Saturday Evening Drove Me From the Left

Maybe nothing better describes why I’ve been driven from the Democratic left to the center than what happens on public radio at dinner prep time on Saturday evenings.

For a couple of decades I loved chopping and simmering stuff while listening to A Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor was an unabashed liberal Democrat, who often pulled no punches in his criticism of “the current occupant,” by which he meant Pres. George W. Bush. But, for the most part, especially in his early years he steered away from politics, at least overt political commentary. His humor was more generally aimed at the foibles of Midwesterners and, as one, I was glad to hear anything about me at all on NPR.

It’s true that, after awhile, he had overstayed his welcome. In his later years, he sounded to me like a guy who had become too big to have an editor. His monologues and his skits went on long past being funny or even having a point.

But he didn’t deserve the end he endured. Somebody accused him of a touch on the back, during a photo, that went on for too long. And, with that, his career was over. He was cancelled, literally, over night by public radio. PHC might have outlived its usefulness and, to his credit, by then he had finally moved on from it, but we were all deprived of his wonderful five-minute Writers’ Almanac spots because he was guilty of sexual harassment. He was. NPR and MPR had decreed it. An accusation equals a conviction. No trial necessary. That’s the new PC order. (I recently discovered that Keillor revived the Almanac on his website.)

I found Keillor’s replacement, Chris Thile, just flat out annoying. I don’t know what it is, but I cannot stand that guy. Much like many voters felt about me after eight years, I guess.

After years in the Saturday evening wilderness, I happened upon Mountain Stage, a nationally syndicated program out of West Virginia that runs from 5 to 7 PM on my very favorite radio station, WXPR -Rhinelander. (It’s a cross between WERN and WORT, but without the insufferableness.) Mountain Stage is like PHC without the skits or the monologue. Larry Gross is the host and he’s a wonderful minimalist. All he does is introduce the acts.

For a couple years I rejoiced. Once again I had background music for sipping a cocktail while I worked through a new recipe on a Saturday evening. And then Trump happened, and Mountain Stage followed the hard-left down a rathole. The program now can’t get through a half hour without some folkie preaching at me about social justice. I’m for it. But do I really have to hear about your victimhood while I’m trying to make dinner? Is there no solace? Can’t I just get a couple of hours when I’m not reminded about what a horrible oppressor I am just by virtue of being an old, straight, white guy? If you listen to public radio, the answer is ‘no.’

I’m reminded of this because, as I write this, I’m listening to “an archived edition” of Mountain Stage (archived editions are what they call reruns on NPR) from way back in February, 2003, the very month I surprised even myself by winning the primary for Madison mayor. Two decades ago the program was just about great music. It was wonderful. And there is not a single political message in any of it. Todd Rundgren was on the show. “Hello, it’s me…” Great song. No social justice message that I can discern, although maybe you’re so far gone that you can. If so, please do not contact me.

And that pretty much sums it up. I’m a 62-year old straight white guy (63 on Thursday), who has been a lifelong liberal and one-time avid public radio listener. Now, I tune it in until I can’t take it any more — usually about 20 minutes.

And that, folks, describes better than anything else I can think of why I still think of myself as a liberal Democrat, but so very much not in step with the current Democratic Party or with the world as described on public radio.

Welcome to the 360th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

6 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Drove Me From the Left

  1. I forgot. We have the same birthday. (with Michael Jordan and John Roach). My sons know what I like for Christmas. Both got me used books: One an old collection of Pogo paperbacks from the 1950s, and the other a collection called the “Garrison Keillor Reader.” His monologues and essays. Great stuff. And you’re right. Very little overtly shame-on-you-and-us political. Sigh. GHess



  2. Well said Mayor! As a 52-year-old apolitical centrist who voted for Bush and Obama twice apiece I cannot fathom the absurdity of today’s woke cult. I too am done… Earning a poli-sci degree from UW-Madison 30 years ago only taught me one thing: listening to intolerant loyalist partisans makes us all a lot dumber. So I started withdrawing my economic assets and activities from this judgmentalism when Trump made the country lose its damned mind and all logic left the media. Today the term “libertarian” is too wishy-washy for me… I’m a Constitutional Anarchist moving as much as possible underground… and I’m not alone.


  3. You’re perfectly in step – you have cancelled the shows you don’t like.

    Just as other are free to cancel the things they don’t like. Why lament Mr. Keillor? Aren’t employers free to hire and fire who they want? All this hubub about cancel culture when it’s just people being free and doing what they what and talking with their wallets and their choices. It’s great that we have a wider market now and we have so much choice in what we hear and how we spend our money and time. It’s great we don’t always have to give people our money (time, attention, etc.) if they use it against us or in ways we believe are bad.

    What we need is for our politics to catch up with us – we need far more choice in that arena and instead we have an unhealthy duopoly that we aren’t free to cancel no matter how much we all want to.


  4. Also of note – you reference your age and the evolution of perspective over the years. I believe it’s natural to grow more conservative with age. This seems not controversial and common knowledge and is acted upon as a marketing tool in a huge variety of ways. So yes, as we all age we generally become somewhat more and more out of step with the times in one way or another. Even the presidency has a minimum age, for what I think is this very reason. Someone should calculate what 35 years old translates to today, considering the inflation that our life expectancy has undergone since that was written in the constitution.


  5. I hear ya Dave. The PC infiltration knows no bounds. Not long ago my fav station – WVMO in Monona – played the Lou Reed classic ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. They actually blotted out the word ‘colored’ of the chorus ‘And the colored girls say…’. Disheartening.


  6. Don’t give up on public radio, Dave. You can listen to Jonathon Overby’s Higher Ground from 5-9 pm on Saturdays and get some great music from around the world, and then relax with Simply Folk from 5-8 pm on Sundays.


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