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A Book Review
by Joy Renee

 

Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts From the Heart of America
by Garrison Keillor
© 2004
Viking
238p

Subject: musings on American politics, community, social issues, civility & citizenship

Host and writer of Prairie Home Companion 25 years

With his sense of humor intact and burnished with a burning outrage at the desecration of democracy perpetrated by the rabid-rightists--mutant offspring of the miscegenation of religious and wall street absolutism, who are currently dismantling all the institutions sustaining community and thus democracy--Keillor of Lake Woebegone fame, writes an unabashed apologetic for the values and vision of Democrats.

He reminds us that we have democrats to thank for civil rights, clean air, clean water, women’s rights, public education, G.I. Bill, public services like 911, fire, police and EMTs, public parks, public libraries, public transportation, public roads and bridges, the internet, public radio and TV, Social Security for seniors and disabled, American’s with Disabilities Act, public sidewalks, public utilities, public hospitals and much, much more. All of which serves to weave a tight-knit community closely interdependent on one another and thus predisposed to civility and kindness and trust and willingness to serve the community. All this Keillor had firmly believed was rooted in the very same Christian Theology which the Republicans have now co-opted on behalf of their imperative to dismantle each and every one of those civilizing institutions in order to privatize them in the name of power and profit for the few.

Get ready for the new Ownership Society. Only don’t count on being one of the owners. They are a fast shrinking segment of the global population. And once these zealots, through trade agreements, the WTO and the World Bank, have forced America and all other nations to privatize all their public works and abolish their labor movements, the prophets of profit will have yanked on the last thread stabilizing a thriving community which is one of the underpinnings of our government “of the people, for the people and by the people.” Once the binding threads of trust, kindness and willingness to serve are removed from the weave there will be nothing to do but build fenced enclaves for the well-to-do who can afford private cops; privatized prisons for the un-socialized to do hard labor that pays for their upkeep while raising the share value of the owner’s stock and those with a profit motive are involved in determining length of sentence and eligibility for parole; walled off ghettos and shanty towns for the working poor who will owe their soul to the company store; forced labor camps for debtors, homeless and destitute, and privatized orphanages--for the children whose parents died or abandoned them or were sent to prison or labor camps--where children must also labor for the owner’s profit. Get ready for the ownership society--child labor, slave labor, no rights for any except the owners. The South will have finally won the Civil War.

But at least no one pays taxes. Ah! But a for-profit enterprise can’t be expected to give anything away--so they’ll dock your pay for every little thing--the roof over your head, the fence holding you in, every sip of (clean?) water, the clothes you wear, the electricity you use to do the work, food and the means to produce, transport, prepare and store it. You’ll work 16 hour days 6 days a week with forced attendance at Church where you’ll have to pledge allegiance to the flag and Jesus on the cross. No need to worry about social security you’ll die before the age of retirement if not much sooner. The last time society was organized like this life expectancy for men was 40 something; for childbearing women it was 30 something. That was just over 100 years ago. You remember--the age of Oliver Twist and Bleak House? Maybe we need to revive the Charles Dickens cautionary tales before it is too late. If it isn’t already.

Well, my review of Keillor’s book just became somewhat of a rant and I can’t unweave my own reaction and extrapolation of his thoughts from simple commentary as I have already returned the book to the library. So I will append these two quotes to render the flavor of the book. One familiar to Garrison Keillor‘s fans. In both he is reflecting on how his childhood has influenced his current progressive politics:

“…on Sunday mornings, I sat on hard wooden chairs next to stern old white-bearded Plymouth Brethren in black gabardine suits and white starched shirts buttoned to the top, no ties, no vain adornments, who walked the narrow path of truth and righteousness, intent on finding the Lord’s Will for their lives; they put Him first and material things second, as a result of which they were poor and lived on the fringe of society, which was more or less what Jesus had promised his followers, so they were not disappointed. They were not much for small talk and they didn’t trust strangers or confide in them. On their best days they were funny and generous and sociable, and on their worst days they didn’t discuss it. They were stubborn men who got up at dawn and washed their faces in cold water from steel basins and read a chapter of Scripture and prayed at length and then worked until dusk and had supper and fell into bed early. They bought no insurance and had no faith in doctors. They accepted disease as their lot in life and pain to be cheerfully endured and walked down the narrow road that life assigned them, walked to the end knowing it was not the end but only a corner around which Christ awaited them in shining glory. His loving arms open to receive them. They were people of profound kindness.” pages 28-29

“My politics is somehow descended from the kindness of my aunts, apolitical though they were….I do not remember these Christian women as judgmental or sarcastic or authoritarian: they were the soul of kindness and their spirit points to the politics that sees to children, the sick, the poor, the wayward, the downcast, and lets the slick and the strong do for themselves.” pages 43-44

© 2004 by Joy Renee Davis

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