I remember a commercial from many years ago for a company well-known for bottling grapefruit juice. The company had released a new flavor, and in the ad, people were giving it a taste test. At least three different people on the commercial remarked that the new flavor was “better, not bitter.” It wasn’t clear whether the taste testers were actors or actual people off the street, but they were unanimous in their surprise at how good the new flavor tasted.
The main purpose of the commercial — besides selling grapefruit juice, of course — was to show how conventional wisdom can be totally wrong. In his new book Dispatches from Bitter America (also available for Kindle), Fox News Radio reporter and commentator Todd Starnes attempts to do the same thing — to prove that conservative Americans are “better, not bitter.”
The concept of “bitter America” is one that’s fresh in our minds. In one of the most notorious moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama told a group at a fundraiser his theory on the voting habits of small-town voters:
It’s not surprising, then, 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.
The quote turned into a rallying cry for Obama’s opponents, from Hillary Clinton in the primaries to virtually everybody on the Right. Plenty of people have used it as evidence that Obama is out of touch with everyday Americans, while others have tried to prove Obama wrong. Starnes tries both tacks in this collection of essays and short interviews — proving the Left’s distance from mainstream America and presenting a positive image of conservative citizens. For the most part, he succeeds.
In the introduction, Starnes states his premise in no uncertain terms:
What does it mean to be a bitter American?
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.
Throughout his journey through the heartland, Starnes comes across plenty of examples of Leftists’ egregious undermining of American values. In the book he chronicles:
- The wars against Christmas, the Boy Scouts, and traditional ideas of manhood.
- The elevation of President Obama to virtual sainthood (and even deity).
- The specter of socialized medicine in the United States.
- Schools teaching graphic, “anything goes” sex education while severely limiting students’ food choices.
- The Chicken Little cries of Islamophobia and global warming.
But Starnes also sees rays of hope in people who prove that America’s greatness lies not with her government or her elites, but with her citizens. He tells the stories of:
- Eagle Scouts who are enacting positive changes in their communities.
- Law firms and foundations working to ensure freedom for faithful Americans.
- Miraculous physical and spiritual healing.
- Ordinary Americans standing up for their beliefs in extraordinary ways.
He also interviews conservative heroes like Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin. Malkin relays the sentiments of so many so-called “bitter Americans” when she says:
In fact, I start every day blessed, with a smile on my face, counting myself among the luckiest people on the planet, to be able to live in this country, exercise freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and to be able to petition — still — for redress of grievances.
Most of the conservatives I cover are happy warriors, in the mold of Ronald Reagan. Are we upset? Are we worried? Are we concerned about our kids’ future? Yes.
But ultimately, there are things outside the Beltway, outside the political square, that buoy us. And those include the things a lot of these left-wing reporters do not appreciate or understand — community, school life, and church.
In one of his closing chapters, Starnes summarizes what he sees throughout this great country:
…it’s not so much that we’re bitter Americans. I think we have a bad case of indigestion.
The mainstream media and the ruling class treat us like children. They preach the gospel of civility but mock us with disdain and condescension.
In other words, the frustration of so many Americans comes with good reason. Many folks see their freedom under assault from the Left, they don’t like it, and they’re fighting it tooth and nail.
Growing up in the South, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the American way of life much in the same manner that Starnes describes in his book. Friends and acquaintances whose politics are to the left of mine haven’t ever called me “bitter,” except maybe in jest, and I’d never apply that characterization to the vast majority of Americans. Angry? Maybe. Energized? You bet. But never bitter.
Dispatches from Bitter America shows us just how difficult the battles with the Left can be. There are plenty of dire warnings in the book, but there are just as many light moments and genuinely heartwarming stories throughout. Some readers may feel that the essays skew a bit too Southern or rural, but lovers of freedom across the country can at least understand the spirit behind the stories, even if they don’t always identify with the specifics. Occasionally, Starnes falls back on satirical pieces that just don’t work as well on paper as he certainly intended, but otherwise it’s a terrific book.
Todd Starnes has issued a rallying cry for the Right. Like the grapefruit juice company shattering customers’ expectations, Dispatches from Bitter America proves that the Left’s conventional wisdom about conservative Americans is dead wrong. Freedom-loving Americans truly are better, not bitter.