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Garrison Keillor: Homegrown Idiot By: George Shadroui
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 03, 2004


It is at times remarkable to behold the commentary that attaches to the liberal view of conservatives and Republicans.

One is reminded of an out-of-body experience, as if one is viewing oneself from a ceiling but not quite sure how you got there or how you came to see yourself from that particular vantage point. But if you are a conservative who might enjoy this sensation, I recommend a recent book by Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat.

 

Keillor is in many ways a national treasure. He is great storyteller. I have read several of his books, but I have relished his audio collections of stories from his National Public Radio Show, A Prairie Home Companion. Keillor is a man with a voice from God, his deep, halting style as recognizable as the Churchill growl or the Buckley drawl.

 

And his stories have heart and soul. They are about everyday people struggling to find meaning in life and their place in the world. They are about small loyalties and minor tragedies that resonate with truth and a deep respect for human beings who go about life with humor and humility.

 

But Homegrown Democrat is so extreme as to make demagogues blush. It is a blend of memoir and drive-by political shooting. It is a drama in which Keillor plays the caring, humane hero, but Republicans play the neo-Nazis. It is so ridiculous in its irrational claims that I had to wonder at times if he was serious. But the straight face never broke into a self-aware smile. Not once.

 

I live in Minnesota for the plain and simple reason that I am not so different from these people and also because the social compact is still intact here, despite Republicans trying to pound it out of us. (p. 5)

 

He’s pulling my leg, right?

 

In the new privatized low-tax minimal-services society the Republicans are striving to lay on us, public transportation will offer no pleasure whatsoever. The bus will be for losers and dopes. The driver will sit in a bullet-proof box and there will be no conversation with him. The bus will be full of angry and sullen people who have lost hope that their kids can rise in the world and have a better life, which is the hope that makes it possible for me to turn to you and say something about the weather. Civility leads to civilities. In Republican America, you will not enjoy public life period. The public library, that great democratic temple, will become a waiting room for desperate and broken people, the alkies, the whacked-out, the unemployables, and the public schools will become holding tanks for children whose parents were too unresourceful to find good schools for them, and politics will be so ugly and rancid that decent people will avoid expressing an opinion for fear of being screeched at and hectored and spat on. (p. 7)

 

Surely he’s pulling my leg.

 

Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities, and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who had vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the Flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. (p. 13)

 

At this point, you begin to realize he might be serious.

 

Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor. (p. 14)

 

In other words, the only good Republican is a dead one.

 

I am a liberal and liberalism is the politics of kindness. Liberals stand for tolerance, magnanimity, community spirit, the defense of the weak against the powerful, love of learning, freedom of belief, art and poetry, city life, the very things that make America worth dying for. (p. 20)

 

City life?

 

The descendants of the narcissist New Agers are the narcissist Republicans. People with too much money and too little character, all sensibility and no sense, all nostalgia and no history. (pp. 45-46)

 

Gosh, he is very serious.

 

To the hard-ass redneck Republican tax cutter of the suburbs, human misery is all a fiction, something out of novels, stories of matchstick people. He’s doing fine so what’s the problem. (p. 137)

 

He’s not only serious, he’s not very nice.

 

And these revealing few sentences:

 

There is an old geezer in a captain’s cap with a hundred buttons pinned to it and an electric fan suspended from the brim, an orange vest with badges and flag decals, who rides around the neighborhood from time to time on a three-wheeler with a fringed green canopy over it and a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker and a horn and a bell, with a look of royalty and privilege about him as if he were the Duke of Northumberland accompanied by the Royal Fusiliers, which is fine by me – self-expression is a fine thing – but I look at him and realize why I love the liturgy of the Anglican church: because we didn’t write it, those are everybody’s words. Collective expression is the rare thing; self-expression is common as dandelions. (p. 172.)

 

Less than 10 pages later Keillor celebrates the individualism of a New Yorker and New York, where it is Okay to go around on Rollerblades wearing a Donald Duck mask.

 

I contrast these two comments because they underscore the inconsistencies of the elite liberal – it is a good thing when liberals in New York run around expressing themselves in meaningless ways, but it is a questionable thing if a conservative or a Republican expresses their support for our country or our president. This is typical modern-day liberalism.

 

Keillor spends a lot of time in this book recounting his own history and the kind of community he came to cherish. It is a community of caring, in which we are all neighbors who talk to each other and display a loyalty not just to brands of products or to television shows, but to each other and our individual needs. He claims he is no supporter of the excesses of the 1960s, and yet he never holds accountable those who led the counterculture revolution.

 

The 1960s shattered significant parts of our cultural landscape – the nuclear family has been devastated, and liberalism played a major part in the destruction. From its notions of sexual liberation to its deification of the “working” woman and to public welfare that has trapped two generations of Americans in poverty, liberalism has played a huge part in our cultural demise. Not the only part, but a significant part. It was not Bill Buckley, after all, who celebrated violence as a legitimate form of anti-establishment expression but liberal icon Norman Mailer.

 

I happen to agree with Keillor on a few issues, as does Bill Buckley. I am convinced more and more that our drug laws are self-defeating. It is time to decriminalize certain drugs, particularly marijuana. Any person in prison for possession of pot should be released. I don’t care if people smoke pot in their own house. I do care if murderers and child rapists walk the streets. We need to prioritize, and prisons filled with minor drug offenders is neither a good use of our national resources nor a path toward rehabilitation.

 

Moreover, this is one red-state conservative who has no problem with some regulation of firearms. After all, does the right to bear arms mean that each of us should own our own nuclear weapon? Where to draw lines reasonably is the art of government, but it will never happen if both sides insist on moving to the extremes.

 

Nevertheless, the glorification and indulgence of criminality and violence was a liberal avocation back in the 1960s and 1970s. I refer readers to the satires of Tom Wolfe. It was not conservatives who held cocktail parties for violent groups like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, but liberal icons like Leonard Bernstein.

 

Keillor quotes the Bible a lot, including Jesus, but Jesus did not preach: Pay taxes to the government so the government can love your neighbor. He preached: Love thy neighbor as thyself. He was instructing each of us to embrace our fellow human beings as individuals with souls. And that is why conservatives advocate charity and churches and local empowerment rather than huge impersonal government programs. You can argue the need for government intervention in certain parts of our lives, and many conservatives have reconciled themselves to some aspects of a welfare state, but it is pretty obnoxious to advocate the centralization of enormous government power in the name of the individual compassion. Please.

 

You see welfare parents with their children and sometimes you want to grab the parents and shake them, they are so clueless and foul-mouthed and cruel, but you can’t, so you hope that the social workers in Child Protection have enough funding to keep up with their caseload. (p. 186)

 

Here you have the world bequeathed to us by the Great Society. But Keillor doesn’t get it – the demoralizing dependency created so often by federal programs. He hates Republicans and conservatives, apparently, for seeing such a dispiriting situation and trying to break the downward spiral. Keillor apparently thinks there is something moral about keeping people dependent on the government. And so he pays his taxes joyfully and calls himself a compassionate person, and meanwhile entire generations of children never experience the joy of standing on one's own feet and finding ways to survive and thrive. This is liberalism at its worst: unthinking, undiscriminating, the mind numbed by decades of liberal conformity.

 

To the cheater, there is no such thing as honesty, and to Republicans the idea of serving the public good is counterfeit on the face of it – they never felt such an urge, and therefore it must not exist. (p. 78)

 

Keillor served up this nonsense on the eve of a national election in which the left, hysterical before, during and after, is consumed by bitter hatred and the need to demonize anyone who questions the assumptions of their narrow ideology. His work was well received and got featured in the leftist publication In These Times.

 

Yet it is telling that when Keillor mentions Republicans he has known, they are not everyday people. Rather, he mentions presidents, celebrities, senators. There is no evidence that he has ever sat down and had a cup of coffee with an average American who happens to be a conservative Republican. I suspect this is not by accident but by design. Better to hold on to one’s cherished biases than do the hard, shattering work of self-critical dialogue.

 

For all his complaints about conservatives and Republicans, one did not hear Keillor or other liberals complaining about the redneck conservatives when they were trekking en masse to New York and D.C. to help their fellow citizens after 9/11. We were all Americans then  red, white and blue. For a guy who seems to remember every celebratory detail of his liberal past, how quickly Keillor forgot the lessons of those sad but inspiring days.




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