What We Can Rub in Bush' Face: Garrison Keillor: Thomas Frank
won. We lost. But it’s no time for mass self-pity. The first
order of business for Democrats is to ask themselves how a
president who has amassed the biggest federal deficit in history
and who instigated
a disastrous war based on deception convince Middle America that
he's the real deal.
Frank posed that question in his book What’s
the Matter with Kansas? That’s shorthand for “Why
did Middle Class Red-Staters parade down Main Street this November
2, only to cast their votes for a fortunate son who has taken them
to the cleaners?"
they know that the richest 5 per cent of Americans has benefited
disproportionately from President Bush’s tax policies and
will lose nothing from the cutbacks that his budget deficits require?
Don’t they know per capita income growth and real wages have
flatlined? Don't they know Bush has achieved the distinction of
becoming the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over
a net loss of jobs? Don't they know they should have supported the
Blue candidate from the Party of Social Security, the minimum wage,
the New Deal and the Great Frontier?
explains that Republicans channel Red-State voters away from
economic issues using social issues — like abortion, gun
control and gay marriage — to demonize the Democratic Party
as baby killing, freedom hating, anti-holy-matrimony, Frenchified
to do? What to do?
an answer, I called an ambassador of Middle America, author of the
new book Homegrown
Democrat, host of A
Prairie Home Companion, and general swell guy, Garrison Keillor.
We spoke on Weekly Signals,
a KUCI radio talk show originating out of Orange County, California
that I co-host with Mike Kaspar.
we call cultural issues are terribly potent and this is not as clear
to Democrats as it ought to be,” says Keillor. “That’s
the interesting thing: the density of Democrats. The potency of symbol
and metaphor ought to be clear to us. Politics is in large part an
art. It is not just a matter of laying out position papers and explicating
policy. There is a large element of performance and creative use
of metaphor and narrative…and the Democrats have lost that
do Democrats get back to the art of politics and learn to tell a
think first of all we need to divest ourselves of issues that are
no good for us,” Keillor says. “This is something that
I’ve been talking about to fellow Democrats. Some of them have
been incensed at what I’m saying.”
do not feel that I have a basic bone of contention with Catholic
friends who disagree with me on the issue of abortion,” Keillor
says. “I feel that tax equity, fairness, good jobs, coming
to the defense and supporting families that earn less than $50,000
a year is the crucial part of the Democratic Party. And this is it,” he
says slowly and firmly. “The Catholic church shares my deepest
convictions about social justice and economic justice. This is a
stronger tie that should prevail over the issue of abortion. I think
that the Democratic Party has to welcome back people who disagree
on this subject.”
Anyone incensed yet? Before you stop reading, consider the next four
years. You’re going to being seeing a lot of Dubya and probably
a few Supreme Court appointments. How should Dems deal with abortion?
has to be considered case by case. The use of abortion as birth control
is one thing, the use of it to end pregnancy caused by incest or
rape is another, and then there is the decision to destroy an embryo
that shows signs of debilitating disease or severe retardation. In
the end, it goes against common sense to require a mother to bear
a child she does not want, just as you can't force husband and wife
to stay together, but society can state its thoughts on the matter
in the form of guidelines. I don't think that anyone really believes
that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that abortion can be put back
in the bottle.”
cadence is mesmerizing. Apparently, he has been working on a cure
for what ails the Democratic Party in the Red States… and
it will be hard medicine for many Progressives to swallow. Yet,
even though the possibility of a Scalia/Thomas Supreme Court revisiting
Roe v Wade scares the latté out of me, I’m strangely
drawn to Keillor’s logic. I wonder… what other positions
are hurting Democrats and driving Middle America away?
think gun control is an issue that we can no longer afford to be
seen as standing in favor of,” Keillor says. “Gun control
means something so different in Manhattan than it means in the country.
There’s no way for the Party to take just one stance. It’s
way down the list of important issues, and I think that we Democrats
are too emotional about this. We get all dizzy at the thought of
people buying assault weapons for example. I don't think assault
weapons should be legal, but I don't think it's anything to lose
sleep over. There are a few thousand gun fetishists who like to put
on camo (XXXL) and stand around holding guns and get their pictures
taken, and they're fairly harmless for the most part, and in our
revulsion at them we piss off twenty million hunters. Gun control
laws tend to reflect an urban point of view — in the big city,
somebody with a gun is weird and dangerous — and as liberals
we ought to be reluctant to let city people lord it over rural people.
If Uncle Elmer wants to keep a machine gun on his farm west of Yankton,
let him keep it. There are bigger problems.”
robbers roamed the streets of my old neighborhood of North
Hollywood with semi-automatic weapons, gun control seemed like
a gigantic problem. But given a choice between gun control and
a living wage, I think I’d opt for economic justice over
passing laws to deprive Uncle Elmer of his firearms fetish — especially
if losing Uncle Elmer’s vote meant losing another election
to a GOP/Halliburton conglomerate.
else incensed? Buck up or stop reading, leave the room, and sulk
about the election while I ask Keillor if there any other positions
Democrats should jettison.
think that gay marriage is also an issue that does no good for us
and I want to see us divest ourselves of this,” Keillor says. “The
symbolism of gay people marrying is terribly potent, terrible powerful,
and we ignore this at our peril in our party.
think that gay marriage/union/benefits must be a state and city matter.
Gays have tended to migrate from hostile places to friendlier places — San
Francisco, New York, New Orleans — and this migration has been
a boon to the friendlier places. Gay-friendly areas are the richer
for it, in all sorts of ways. Tolerance has economic and cultural
benefits. And so we can allow Missouri or South Carolina or South
Dakota to be hostile to gay marriage and suffer the consequences.”
recent survey by
the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black-oriented
research think tank, showed that Bush's African-American support
is at 18 percent, up 9 percentage points from the Center's 2000
poll. One of the prime reasons given for that increase in support
is our current President’s belief that marriage "is
between a man and a woman." Chew on that while you consider
the fact that since Bush took office, African American unemployment
has risen 28 percent, reversing Clinton-era prosperity, when it
declined by nearly 50 percent.
all for gay marriage. In fact, I’m all for straight marriage,
too. Yet, I wouldn’t sacrifice economic justice on either
that the faint of heart have stopped reading, let’s ask Keillor
what led him to conclude that in order for the Democratic Party
to stop losing elections it needs to drop social issues and concentrate
on the economy.
ago, I was lobbying for the National Endowment for the Arts at the
time of the Robert
Mapplethorpe controversy,” Keillor says. “I talked
to congressmen and senators about supporting the NEA. What dawned
on me then, was the tremendous potency of those pictures, and also
the sculpture — the picture of the crucifix in urine — Piss
Christ by Serrano. These had the power of a lit match. You could
not simply excuse this away as freedom of expression. The combination
of public taxes and that art created a conflagration that was powerful
enough to bring down good people in public office. This simply is
a fact and if people don’t recognize it — people in the
arts or people in politics — then they’re making a grave
point was driven home this election day and there were warning signs.
An October 26, 2004, a Los Angeles Times headline claimed, “Cultural
values, more than the economy, are dividing the country between
Bush and Kerry." Turn that sentence around and make it true: "The
economy, more than social issues is dividing the country between
Bush and Kerry." Given the current economic climate, Kerry
would have won in a landslide. Instead, Democrats are spending November
3 desperately trying to get a grip on an America that according
to Keillor is "sliding away." Sliding away into what?
Neo-Voodoo economics? Misguided foreign policy? Bad art?
this great transfer of wealth that has taken place," says Keillor. "I
see people who are working at McDonalds who are college graduates.
They’re my age, in their sixties, flipping burgers at a minimum
wage job. They used to have an office. They have fallen so far in
the world. To me, this is not an individual anecdote. This is a social
anecdote. I see this as a terrible shift that’s taken place
in this country. I believe fervently in the middle class as the backbone
of the country and if it is losing its grip, if it is sliding, if
people are being forced to work a 60-hour week in order to keep up
their life, to me this is a disaster.
had a wonderful good life in America, and America has been awfully
good to me. Public schools and the University of Minnesota gave me
my life. I’ve had a wonderful lucky life and it seems to me
that I have an obligation to do whatever I can to see that people
in their teens and twenties, who are getting launched in the world,
are getting the same chances that I had. This is basic justice. It’s
a moral obligation on my part and if I shirked it, I would feel deeply
ashamed of myself. I have many other things to be ashamed of, but
I don’t want to be ashamed of that.”
too and me neither. To paraphrase America’s
Catholic Bishops, the economic decisions made by the next Bush
administration will have tremendous human consequences and moral
content. As policy, they will dramatically effect the quality of
justice in America. Bush spent the last four years diminishing the
quality of justice. We can look forward to four more years of the
same. Yet, although he won the election, Bush's prize is a divided
America, a faltering economy and a costly war. In other words, our
cowboy-in-chief has stepped into one gigantic economic policy cow
pie. As Democrats, let’s get our priorities straight and rub
his face in it.
— Nathan Callahan, November 3,