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Rarely has popular music been as tied up with politics as it has since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Country music singer Toby Keith sang: "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way." Bruce Springsteen sang Edwin Starr’s "War, What Is It Good For?" the day the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Few people in the 1960s would have imagined that America’s dominant musical genre at the dawn of the 21st century would be country and western music. Yet if hip hop sells more albums, country music dominates most radio markets, and it is the country’s fastest grown musical genre. There seems to be no doubt that part of country music’s appeal lies in its association with traditional values.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there was an outpouring of patriotic songs, especially among country musicians. Most country musicians appeared to embrace a strongly nationalistic tone, evident in Darryl Worley’s "Have You Forgotten?" and Clint Black's "Iraq and Roll."

Many country music stations banned Dixie Chicks music last year after the group’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, leveled an attack on President George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Other country singers associated with liberal causes, such as Willie Nelson and Emmy Lou Harris, did not encounter a similar attack.

The association of country music with political conservatism is a relatively recent development. In the more distant past, country music did not have a consistent political philosophy. Some country songs were staunchly patriotic, while others were defiant. Most songs dealt with loss and heartbreak, sometimes defined in personal terms but often referring metaphorically to larger issues of displacement (evident in the Bobby Bare’s song "Detroit City"). But beginning with Merle Haggard’s 1969 song "Okie from Muskogee," country music became associated with traditionalism. This association gained additional currency when, during the 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton dealt with accusations about her marriage by saying: "I'm not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." Wynette asked for an apology, saying Mrs. Clinton had "offended every true country music fan and every person who has made it on their own with no one to take them to a White House." The link between country music and conservative politics took on added strength with Lee Greenwood’s 1995 anthem, "God Bless the U.S.A."