Phil Robertson was the featured speaker at the Republican Leadership Conference in May in New Orleans, announced only two days before the meeting. Most Americans know his name, because he plays himself on “Duck Dynasty”, the highest rated reality show on cable.
Robertson’s personal story is remarkable for his rejection of conventional modern life, and inspiring for his persistence. The Wikipedia article about him is worth reading, especially for the buzz cut 1967 photo of him as a college football star. Robertson started at quarterback for Louisiana Tech for two years while Terry Bradshaw of later Pittsburgh Steelers fame backed him up. But as Bradshaw wrote in his autobiography, “The quarterback playing ahead of me, Phil Robertson, loved hunting more than he loved football.” Robertson did not play his last year and refused offers to play in the NFL in order to hunt and try to convince other hunters that his hand-whittled duck calls were the best. Beginning by selling his work store-to-store, making some duck hunting videos, appearing on the Outdoor Channel, he finally earned an invitation from A&E to have his family become reality TV stars.
Robertson has a great beard, which I appreciate. But I don’t think his wild hair recommended him to the most clean shaven, tightly coiffed class of Americans – politicians.
Robertson’s rags to riches story links the Republican Party, which bases its economic policies on protecting the rich, with average working Americans, although he is anything but average. Only a minority of Americans regularly watch his show, less than one in every 20 adults. Many more have heard about Robertson because of his recent remarks on political issues. That was the reason for the Republican invitation. Robertson was being asked to talk politics to conservative politicians and their supporters.
What he would say was already widely known. In January, GQ published a lengthy story about him, sprinkled with his political quotations. Asked what he believed was sinful, he replied, “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.” Paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, he said, “Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers, they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.” A bit later he tossed homosexuals, drunks and terrorists into one heap.
On African Americans, he explained how happy they were in Louisiana in the Jim Crow era: “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people.’ Not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly, they were happy, no one was singing the blues.”
When the interview became public, there was a predictable outcry from Americans who found these ideas offensive. The A&E network suspended Robertson, then there was another outcry from the opposite direction, and Robertson was put back on the air.
Other information about his sexual beliefs has become public knowledge. In 2009, he gave marriage advice to the men of the Georgia Sportsmen’s Ministry. He started by advising, “Make sure that she can cook a meal.” Then he went further: “Look, you wait ’til they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks.” He repeated that theme in his autobiography published in 2013.
These are the views that the Republican Leadership Conference organizers expected to hear, and Robertson delivered. He quoted Corinthians again about the evils of homosexuality and read many documents which equated the US with Christianity. He called the Obama White House “evil and wicked”. His main advice: “Get Godly.”
Phil Robertson is a fascinating man, with every right to express his opinions, shared by many Americans. When the Republican Party invites him to speak, they express their endorsement of those opinions: homosexuality is a sin to be compared with bestiality and terrorism; women should cook well and follow the lead of their men; blacks didn’t start singing the blues until liberals came along with the civil rights movement.
Robertson himself expressed some uncertainty about why he was asked to address an official Party gathering. He offers nothing to the majority of Americans who disagree with what he says. He has no advice for politicians trying to make policy or win votes. He appeals to the good old white boys, whose votes Republican politicians desperately seek.
That appears to make him a conservative Republican political hero. Republican politicians have had little success trying to change Americans’ minds about the very issues that Robertson is known to speak about. but they keep trying, by reasserting their simple formulas and offering only disdain to those who disagree. Mitt Romney won nearly twice as many votes among white men as Barack Obama, but even that margin was not enough to win the election. His assertion that Republicans could write off nearly half the population, those entitled minorities, sinful homosexuals, and equality-minded women, still appears to govern Republican Party practice.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, August 26, 2014