From Publishers Weekly
His Minnesota boyhood and the putative values of his state allow novelist and NPR favorite Keillor to conjure up a heartwarming case for liberalism, if not necessarily the Democratic Party platform. "[T]he social compact is still intact here," he writes of life in St. Paul, summing up attacks on that compact in a Menckenesque rant: "hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists...." Liberalism, Keillor declares, "is the politics of kindness," and he traces his own ideology to his kindly aunts and his access to good public education, including a land-grant university. Though he criticizes Democrats for losing touch with their principles, as when they support the drug war, he catalogues "What Do-Gooder Democrats Have Done for You," from civil rights to clean air, though he acknowledges, "The great hole in the compact is health care." "The good democrat," he declares, distrusts privilege and power, believes in equality, supports unions, and is individualist—"identity politics is Pundit Speak," he notes, which might get him in trouble with some interest groups. "Democrats are thought to be weak on foreign policy... but what we fear is arrogance," he writes, in a chapter notably short on prescription. Near the end, he offers another potent monologue, if not a rant, about September 11 and Bush's "Achtung Department" (aka Homeland Security). It doesn't all hang together—heck, Keillor's so loosy-goosey, he begins most chapters with a limerick—but call this Prairie Home Companion meets Air America.
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In his contribution to the latest U.S. presidential election campaign, the writer-host of NPR's long-running Prairie Home Companion takes his stand on the ground of Minnesota to declare why he's on the side he's on. Being a Democrat "was simply the way I was brought up, starting with" the Golden Rule, the Minnesota maxim "You are not so different from other people so don't give yourself airs," and the Christian reminder "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Egalitarianism and fellow-feeling, manifested by good-neighborliness and a social safety net sustained by government, are the bedrock of being a Democrat for Keillor, and Democrats go wrong when they mouth slogans, forget about the powerless, and fail to focus on "real consequences in the lives of real people." Republicans these days--he allows that once they were better--are the obverse of Keillor-style Democrats, and his rants about them are an intemperate pleasure of the book. Its considerable other pleasures arise from the autobiography that constitutes its core; if he sounds like a parody of a Democrat when lambasting the GOP (and--unfairly, one can't help feeling--Texas and the South), Keillor is the voice of truth about where he grew up and went to school. (Full disclosure: this reviewer was taught in the same schools by many of the same teachers six years after Keillor.) Ray Olson
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