high-society women named Babs and Muffy. They are Americans who believe the only free speech should be their own. They are Americans who would rather the criminals have guns than law-abiding citizens. And they are Americans who believe mankind created the heavens and the earth and that man created God in his likeness.
But I do wonder about my prognosis for recovery. Will I have to turn my guns over to the federal government? Will I need to repent for the mass slaughter of innocent chickens to satisfy my bloodlust for finger-licking good food? Will I need to renounce my faith in the King of kings and instead bow my knee to whoever Oprah Winfrey ordains as “The One”?
Kind readers, these are lofty questions far above my pickup truck-driving, country music-listening, Paula Deen-loving pedigree. So I decided to hit the road in search of answers. What does it mean to be a bitter American? Is there a cure? And if so, do I want to take the medicine?
My search for answers took me through the cornfields of Iowa and the waters of South Carolina’s low country; I traversed the Mississippi Delta and braved the scorching heat of the Nevada deserts. I was nearly mugged in Detroit and caught flu in Chicago, but I pressed on toward the prize. And one day it suddenly hit me. I was somewhere between a red state and a blue state when I had something of a political epiphany.
It happened at a small diner tucked away on a side street in the picturesque town of Manchester, New Hampshire. The Red Arrow Diner has been serving up blue-plate specials on Lowell Street since 1922. And it’s also become a mandatory stop on the campaign trail for anyone who wants to take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
It was a cold, snowy day, just before the New Hampshire primary. I peeled off my winter coat and grabbed the first stool I could find. The waitress told me they made the best cheeseburger in town so that’s what I ordered—along with a root beer.
As I was waiting for my meal, I thought about my epiphany. The network television reporters like to tell us we are a divided people—that most Americans don’t buy into God and country. But that’s not what I discovered along my journey. I found a nation with a lot more in common than the network news agencies would admit.
Most folks across the fruited plain really are alike. We work hard, tend backyard gardens, go to high school football games on Friday night, and go to church on Sunday. In a way that’s what makes our country so wonderful and the fabric of our freedom so strong.
Consider our countrymen in New Hampshire. They understand the cost of freedom. It’s emblazoned on every car in the state: “Live Free or Die.” As soon as I crossed the state line from Massachusetts, I found a Cracker Barrel restaurant, picked up a country music station on the radio, and found a NASCAR racetrack. For a minute I thought I made a wrong turn and ended up in Alabama.
In between bites of my all-beef cheeseburger, I contemplated the American narrative—wondering why God chose to shed His grace on this land, on this people. I came up with five reasons.
1. Country music. Country music is American music. Johnny Cash, Reba, Dolly, Gretchen, Alabama—the list goes on and on. There’s a certain reality to the songs and the singers. I remember after the towers fell on September 11, 2001. There was a lot of frustration and anger in this nation. And it fell to Toby Keith to put all that anger, all that hurt into a song. To this day, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” is in my iPod. Another thing I appreciate about country music—the women look like women, and the men act like men. I doubt we’ll see Charlie Daniels walking around with a man purse.
2. Guns. I grew up in the South so I know a thing or two about guns. Unfortunately I live in New York City, where the policies of our elected officials would make one think they’d prefer only the criminals be armed. So these days I have to make do with a can of pepper spray. Thank goodness our forefathers had the wisdom to ensure all Americans have the right to defend themselves, their property, and their nation. And I can only imagine how many countries have thought twice about invading us, knowing that grandmas across the fruited plain are locked and loaded. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I can shoot straight if I don’t have to shoot far.”
3. Barbecue. A country that knows how to smoke a pork butt is a country worth defending. Friends, our nation is as diverse as the meat it smokes. In the North they smoke hams. In the South we smoke pork. In Texas they smoke beef. In California they smoke pot. Barbecue is not just food; it’s a state of mind.
4. The Military. A few weeks ago New York City celebrated Fleet Week. Hundreds of sailors and Marines were in town to see the sights and reunite with their families. It was a uniquely American moment. Our nation is home to the greatest volunteer military on the planet. How reassuring it is to know young men and women understand our freedom comes with a price. And every day they gladly stand tall so we might stand free.
5. Freedom. We are a free people. I’m able to write these words because I am free. We can go to church on Sunday because we are free. We gather in courthouse squares and protest the government because we are free. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve forgotten about this unique and wonderful gift God has given us. We read the newspapers and magazines and learn America is supposedly in decline—a country that has lost its footing on the international stage. We’ve seen President Obama stand on foreign soil and apologize on our behalf. Well, quite frankly, who cares what the French or Russians think about us? I’m reminded of the words of Commodore Stephen Decatur. “Our country,” he once proclaimed. “In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country.”
So there. There we are.
Yet they call us bitter Americans—people who love this country unconditionally, people who pledge allegiance to the flag, people who believe in God, people who go to church, people who volunteer to take up arms and defend our nation against evil, people who believe English should be the nation’s official language, people who believe marriage is a covenant before God between a man and a woman. Since when were these such bitter ingredients?
Meanwhile, back inside the Red Arrow Diner, I was polishing off the last bites of my cheeseburger when the waitress suggested I try some dessert.
“Sure. How about some sweet potato pie?”
“Honey, that’s a southern dessert. You’re in New Hampshire.”
“What would you suggest?”
“How about some whoopee?” she asked.
“Excuse me?” I asked, nearly choking on my burger.
The waitress gave me a distressed look and then whacked me on the head with a menu. “It’s a pie,” she said.
I ordered the pie—with extra whipped cream.
As I sipped on a cup of coffee, I was reminded of the lyrics from that great Lee Greenwood song, “Proud to Be an American”:
And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. . . . And I gladly stand up, next to you and defend her still today. ’Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA.
And that’s how I came up with the idea for this book. It’s a collection of stories from my travels across this country—conversations I’ve had with regular folks who have deep concerns about the direction we are going as a nation.
May God bless America, and may He also bless whoopee pie.
Copyright © 2012 by Todd Starnes.All rights reserved. Published by B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee.
Todd's book tour begins on February 7. To find out if he'll be in your town, visit www.toddstarnesbooktour.com.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary and the author of "Dispatches from Bitter America: A Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories."