Chin whiskers haven't really been vogue in Washington since Benjamin Harrison's administration. So, it caught the attention of a lot of people when the barbigerous star of a cable television show called Duck Dynasty showed up as a guest at the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner the other night.
If you are not among the 9.6 million Americans who watched the Robertson family on Duck Dynasty last week, making it one of the most-watched television programs in the nation, you might find the idea of a bearded and bandana-wearing, self-described redneck and his wife hobnobbing with Washington elite unsettling or amusing.
I know a lot of rednecks: I am a recovering Washingtonian who lives in a part of Florida that has more cattle and orange groves than beaches. And I think there are at least four lessons the Washington elite could stand to be reminded of by the "duckmen" and their kindred spirits in rural America.
- People are often smarter than they look. Beards aside, Duck Dynasty differs from the programs that hold rural southerners up as exhibits from a carnival freak show. The Robertson men, who are the focus of the show, are college educated (the patriarch, Phil, even has a graduate degree); they have an enormously successful small business that has made the family millionaires; and the show itself is a brilliant mechanism for leveraging and promoting their core business, which is based on hand-made duck calls and related hunting gear. The show is genuinely amusing and upbeat, and it appeals to a broad non-hunting audience.
- Simple competence should be valued more. Guys who wear camouflage and drive pickup trucks might mispronounce some words, but in order to be a successful hunter and outdoorsman – more than once – one must master certain rough skills. These skills are often lacking among urbanites. This really struck me a couple of weeks ago as I helped my daughter move into her first Capitol Hill apartment. The young man showing her the place had no idea how to unlatch a double door or remove the full dust canister from his vacuum cleaner. I am sure he can navigate his office's computers and find his way on the Metro, but when it came to basic mechanical intuition, he was lost. There are a lot of jokes about rednecks fixing things with duct tape, but sometimes it takes a little duct tape or a ratchet wrench to save you a lot of time
- You can disagree with and even laugh at each other without being hateful or hurtful. Somehow the Robertsons and their friends can question each other's chromosomes, intelligence and work ethic and still be friends at the end of the day. That's because it's always understood that they truly respect the other person at some fundamental level. In too many of the political debates we see in Congress, it's apparent that may of the rivals don't even have basic respect for each other.
- Speaking of the end of the day, that is when you should take a moment to reflect on the fact that you are part of something larger. Each show ends with the Robertson family gathering at the dinner table, their heads bowed for a prayer. Even if you aren't religious, it's important to reflect on the fact that whatever happened to you over the course of the day is only one piece in a much larger puzzle. It helps to keep things in perspective. And don't we all think Washington could use more perspective?
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