We're Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore
By Garrison Keillor
August 26, 2004
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 vanquished the gnarlier
elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the flat
Earthers and Prohibitionists, the anti-papist anti-foreigner element.
The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day,
who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought
the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System,
declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a
period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and
letters flourished and higher education burgeoned - and there was a
degree of plain decency in the country. Fifties Republicans were
giants compared to today's. Richard Nixon was the last Republican
leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.
In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated
southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea
of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great
Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of
pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer
chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who,
while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and
made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like
the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose
to power on pure punk politics. "Bipartisanship is another term for
date rape," says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. "I don't
want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size
where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of
hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based
economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of
convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking
midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brown-shirts
in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks,
Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong's moonwalk
was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the
rest of us, Newt's evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a
dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of
secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured
body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of
the world thinks we're deaf, dumb and dangerous.
Rich ironies abound! Lies pop up like toadstools in the forest! Wild
swine crowd round the public trough! Outrageous gerrymandering! Pocket
lining on a massive scale! Paid lobbyists sit in committee rooms and
write legislation to alleviate the suffering of billionaires!
Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where
art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated
gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine
Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform
of tragedy - the single greatest failure of national defense in our
history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this
nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House
fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the
hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to
lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government
impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was
undertaken for the president's personal satisfaction but sold to the
American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose
purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking
place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working
The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the
death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has
survived this. The election of 2004 will say something about what
happens to ours. The omens are not good.
Our beloved land has been fogged with fear - fear, the greatest
political strategy ever. An ominous silence, distant sirens, a
drumbeat of whispered warnings and alarms to keep the public uneasy
and silence the opposition. And in a time of vague fear, you can
appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution,
eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a
standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich.
There is a stink drifting through this election year. It isn't the
Florida recount or the Supreme Court decision. No, it's 9/11 that we
keep coming back to. It wasn't the "end of innocence," or a turning
point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse
of security. And patriotism shouldn't prevent people from asking hard
questions of the man who was purportedly in charge of national
security at the time.
Whenever I think of those New Yorkers hurrying along Park Place or
getting off the No.1 Broadway local, hustling toward their office on
the 90th floor, the morning paper under their arms, I think of that
non-reader George W. Bush and how he hopes to exploit those people
with a little economic uptick, maybe the capture of Osama, cruise to
victory in November and proceed to get some serious nation-changing
done in his second term.
This year, as in the past, Republicans will portray us Democrats as
embittered academics, desiccated Unitarians, whacked-out hippies and
communards, people who talk to telephone poles, the party of the
Deadheads. They will wave enormous flags and wow over and over the
footage of firemen in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and
bodies being carried out and they will lie about their economic
policies with astonishing enthusiasm.
The Union is what needs defending this year. Government of Enron and
by Halliburton and for the Southern Baptists is not the same as what
Lincoln spoke of. This gang of Pithecanthropus Republicanii has
humbugged us to death on terrorism and tax cuts for the comfy and
school prayer and flag burning and claimed the right to know what
books we read and to dump their sewage upstream from the town and
clear-cut the forests and gut the IRS and mark up the constitution on
behalf of intolerance and promote the corporate takeover of the public
airwaves and to hell with anybody who opposes them.
This is a great country, and it wasn't made so by angry people. We
have a sacred duty to bequeath it to our grandchildren in better shape
than however we found it. We have a long way to go and we're not
getting any younger.
Dante said that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in
time of crisis remain neutral, so I have spoken my piece, and thank
you, dear reader. It's a beautiful world, rain or shine, and there is
more to life than winning.
Garrison Keillor is the host and writer of A Prairie Home Companion,
now in its 25th year on the air. This adapted excerpted from Keillor's
new book, Homegrown Democrat (c 2004) is reprinted by arrangement with
Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.