A couple weekends ago I was caught in travel purgatory at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Thankfully I found a seat at the bar of one of master chef Rick Bayless’ joints there, and began drinking margaritas. I met tons of interesting people during the lengthy layover, including a primary school teacher reading that latest Harry Potter book, and a therapist from New York City who really dug Ezra Klein’s podcast.
Somewhere during the third margarita, I met this cool Chicago-area dude who was a huge Mitch Daniels fan. He knew a lot about the neighboring state’s former governor and argued that his restrained government policies kept Indiana operating well. He contrasted this with his own state’s legendary failed political leadership.
Somehow Dolly Parton was mentioned — the details of how this happened are a bit lost to tequila — and he began making the case for why she would be a better presidential candidate than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
I don’t remember his argument, although I do remember that the older Baby Boomer lady sitting next to us seemed upset by it, but here are 18 reasons why Dolly Parton should be our next president. Or, at least, 18 reasons why she’s awesome.
1) She’s a Natural Diplomat
She’s out promoting a new album and 60-date tour, which means she’s getting asked questions about politics. She keeps a positive demeanor while noting how utterly insane the two top candidates are. It’s common to hear major media mock Donald Trump, but Parton understands that Americans are also deeply concerned about Hillary Clinton. She threads the needle:
‘It’s the greatest show on television right now,’ she told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, laughing, in an interview that aired Friday.
‘I don’t know where they’re going to land but I think they’re both nuts’ she said, joking that ‘it’s like watching the OJ Simpson trial. You just believe whoever’s up next. Whoever testified last is who you believe.’
As far as she’s concerned, she said, it’s time that both Trump and Clinton stopped talking about each other.
‘Let’s talk about what we really need — taking care of us. I think people just want to have a feeling of security. It’s just like political terrorism right now, they got us all scared to death about everything,’ Parton said.
2) Her Charity Is Impressive
The Dolly Parton Imagination Library exists for one reason and one reason alone. It gives free books to children in need. She started it in 1996 to provide every child in Sevier County, Tennessee, a free, age-appropriate book each month in the mail until the age of five. It has since expanded to thousands of other local communities. The charity is scaleable, with low overhead. Private groups can implement the program in other communities, and the Dollywood Foundation distributes the books there as well.
3) Have You Heard Her Sing?
4) She Has Made Wigs Great Again
The most wonderful stores in my neighborhood are the three (3!) wig stores that have been in operation for at least 50 years. I always wonder who wears them and under what conditions. This summer, Parton revealed she’s been wearing wigs since 1973.
From People magazine:
The 70-year-old country crooner, who recently made an appearance on Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family, opened up to the show’s hosts, Mark Steines and Cristina Ferrare, about her famous mane, which is actually the result of a very teased wig.
‘I used to try to keep my own hair teased as big as I like it, and having the bleach and all of that, it just broke off,’ she confessed to Steines and Ferrare. ‘I thought, “Why am I going through all that? Why don’t I just wear wigs? That way, I never have a bad hair day! I have a big hair day, but not a bad hair day.”‘
Watch the whole interview:
She’s confident enough in herself to be honest about her wigs, is practical enough to wear them, and doesn’t make a huge production about the demands of celebrity being a tool of oppression.
5) Her Sense of Style Is Oddly Empowering
Dolly Parton owns her style and praises it for being rooted in childhood dreams:
‘I’ve had, many times through the years, even in my early days, people would say, “Dolly, you’d be taken a lot more seriously as a singer/songwriter if you didn’t look like a whore, or if you didn’t dress up and look like a prostitute,”‘ she recalls. ‘I said, “Well, you know what, the way I look comes from a very serious place. It comes from a girl’s idea of glamour, and I figure: If people are so shallow they can’t see beyond that, that’s fine.”‘
6) The Success of Dollywood
Thirty years ago, Dolly Parton created a theme park to provide fun for families and economic opportunity for her community. It remains a top attraction in the Smoky Mountains, welcoming all to its adventurous rides and relaxed environment. It even has a chapel on the grounds. Recently, Parton launched a water park and other amenities for families to enjoy.
Dollywood turns 30 this year, and it is already the largest employer in the county. Parton recently opened Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, which is adjacent to the park and her Dollywood’s Splash Country water park, and that is expected to create some 2,500 jobs. The 300-room resort reportedly boasts multiple pools and waterfalls, as well as a salon and spa. The luxe accommodations make up a large part of a 10-year, $300 million capital investment plan announced in August 2013.
‘The whole resort is kind of tailored towards family, with the big old front porch where families can get together, like we used to back in the old days,’ Parton tells Newsweek in her trademark Appalachian twang, even though she’s speaking from Los Angeles, where she’s producing a Christmas movie for NBC. ‘At least half the rooms have bunk beds and little divides where the parents can have their privacy and the kids can have their area.’
Dollywood also just added a calming room for children with sensory overload.
7) Her Film Career
Dolly Parton’s character Truvy had some of the best lines in “Steel Magnolias,” but her struggle with the director of the film is well known. She discussed it in her memoir “Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business.”
He didn’t particularly like me or Julia Roberts at the start and was very hard on us… Julia Roberts was not the big star she is now, and I think Herbert Ross resented having to use her. He told me I couldn’t act. This was not news to me, and I told him so. ‘I’m not an actress, I’m Dolly Parton. I’m a personality who has been hired to do this movie. You’re the director. It’s your job to make me look like I’m acting.’ By the end of the film, we had all made peace and become friends.
“Rhinestone” is a fun if solidly bad movie and “9 to 5” is deliciously cheesy as well.
8) Her 50-year Marriage
Dolly Parton has been married for 50 years to her husband Carl Dean. They renewed their vows this summer. In this video from a few days ago, she joked that the secret to a long marriage is to “stay gone.” She said she’s been gone for 37 of the 50 years.
Here’s what her web site has to say about the union:
Dolly and Carl Dean have enjoyed 50 years of wedded bliss despite facing many of life’s obstacles common to most married couples and plenty of unique challenges all their own.
They met outside the Wishy Washy Laundromat in Nashville, TN, on the first day Dolly moved to Music City. Falling in love and getting married were, perhaps, the last things on young Dolly Parton’s mind. Yet, here was a tall, dark and handsome man who swept her off her feet. She said,
‘I was surprised and delighted that while he talked to me, he looked at my face (a rare thing for me). He seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out who I was and what I was about.’
Two years after that fateful meeting, Dolly and Carl were married on May 30, 1966. It was Memorial Day, Dolly and Carl traveled to Ringgold, GA, with her mother. They had a simple, private ceremony with only Avie Lee, the preacher and his wife in attendance. Since that day, Dolly and Carl have lived happily-ever-after for 50 years. They’ve loved and supported each other while respecting each other’s independence.
9) 25 No. 1 Songs on Billboard
Parton has achieved remarkable success:
Parton is the most honored female country performer of all time. Achieving 25 RIAA certified gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards, she has had 25 songs reach No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts, a record for a female artist. She has 41 career top 10 country albums, a record for any artist, and she has 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years. All-inclusive sales of singles, albums, hits collections, and digital downloads during her career have topped 100 million worldwide. She has garnered eight Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, ten Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, and is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. Parton has received 46 Grammy nominations, tying her with Bruce Springsteen for the most Grammy nominations and placing her in tenth place overall.
10) She Eats Squirrel
Like my mother, who grew up in Missouri, Dolly Parton eats squirrel.
‘People hear me talk about eating squirrel and groundhogs, but in the mountains like that, you really didn’t have much of a choice,’ says Parton matter-of-factly. ‘There were twelve of us kids. We never ate possum — I remember Daddy saying, “That’s like a damn rat.” But we ate everything — turtle, frogs. I just remember the big old groundhogs — whistle pigs, they called them — and you’d cook ’em with sweet potatoes, and you’d have different ways of making some of that gamy taste go away.’
My mom claims that while squirrels don’t have much meat on them, her grandmother prepared them very well. Also, in squirrel-related news, Jaden and Willow Smith are also apparently squirrel fans.
11) Her Classic Christmas Special
Dolly Parton has done Christmas albums and TV specials for decades. Her most recent one was so successful that it’s being picked up for a sequel, Entertainment Weekly announced:
There’s no stopping Dolly Parton. NBC’s special about the country icon’s early life, Coat of Many Colors, was so successful that the company announced Wednesday they will produce a sequel, Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, for release this holiday season.
Director Stephen Herek will be back, as well as the original cast: Alyvia Alyn Lind as young Dolly, Jennifer Nettles as her mother Avie Lee Parton, Ricky Schroder as father Robert Lee Parton, and Gerald McRaney as Rev. Jake Owens. The plot will follow the Parton family at Christmastime, as a sudden blizzard threatens their rural Tennessee livelihood. Amidst the snow, Dolly’s father finally tries to raise enough money for the wedding ring he couldn’t afford, while Dolly’s musical talent starts attracting attention.
In the sequel, Parton will play the part of the town prostitute.
12) She’ll Never Retire
The woman has an amazing work ethic:
‘I always keep saying I hope I die right in the middle of a song,’ she said. ‘Hopefully one I wrote. Thirty years from now.’
She added, ‘I love what I do. I have no plans to retire. The only reason I would quit would be if my husband was ill or if I was ill and I needed to take care of him or I needed to take care of me.’
‘So far, I have been lucky and blessed.’
13) Dolly Can Laugh at Herself
Unlike most current presidential contenders, Dolly Parton has an excellent sense of humor. She can laugh at herself. Note how well she handled this Saturday Night Live monologue that was built around people ogling her more-than-ample breasts.
14) ‘Pure and Simple’ Is a Great Campaign Slogan
Dolly’s new album is called “Pure and Simple.” It just hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, the first time she’s had that honor in 25 years. It sold 20,000 copies last week. This is the seventh No. 1 album she’s had in her career.
Here’s here statement, which surely is better than leading contenders’ “You can’t convict me” or “Make America Great Again” messages:
‘Boy, it’s a good day for me. I am a happy girl! It feels great to be No. 1, as it’s been a long time, and it feels so good to still be in the game after all this time.’
15) Dolly Built the Economy in Appalachia
Unlike many celebrities who make it big from small-town roots, Parton stayed close to home and invested there. She built Dollywood, which has employed thousands of locals, including many in her clan, and continues to invest and expand there.
16) She Provides for Her Family
As Rolling Stone explains:
[S]he found out that she couldn’t have children, which, over time, she has learned to accept. ‘I just think, you know, it ain’t meant for some people to have kids,’ she says. ‘I don’t regret it. My husband don’t regret it. He’s like my only child, I’m like his only child. And the older we get, the gladder we are that we don’t have them now, because we take care of a lot of other people’s kids. We buy new cars for all the nieces and nephews that graduate, we send any to college that want to go.’
17) She’s a Self-Made Woman
Parton grew up truly dirt poor in a large family. She sang at the Grand Ole Opry at age 13. The day after she graduated high school, she went to Nashville. As soon as she could, she started her own publishing company and got her own record label. She told CNN’s Christine Romans last week, “I think it’s important, if you can, to keep all of your goods close to home where you can control them and know what’s happening with them.”
Parton’s net worth is around $300-$500 million, according to business reports. Her entrepreneurial ventures include restaurants, TV variety shows, cook books, memoirs, children’s books, sitcoms, and clothing lines.
This is a stark contrast to inheriting wealth or obtaining it by exploiting ties to past, present, and future political office.
18) She’s a True Patriot
Happy 4th of July! pic.twitter.com/BpsmTptNAr
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) July 4, 2014
Back in 2003 or so, I went to the National Mall to watch the fireworks. On the walk back home, my foreign-born (now also a U.S. citizen!) sister-in-law and I were stopped by a police officer as we walked past the Capitol. Dolly Parton walked in front of us in her full rhinestoned American flag ensemble glory and you have never heard two sisters-in-law squeal with as much delight as we did that night.
We could do worse than Dolly Parton for president.