Not So Free in Muskogee

Gotta read this column by Thomas Edsall:

In the fall of 1969, Merle Haggard topped the Billboard country charts for four weeks with “Okie from Muskogee,” the song that quickly became the anthem of red America, even before we called it that.

“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, we don’t take our trips on LSD, we don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street, we like livin’ right and bein’ free,” Haggard declared. “We don’t make a party out of lovin’, we like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo.”

Times have changed.

Today Muskogee, Okla., a city of 38,863, has nine drug treatment centers and a court specifically devoted to drug offenders. A search for “methamphetamine arrest” on the website of the Muskogee Phoenix, the local newspaper, produces 316 hits.

In 2013 just under two-thirds of the births in the city of Muskogee, 62.6 percent, were to unwed mothers, including 48.3 percent of the births to white mothers. The teenage birthrate in Oklahoma was 47.3 per 1,000; in Muskogee, it’s 59.2, almost twice the national rate, which is 29.7.

Need I mention that Muskogee voters proudly vote Republican?

… the Baltimore riots have become a vehicle for conservatives to point to the city as an emblem of the failure of liberalism and the Democratic Party. The current state of affairs in Muskogee suggests that the left does not deserve exclusive credit for social disorder.

Rightie politicians and media have been crowing that Baltimore represents a failure of liberalism. I could link to umpteen hundred such rants, but here’s just one.

Jeb Bush says the strife in Baltimore proves the war on poverty “failed” to expand opportunity in America’s most disadvantaged communities. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed published Wednesday, the presumptive 2016 candidate writes that Democrats are wrongly responding to the unrest with calls to increase government spending and reform the criminal justice system.

And, of course, from a progressive perspective just the opposite happened; there’s no part of America untouched by Reaganism and right-wing anti-tax, trickle-down nonsense lo these past 30 plus years. See, for example, an in-depth report by Emily Badger in the Washington Post, “How Baltimore and cities like it hold back poor black children as they grow up.” There are places in the U.S. that are something like economic and social black holes, and it’s nearly impossible for people who grow up there to escape. Programs — you know, the government spending thing — that enable greater mobility actually appear to work. I suspect investing in better public schools and transportation systems wouldn’t hurt either, but of course conservatives hate public schools and transportation and fight spending on such things tooth and nail. And, dude, do you not see that the criminal justice system seriously needs reforming?

Edsall mentions this:

John Nolte, who writes for, Tweeted at 9:26 p.m. on Monday, April 27, “Baltimore is what happens when you replace the two-parent family with a welfare check & union-run public schools.” An hour later, Laura Ingraham, a talk-show host, followed suit: “No fathers, no male role models, no discipline, no jobs, no values = no sense of right & wrong.”

I’ve yet to see evidence that breaking up teacher’s unions improves public schools, and if we want to talk about lacking a sense of right and wrong let’s talk about the police.

But what happened to Muskogee? Edsall presents copious data showing that while rates of out-of-wedlock births are slowing down among blacks they are speeding up among whites. Since 1980 the rate of out-of wedlock births has increased by 4 percent among blacks (and decreased in recent years) but has risen by 33 percent among whites. Further,

The highest rates of white teenage pregnancy in the 30 states with available data are in red states. While the national white teenage pregnancy rate in 2010 was 38 per 1,000, white rates were at least 10 points higher in nine states: Oklahoma (59), West Virginia (64), Arkansas (63), South Carolina (51), Alabama (49), Mississippi (55), Tennessee (51), Kentucky (59) and Louisiana (51). Each of these states cast decisive majorities for Romney in 2012.

The high pregnancy and birthrates among white teenagers in states where the Christian right and Tea Party forces are strong reflect the inability of ideological doctrines stressing social conservatism to halt the gradual shift away from traditional family structures.

In fact, the map in the second chart [see article] shows that the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the most socially conservative denominations in America, is dominant in every one of the nine states with the highest white teenage pregnancy rates, with the sole exception of West Virginia.

And on and on. The Red States really are going to hell in a handbasket.

Edsall points out that Republicans are in complete control in 24 states, and in most of those states the legislatures are waging all-out culture war. But they are so focused on blocking access to abortion and stopping same-sex marriage they are oblivious to the very real social and economic problems going on under their noses. Edsall again,

The problems of majority black Baltimore are extreme, but many of the trends found there are as extreme or more so in majority white Muskogee.

The Baltimore poverty rate is 23.8 percent, 8.4 points above the national rate, but below Muskogee’s 27.7 percent. The median household income in Baltimore is $41,385, $11,661 below the $53,046 national level, but $7,712 above Muskogee’s $33,664.

If conservatives place responsibility on liberal Democrats, feminism and the abandonment of traditional family values for Baltimore’s decay, what role did the 249 churches in and around Muskogee play in that city’s troubles?

Right-wing politicians have been given too big a pass for way too long.

19 thoughts on “Not So Free in Muskogee

  1. In the words of a guy in my dorm back in 1970, “They do too smoke marijuana in Muskogee!” A pack of lies then as now.

    • If what happened to Muskogee was anything like what happened to the little town in Missouri I lived in, there was a rather sudden shift that happened just about then. In 1968 the young people were still wearing saddle shoes and letter sweaters and getting drunk on beer and cherry sloe gin. By 1970 it was jeans, long hair and pot. I had moved away before anyone had heard of OxyContin, though.

  2. Look at what Gov. Wanker (sic) has done to WI.

    Look at what Gov. Brownback did to KS.

    And look upon the rapidly devolving state of NC, and what Art Pope’s meat-puppets are doing to that state.

    Maybe we need to treat conservatism as a mental disease, and get these people some help, before they turn this whole country into the world’s best-armed Third World Country – if we’re not there already…

    But then again, you can lead horses-asses to wherever it is that you want to, but you can’t make them think.

  3. OT:
    But for some reason, this topic reminds me of one of my late father’s favorite jokes:

    An American conservative politician goes to a poor Third World country, to give a series of speeches, and to preach conservatism in that country.

    And during, and after, all of his speeches, the crowds cry out, “HOOZANGA!!!”

    He’s very proud that the people in this country like him.

    On his last day, he lets one of his host countries politicians take him out on a golf course, and, he slices his first drive into a marshy area.

    The American is about to walk into the wetlands, when his host says, “Look out, so you don’t step into any hoozanga!!!

    ‘Why are you telling me to avoid stepping into cheering,” asks the American politician?

    “I’m not,” says his host. We let our cows and bulls run free on the golf course to fertilize them, so I don’t want you to step into their sh*t and ruin your nice golf shoes!

  4. Today Muskogee, Okla., a city of 38,863, has nine drug treatment centers and a court specifically devoted to drug offenders. A search for “methamphetamine arrest” on the website of the Muskogee Phoenix, the local newspaper, produces 316 hits.

    You’d think facts like that would wake somebody the hell up, but no. At least moderates and liberals have tried to address these problems. Conservatives just pretend social problems don’t exist. Free Market heals all! Except addiction and greed and a million other human failings.

  5. If memory serves correct, after a short passage of time Merle Haggard was not proud of the song. Merle has written a lot of good, no Great, songs/lyrics. The “Okie” song is not one of them.

  6. Was the purpose of the “War on Poverty” to expand opportunity?

    Convenient that some forget that we have been living now for 40 years under a vast program of tax cuts, deregulation, and privatization that was specifically sold to us as increasing opportunity. Amazing that we can just skip from the 1960s to 2015 and pretend that nothing really of consequence happened during those decades. Did we really need any more evidence that Reaganomics hasn’t worked?

    The question I think is will this line work with the American electorate? There will always be a percentage of us consumed and made manipulable by fear and anger, but I am increasingly feeling that this kind of crap just doesn’t have the pull that it used to.

  7. “Edsall presents copious data showing that while rates of out-of-wedlock births are slowing down among blacks they are speeding up among whites.”

    Social dislocation and ills in the black community are really canary in the coal mine warnings for working and middle whites. These things show up in black communities first because racism tends to direct the negative effects there initially, leading some whites to think that is just “proof” of their own superiority and thus it can’t happen to them.

    What many white folk are led to believe is that these things happen because the people are black, but they are foolish in not taking heed, because eventually they will happen to them. The divide and conquer , of the owners of the country, that have been in place for centuries now will play out but the end game is the working class end up in the same place.

    But I guess they take comfort in knowing they are “free.”

  8. no discipline…no values = no sense of right & wrong

    But enough about the police.

  9. Hey, I’m from Muskogee. I graduated from high school in the 1960’s there. It is now quite a bit more racially diverse than then. It went through a painful desegregation in the early ’70’s. There are some nice things about the place.

    Just living in Oklahoma is tough enough, though.

  10. As a matter of opinion, there’s a general correlation between despair and drug use. Most would say the correlation is between poverty and drugs – but I think an economic condition simply points to the resulting emotional condition. Drugs don’t give any escape from despair, but they give the illusion of escape – which requires more drugs when the effect wears off.

    Drug use isn’t a problem as much as it’s an indicator of a problem – when drug use is epidemic, it’s certain that there’s a problem other than drugs.

  11. From Edsall’s article: An hour later, Laura Ingraham, a talk-show host, followed suit: “No fathers, no male role models, no discipline, no jobs, no values = no sense of right & wrong.”

    Since Ms. Ingraham seldom says anything of consequence, I haven’t paid much attention to just who she is. Her comment implies to me that she thinks women are incapable of raising good children by themselves. The only things that give women discipline, money, or values is a man. Yet, in looking her up, I found that she has never married; but, is a single mother of three, all of whom she adopted. She has had breast cancer. How is it that she can demean women so totally so often when it does appear to me she is a good example of how well women can cope without “a man.” Perhaps, she thinks that she is exceptional and the rest of us women are hopeless beings who can only be led by men. IMHO, she is a very stupid woman and I feel sorry for her children and her listeners.

  12. I would like to make a distinction between drug use and drug abuse. There are people who smoke pot recreationally and some for inspiration. These people don’t become abusers. I also think we each have our drug of choice. Mine is caffeine in the form of a good cup of joe which I have every morning. I do agree drugs are an escape (or an illusion of escape) and if not abused are harmless. After all a good murder mystery is an escape. It’s when the drug becomes an addiction that people get into trouble. I worked in a chemical-dependency unit and I saw first hand what addiction does to people. And most of them were not poor. I do agree that drugs are not the problem but that there is a problem that leads to drug abuse.
    In many tribal societies, drugs in one form or another were used for spiritual reasons. In some cases, it is a way to access the “other side” but that is another story.

  13. Good comment,grannyeagle.. I agree that we all have something that helps dull the pain of life. Even Jesus can be a drug.. An internally induced or externally applied chemically altered state of consciousness that provides distraction or respite from reality And if my bag of Marijuana ( praise be to the name) could find a voice,I’m sure it would say, Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden, for I will give you rest.
    You’ve heard the expression getting high on the Lord? I can bear witness to the euphoric effects that feelings of righteousness, however misguided, can match the feeling from smoking a big ol’ blunt.

  14. Swami,
    I never thought of that this way – but it appears that Jesus is also a “Gateway Drug!”

  15. Newt Gingrich wasn’t pitcihn’ woo to Callista..He was out an out shaggin’ her in some back room in the Rayburn office building. I don’t mean to impugn Callista’s virtue with that statement. I just have the need to point out Newt’s hypocrisy in light of the recent passing of former Speaker of the House Jim Wright. Seems Newt was instrumental in bringing about the downfall and disgrace of the former speaker while engaging in his high moral crusade during his Congressional tenure. The American Robespierre? The same supposedly unblemished morality that he waved in the face of he American public in his attacks on Bill Clinton while he was engaged in the same immorality.
    Newt is just a hypocrite. Was, is, and always will be. And I don’t want that fact to slip from the mind of the American public.
    PS. It’s not immoral to slap your wife with divorce papers while she’s hospitalized in a fight for her life..It’s just a low rent thing to do! Hit ’em when their down.

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