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Book review: <i>Homegrown Democrat</i> by Garrison Keillor

If this was a family, they’d play sport on Saturday, go to church on Sunday, all have at least one degree or formal qualification, read recreationally, and have a number of surprisingly earthy in-jokes, some of which would turn up in junior’s first novel.


A simple photo portrait of the man & his weird head, with some honest, hard-working red, white and blue text.


Keillor tells us how & why the grand old Democratic party first won his heart back in the days of hard work, God-fearin’ folk and family life on the back porch in the evening with the dune bugs a-twitter. And so on until the present, where he gives the billionaire car salesmen of the current administration a well-deserved kicking and explains why there’s still life in the old donkey (party) yet.

The good

Garrison is more of a writer than a pundit, thank God, but this is definitely well into the territory of political opinion/commentary. That said, it’s about as reasonable and even-handed as such a thing can be, given that Keillor’s personal party affiliation is, of course, stated in the title. What I mean is: there’s opinion, and there’s outrage (how could there not be?), but there’s also those great Democratic qualities of self-analysis, admission of one’s own failings, and stated care taken not to set oneself higher than those around.

There’s also a lot of autobiography, which is nice for those who enjoy “The Grand Old Garrison Keillor Story” (see above, under Plot), but he truly does incorporate politics into the tale – systematically showing, for instance, how Democratic social programs made his mother and father grow, learn, meet, succeed, and live happily etc etc. He also describes the way in which the Democratic philosophies affected his upbringing and moulded him into the learned, funny and ponderously charming man he is today.

Yet, fortunately, it’s not all the same old hearth-tale guff about growing up in the Midwest. Keillor’s skill here is to braid these stories into the here and now, the clamorous demolition-derby of present-day political debate, yes, but also the day-to-day of our lives, and the way in which liberal and progressive social policies make them a lot better than they A-were, and B-will be, should we lie down in front of the neo-con steamroller.

It’s not as funny as Franken, although there are moments of glee, but Keillor is a lot more considered and positive – my Mum read fifty pages of this, she’d be unlikely to make it through the introduction of “The Truth”.
Keillor presents himself wisely and immaculately in tune with the persona which has made him famous, which is what lifts this little book of political opinion above the average – he’s angry at the corrupt swindlers in power, but neither relentlessly attacks the individuals (Franken) or becomes fixated on a figurehead to an almost sexual degree (O’Rourke & Clinton). Instead he genuinely tries to describe all that is good about the Democratic philosophy, including the fact that it is prepared to acknowledge its own flaws. furthermore he does this in his trademark style which, if you enjoy it, is like putting on a big old favourite jumper when the snow is deep against the door and all the chickens have been fluffed for the day etc.

The Bad

Excluding the obvious political viewpoint statement, this book might irritate you if Keillor’s Midwestern middle-class schtick grates, because there’s a lot of it and it comes around as regularly as the migrating pigeons over the belltower at St. Anthony’s Lutheran church on main street, opposite the little diner where you can still buy a hamburger for fifty cents etc etc.

If you’re wondering why my Mum put it down, despite her fondness for the above, it’s because apparently Keillor ‘lists things, like you do’. Which I think means that she was sick of the old-fashioned oratorical technique he uses sometimes when discussing his enemies, ie reeling off an unflattering parade of Two-dollar hucksters, Sunday-golf protestants, overstuffed and unreconstructed frat boys, etc etc. Which I rather enjoyed. What she would have thought of some of the things Franken says about specific individuals is probably best left to the imagination.

I enjoyed this, and there’s more to it than the blurb (and page count) would suggest. It’s not going to change the world, but it’s a lot more likely to cause a bit of chin-stroking in the undecided or thoughtful than most of the things that share shelf space with it.

What I learnt

Why the liberal/democratic movement will never be as brutally effective as the modern conservative movement, yet also why it will never be totally lost as long as there are still intelligent, compassionate, conscientious people out there, as opposed to the “ordinary”, “majority” “battlers” or whichever demographic fantasy is being exploited by the advertising agencies hired to divide our countries for the benefit of the wealthy.

In short

Title: Homegrown Democrat
Author: Garrison Keillor
Publisher: Viking Adult
ISBN: 0670033650
Year published: 2004
Pages: 256

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.

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