News that two of country music's biggest stars undressed president Bush Wednesday for being an incompetent leader and for the government's "humiliating" and "embarrassing" lack of progress in cleaning up the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a big deal in terms of cultural and political barometers. The outburst doubles as another marker in Bush's slow, public tumble.
Multi-platinum stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw unloaded on Bush when the topic of Katrina came up during a press conference to announce the duo's upcoming tour. "When you have people dying because they're poor and black or poor and white, or because of whatever they are...That erases everything that's great about our country," said McGraw. "There's no reason why someone can't go down there who's supposed to be the leader of the free world and say, 'I'm giving you a job to do and I'm not leaving here until it's done. And you're held accountable, and you're held accountable, and your held accountable."
Hill, reportedly close to tears as she discussed the Katrina mess, labeled the fiasco "Bullshit" and announced "I fear for our country."
The husband-and-wife team (she's from Mississippi, he's from Louisiana) with their movie-star good looks, double as the unofficial king and queen of Nashville, and usually steer clear of politics. (Although there have been rumblings McGraw may run for office in Tennessee as a Democrat one day.)
Unlike the Dixie Chicks who spoke their minds on the eve of the Iraq war about being embarrassed to be from the same state as Bush and were essentially banned from country radio stations drunk on patriotism, my hunch is neither Hill nor McGraw will pay any kind of price for criticizing the president and letting an expletive fly. Defending incompetence does not usually arouse deep passion among radio jocks or music fans.
Worse for Bush, the McGraw-Hill public flogging comes just days after a Elon University poll revealed a clear majority of voters in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida disapprove or strongly disapprove of Bush's performance in office. Two days later came the stunning poll results published in the Indianapolis Star that showed Hoosiers statewide giving Bush just a 37 job approval rating, down 18 points in one year. In 2004, Bush won Indiana, a longtime Republican bastion akin to the Deep South, by 21 points over John Kerry.
Is this what it looks like when the base begins to crumble?