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Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts…

Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America (edition 2006)

by Garrison Keillor

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Title:Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America
Authors:Garrison Keillor
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2006), Edition: Rev Upd, Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library

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Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America by Garrison Keillor



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I became a Democrat because I was eager and hopeful, not because I was angry. Anger makes for amusing radio shows but it's got a short shelf life. It's a crummy way to live. Your mother was right: forgive and forget. Live in the present and you'll be happier.

So says Garrison Keillor in his 2004 book [Homegrown Democrat]. I bought and read it a dozen years ago. Having just re-read it, I think the book is more relevant than ever. It's part memoir, part civics lesson. And it's couched in that calm, passionate, and compassionate voice of Lake Wobegone's creator. I recommend it highly.

What Keillor does is explain many of the dominant characteristics of Democrats through examples from his life and his home region. He describes the sort of behavior his parents expected of him, the impact of his education in public schools, and his experiences, inside the lecture halls and out, at the University of Minnesota. He describes too the blessings that government programs and services have brought to him and his family. Here are some quotes from the book:

Liberalism is the politics of kindness.


Republi­cans are all about Old Glory and school prayer and the sanctity of marriage and the Fatherhood of God but when it comes to actually needing help from them, you shouldn't get your hopes up. They might send an ambu­lance or they might just send a Get Well card.


Three years ago after I suddenly turned into a wheezy old man who woke up in the night feeling suffocated, Dr. Orczulak at Mayo opened up my thorax and sewed a leaky valve in my heart, a dramatic procedure whose perfection over the past fifty years was heavily subsidized by the taxpaying public….Thank you, America. How could I, whose life has been extended by this largesse, turn into an angry right-winger, a knee-jerk tax cutter, flogging public employees and the very idea of public service?


[Democrats] care less about symbolism and enacting our own theology into law...and we care more about the ordinary essentials of life. The New Deal put real people to work. My uncle Don was 18 in Wausau, Wisconsin, a big red-haired football star with no prospects, and got a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps and went off to build paths in national parks, a big experience for him. The Rural Electrification Act extended electric power to farms and villages that couldn't afford the capital investment: good old American socialism. The Keillor farm was one of them. They wired the barn so Uncle Jim had steady light to milk the cows by on winter mornings and a fluorescent light in the kitchen so he could read the Bible at night. Dem­ocrats brought about the school lunch program and the Public Health Service and integrated the armed forces, which then became a model of how Americans can be not so hung up on race. Democrats produced Head Start and food stamps and funded the college buildings to house the wave of boomers in the Seventies. The goal of Democrats has been to make this a nation of the middle class—educated people who own property and have a stake in the community and aren't easily bullied—and the most dramatic program was the GI Bill of Rights, which boosted a whole generation into the ranks of white-collar professionals.


I wish that Republi­cans had a little more genuine love of this country …
   They denounce government as if it had only repressed them and civilization frustrated their no­blest instincts, to which I say: "Wyoming. Go there. Try western North Dakota." Go find a tanktown on the old N.P. line and wrest your living from the dry soil and be as paranoid and angry as you like. It's a big country; the principles of Republicans may work very well on a 5000-acre ranch. But you can't run cities that way and cities are where most people live.

Both thumbs up, sez I.
  weird_O | Jul 19, 2016 |
combination biography and positive diatribe on the virtues (past & present) of Democrats; slightly (but only slightly) marred by some name calling
1 vote FKarr | Apr 6, 2013 |
I'm not usually one for reading political books. I'm definitely not a fan of Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Al Franken, and the like. But Garrison Keillor is a man I grew up listening to. Virtually my entire mental image of the Midwest was built up through Prairie Home Companion. I've always liked his storytelling style, so I thought he'd be worth a listen.

I guess deep down I'm a bit of a wuss, because even though I wasn't a fan of what the Republicans were doing back in 2004 (or now, with the debt crisis looming over the Capitol) I cringed whenever Keillor attacked them. I'd forgotten that this grandfatherly figure can have quite a vicious streak when angered. It's unfortunate, since I believe that name-calling is never necessary.

Beyond that, I enjoyed the book. The strong sense of community that comes through in all of Keillor's writings about Minnesota towns pervaded each sentence. I loved hearing details of Keillor's childhood in the Midwest, and how it shaped his liberal views. His outline of a "social contract" does a great job of explaining how the Democrats have come to the conclusion that a "large" government is necessary. As a Christian, I thought he had a very strong case for why my political beliefs should line up with the Democratic Party instead of the Republican "conservative" Party. As he says -
"his is Democratic bedrock: we don't let people lie in the ditch and drive past and pretend not to see them dying. Here on the frozen tundra of Minnesota, if your neighbor's car won't start, you put on your parka and get the jumper cables out and deliver the Sacred Spark that starts their car. Everybody knows this. The logical extension of this spirit is social welfare and the myriad government programs with long dry names all very uninteresting to you until you suddenly need one."

The other phrase that Keillor kept using was ""liberalism is the politics of kindness". I like that. If someone were to ask me why my opinions lean toward the liberal side of things, I think that will be my new answer.

Considering the book's from 2004, it's not nearly as dated as I thought it would be. It's still quite enjoyable. ( )
1 vote makaiju | Jul 15, 2011 |
I love Garrison Keillor's wry sense of humor. He does an admirable job tempering his disdain for neo-con politics, delivering a very common sense description of his upbringing and why he believes as he does. Hearing his melodic voice in the audio-book was a much calmer experience than watching, say, a Michael Moore film.
I recommend hearing him out on this book. His mid-western honesty is refreshing and encouraging. It renewed my party non-affiliation. While I agreed with his attack on typical Republican politics, I see many of the same errors in Obama's lack of action. He proudly discusses the local coffee shop and does indicate that it is supporting local small business over corporate interests that he holds close to his heart. My viewpoints align very much with his. I guess I would have just tried not to exclude so many readers with the title he chose. ( )
  kpdriscoll | Feb 21, 2010 |
I love Keillor, the way he writes, what he
has to say, and this book didn't disappoint. It's completely unlike his
other books, though. He's written novels, anthologies, poetry, essays,
columns and articles, and I've read all of them (I think) but this one
was different. This one came from his heart and you could tell it.

The book was written before the 2004 election, but that hardly matters. This
isn't a diatribe against Republicans or against Bush, so it is pretty
much timeless, I think. Keillor's upbringing was a lot like mine, from
a place and time where people who worked hard for a living and believed
in helping their neighbors were all Democrats because that's who
Democrats ARE. Keillor spends about half the book discussing the basic
philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans with a
directness and great insight into what it is, exactly, that makes them
tick. Personally, I feel he nailed it right on the head. He tells it
in such a way that the reader discovers that the label "liberal" isn't
something to be ashamed of at all.

A lot of the book is spent in his own personal memories of the 1950s
through the 1980s as this country went through massive changes and young
adults of the baby boomer generation formed their own political
opinions. I found this interesting because I'd had a lot of the same
thoughts and reactions to things like Kennedy's assassination, the war
in Vietnam, Nixon's resignation, etc.

I enjoyed this book a bunch and my only complaint is that it was far too
short. Like any other Keillor work, I was sorry to see it end. I give
it a 5. ( )
  madamejeanie | Sep 21, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670033650, Hardcover)

In a book that is at once deeply personal and intellectually savvy, Homegrown Democrat is a celebration of liberalism as the "politics of kindness." In his inimitable style, Keillor draws on a lifetime of experience amongst the hardworking, God- fearing people of the Midwest and pays homage to the common code of civic necessities that arose from the left: Protect the social compact. Defend the powerless. Maintain government as a necessary force for good. As Keillor tells it, these are articles of faith that are being attacked by hard-ass Republican tax cutters who believe that human misery is a Dickensian fiction. In a blend of nostalgic reminiscence, humorous meditation, and articulate ire, Keillor asserts the values of his boyhood—the values of Lake Wobegon— that do not square with the ugly narcissistic agenda at work in the country today. A thoughtful, wonderfully written book, Homegrown Democrat is Keillor’s love letter to liberalism, the older generation, John F. Kennedy, the University of Minnesota, and the yellow-dog Democrat city of St. Paul that is sure to amuse and inspire Americans just when they need it most.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Here, with heart and wit and a dash of anger, Garrison Keillor describes the democratic values of the hard-working God-fearing people of Lake Wobegon and the idea of the common good - the civil compact that Republicans have been attacking for the past decade. The simple code of the Golden Rule that underlies midwestern civility. The politics of kindness. The obligation to defend the weak against the powerful."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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