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Toby Keith isn't who you think he is

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Toby Keith doesn't shy away
  • Toby Keith can only shrug at people's perceptions of him, which he says are wrong
  • Country singer has learned to embrace "booger-eatin' nerds" who write blogs
  • He's in favor of national health care, supports the president regardless of who it is
  • Keith's latest single is "American Ride"; video gleefully takes on sacred cows

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- There's a red carpet outside Toby Keith's tour bus. It's only as big as a doormat, but it's a red carpet, nonetheless.

It wouldn't be out of character for the 48-year-old country music superstar to poke fun at his own celebrity. Lord knows he skewers every other sacred cow in the music video for "American Ride," the title track off his 16th studio album.

In the animated clip, quick images fly by: melting polar ice caps, illegal aliens popping over the border, Pat Robertson getting a piggyback ride from George W. Bush while President Obama is hoisted, hero-style, by a crowd of financial types in suits. All the while, Keith belts in his booming baritone, "That's us! That's right! Gotta love this American ride."

The video takes potshots at everyone: the right, the left, Wall Street and Main Street. Toby Keith is an equal-opportunity offender, and he likes it that way.

CNN: Do you think controversy has been a good thing for your career? Do you think you've courted controversy sometimes?

Toby Keith: I've learned to embrace the booger-eatin' nerds that sit around in their underwear and type blogs. I've embraced that. So I use them to my advantage. They're going to do it whether I'm a good guy or a bad guy.

CNN: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

Keith: That I'm a lifetime Republican, right-wing Nazi guy. If that's their perception of me, that's fine. But you can't support the troops and be for national health care; that's illegal in this country. You're either right or you're left, buddy.

CNN: Are you for national health care?

Keith: Absolutely. My idea of a national health care plan and (President Obama's) may be different. I don't think every single American citizen deserves to have national health care. I think you have to earn your way, too. I think if you're a working mother -- any race, religion, creed, whatever -- and you're trying, you deserve it. But if you're sitting around drinking beer, talking on your cell phone, smoking cigarettes, sitting on the porch and not trying, I don't know if you deserve it.

CNN: What about illegal aliens?

Keith: That's a tough one. I've been around Mexicans my whole life, and they are wonderful people. They're very family-oriented, very religious -- a lot of them -- they have great family values. They're hard, hard-working people. Somehow we have to secure the border, but it's not because of the great people who are crossing the border. It's to protect that border from being infiltrated by radical, extreme terrorists. That's the only thing I think they need to stop.

CNN: Do you think we're less safe as a country now, in terms of terrorist attacks?

Keith: I think that we are always going to be under attack, and I think that the president -- whoever the new president is -- every time, they're going to try him. So I expect one any day. I could tell you what goes on overseas from my time overseas. [He's done seven USO tours to places like Iraq and Afghanistan] I've got a plethora of knowledge, but I can't tell you when. I know we've gotten better. I know we got a lot better situation here than we did pre-9/11.

People that are in the know have said it's going to come eventually homegrown, so it's not going to be about worrying about protecting the borders. It's going to worry about extremism already here, that's going to grow up, and be maybe even born here that's going to create havoc here. We just have to get used to that.

CNN: How do you think President Obama's doing?

Keith: I think he's doing fine. The stock market's rallied. I mean, I'll always pull for the commander in chief, whoever it is. Clinton, Bush -- I always pulled for those guys because I want to live in a country that's functional. I don't want to live in a country that's on the skids. So it doesn't matter if it's a Democrat, independent, Republican or just a citizen who's running for president. If they're doing a good job, let 'em do a good job. So far, so good. All of them will have their ups and downs.

CNN: Have you told people publicly who you voted for in the last election?

Keith: No.

CNN: And you won't?

Keith: No. I don't think it's their business.

CNN: You're a pretty spiritual guy.

Keith: Yeah. Not "beat the book" religious, but completely, 100 percent condone and believe in prayer.

CNN: What do you pray for?

Keith: I don't pray for anything. I give thanks. The good Lord has blessed me, and there's no way I could ask for anything. I only give thanks.

CNN: When are you going to run for public office?

Keith: Never.

CNN: Do you think you could win?

Keith: Yeah, I do. I think I could win. But it don't pay enough. (Laughs)

CNN: You'd have to take a pay cut.

Keith: Yeah. I know what the president has to work for. I know what the governor has to work for, and that won't even pay my light bill. (Laughs)