By Steve Wenick
I was intrigued by the title of the book, Republican Like Me by Ken Stern, because the author was the former CEO of NPR and a life-long Democrat. Like virtually all of his family and friends, Stern readily admits that he spent his life enclosed in a liberal bubble. But his is a story of how he managed to burst that bubble and venture forth to environs unknown to him while keeping his liberal principles and values intact.
Stern’s idea was to exit his safe space for a year and enter into a world that was as remote from his comfort zone as imaginable. So as planned, he left the sheltered confines of Hobart Street, Washington, DC — a street that had a community pledge: “I pledge allegiance to Hobart Street Northwest…. Gay or straight, woman or man, all are welcome on Hobart Street – except Republicans.”
His first steps took him to a place where folks still “cling to guns or religion.” He latched onto “three crackers from Georgia,” Isaac, C. J., and Paps. The trio was gracious enough to let Stern tag along as they embarked upon their annual pig hunt, or as they so delicately, put it — “let’s go shoot the crap out of some pigs in Texas.” Stern wrestled to get his head around that colorful comment but was distracted by the clatter of a dilapidated pick-up truck as it came to a stop at his feet. The truck was sporting a gun rack and vanity plate embossed with the cautionary declaration: “RELODN.” Stern was convinced he was no longer on Hobart Street.
It did not take long for him to learn that in spite of their appearance and rhetoric, those “crackers” from Georgia shared a common humanity with him that was not defined by pig shooting. The lessons he learned challenged his pre-conceived notions about stereotypes. He discovered that although we may harbor different perceptions as to how to improve our lot, none of us has a monopoly on the right ideas and values for America. In a disquieting realization, he comes to comprehend how we can be political opponents without being political enemies. Through reflection and contemplation of not only the other side, but his own, Stern acknowledges that both the Republican and Democratic parties are complicit in trying to preserve and protect their preferred worldview even at the expense of the citizenry.
Stern’s travels took him from the pig-killing fields of Independence Ranch, nestled deep in the heart of Texas, to the bible thumping tents of Virginia and onto the mean hills of West Virginia coal country. Having been raised in the rarified atmosphere of protected gated communities, he discovered he was ill-suited for, but persevered for a year to live in: hunting blinds, revival tents and mining shafts.
Everywhere he went was a step outside the Hobart Street bubble. In order to corroborate the surprising findings and statistical evidence, he seamlessly interspersed throughout the book, Stern provides an ample number of notes in this engrossing and readable book.