Berry certainly doesn’t view himself as a conservative, and he seems both puzzled and amused that his work would find favor with conservatives. “Mostly I’m a Democrat,” he says. “I’m a child of the New Deal. My family have always been Democrats.” Berry says he voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and plans to vote for him again this November. He has met Obama once, when the president awarded him the National Humanities Medal two years ago. Michael Pollan, the liberal foodie activist, thinks the connection may go deeper, citing Obama’s criticism of mainstream agriculture and its dependence on cheap oil: “I have no idea if Barack Obama has ever read Wendell Berry, but Berry’s thinking had found its ways to his lips,” Pollan wrote in the introduction to Berry’s 2009 book, Bringing It to the Table.
Since 1996, Berry and his wife have donated $7,000 to federal candidates, all Kentucky Democrats with the exception of Dennis Kucinich, the left-wing congressman from Ohio and two-time presidential candidate. Asked if he has ever voted for a Republican, Berry mentions John Sherman Cooper, a senator who was last elected in 1966. Despite this yellow-dog partisanship, Berry knows he doesn’t fit into ordinary political slots. “We’ve got two parties in this state that are absolutely dedicated to coal,” he says. “What we’re working for has not been adopted by any political side.” Last year, Berry and several others protested mountaintop-removal mining by occupying the outer office of Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, for four days.