'If I Had a Hammer': WaPo Hippie Columnist Would Like to Pummel GOP Folk Singer

Washington Post Magazine humorist Gene Weingarten reacted badly in his Sunday column to the discovery that folk singer Arlo Guthrie is now a registered Republican: “By becoming a Republican, Arlo Guthrie has shredded the last remnants of my faith that our hippie principles had any lasting meaning. How can he do this to us? I'm a peaceable man, but if I had a hammer...”

Guthrie didn't become one of those warmongering neocons. He endorsed Ron Paul for president in early 2008. But Weingarten began with his marijuana-baked enthusiasm for hippiedom, which he clearly still loves dearly:

Like many middle-age people, I wear more than one hat. I'm a husband, a father, a journalist, a role model to a generation of idealistic young Americans, etc. But one of my favorite hats, the floppy felt one that still smells faintly of the sweet smoke of a controlled substance, is "former hippie." We children of the '60s tenaciously hold on to this self-image, even though our mirrors tell us that in terms of sheer hipness, we look more like Arlen Specter than Arlo Guthrie.

Weingarten -- who is not simply a yuk-yuk man, but a man who used to edit the Post's influential Style section -- discovered that Arlo Guthrie's “iconic, self-deprecating, darkly comic, anti-war counterculture masterpiece” of a song “Alice's Restaurant” didn't make complete sense as nonfiction. The song no longer seemed to "speak truth to power." So he called Guthrie up:

Me: So, you were arrested for illegally dumping a half-ton of garbage that you scooped up from the floor of Alice's home, and took away to dispose of as a favor, right?

Arlo: Right.

Me: And you were nailed by the fuzz because Officer Obie found your name on an envelope in that half-ton pile of garbage and phoned you. And in the funniest line of the song, you solemnly admitted to Officer Obie that you had put that envelope under that half-ton of garbage, right?

Arlo: Right.

Me: Why was your name in the garbage from Alice's restaurant? Wasn't that all Alice's garbage?

Arlo: In 40 years, no one ever asked me that.

Me: Well, someone is asking now.

Arlo: Bravo. I will hate you forever for this.

Me: [Pause]

Arlo: Okay, we have to attribute that line to creative license. Obie actually found a paper with Ray's name -- Ray was Alice's husband -- and Ray directed them to me. But it worked better in the song the other way.

Me: So, no biggie? A misstatement is okay because it "worked better"?

Guthrie didn't answer, but Weingarten compared his worship of Guthrie's “counterculture masterpiece” to the miracles of Jesus:

Me: I don't want to overstate my disillusionment here. But this is like hearing Jesus say, "Okay, I didn't turn the water into wine, exactly. Actually, I just added some Kool-Aid powder and turned it into a nice, refreshing beverage."

Weingarten learned Guthrie's party affiliation by further complaining: "Did you learn your ethics from your dad [socialist folk singer Woody Guthrie]? Might it be that this land was really made for him and just a few of his cronies?" Arlo responded: "You know, it's possible. I've heard that song sung at Republican conventions."

This means that Arlo Guthrie is actually more light-hearted about his politics than the humor writer is.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis